Council approves new code section to preserve city watershed, broaden access

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

The city of Sandpoint is moving forward with a new management plan for its watershed, located on 4,000 acres at the base of Schweitzer Mountain, intended to protect and preserve the public land around Little Sand Creek while also opening it to more uses.

Sandpoint City Hall. Photo by Ben Olson.

Public Works Director Amanda Wilson, along with consultants Randy Reeve and Michael Zenthoefer, presented several measures related to the watershed at the Dec. 16 meeting of the Sandpoint City Council — of particular importance, a new code section specifically establishing what activities are allowed within the area that supplies Sandpoint and surrounds with its drinking water, while also putting in place permitting and enforcement policies.

Council members unanimously approved Title 7, Chapter 16 — with Councilman John Darling absent — establishing the basis on which the larger management plan will operate.

Wilson said bringing the watershed plan to this stage represents “a significant milestone” after nearly a year of work on analysis and drafting of policies that aim to find a “balance to protect the water supply while also allowing some public uses,” including recreation on the land, which is already occurring.

“Limiting access to over 4,000 acres of land can be challenging,” she said.

The ordinance establishes regulated activities, requiring a permit; non-restricted activities; and restricted activities, requiring no permit.

Regulated activities include surface impacts such as mining, dredging and other uses that disturb the landscape; the use of motorized vehicles; hunting, horseback riding, campfires and camping; among others. Overall, no activity of any kind may take place within 150 feet of a watercourse without a permit.

Wilson pointed out that being “regulated” means “you can’t do it without authorization.” That authorization requires obtaining a permit from the city. The specifics of that permit process are outlined in the larger management plan, which is slated to soon be posted on the city’s website and go before the council in January.

Non-restricted, non-permit activities include hiking and mountain biking on established trails, while restricted activities include road construction, maintenance, noxious weed and insect control, forest management, fire mitigation, law enforcement and firefighting.

Restricted activities do not require a permit because, for instance, “If we’re going to be doing any harvesting in our watershed, that’s something that the city is going to initiate,” Wilson said.

The broadest penalty for violating usage rules in the watershed is permit loss, but she noted that certain violations may trigger penalties from county, state or federal agencies.

“Our management plan is really where the details of that start to be ironed out with specific actions,” Wilson said, pointing to the example that restricted or unpermitted use on city property could be penalized as trespassing. 

“We do plan to have an enforcement presence,” she said, but stressed education and increased monitoring would be the first priorities. 

Wilson told the council that the full draft watershed management plan will be posted on under the “News” section by Thursday, Dec. 17 and go before the council for consideration at its Wednesday, Jan. 20 meeting.

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