Show up for Bonner County’s future

Let County Planners know you want our waterways and way of life protected

By Jennifer Ekstrom
Reader Contributor

It’s said that the world is run by those who show up. Well, this is it, folks. It’s time to show up if you care about the future of Bonner County.

If you’re concerned by recent county decisions to rezone Selle Valley, build a subdivision in the Coolin wetlands or by the efforts to restrict public access in favor of new homes at Camp Bay, this planning process is for you. 

Our Bonner County Planning Commission is working to quickly finalize revisions to the “Goals, Objectives and Policies” of our Comprehensive Plan. The Goals, Objectives and Policies are the teeth of the Comprehensive Plan and will guide upcoming potential changes to our County Codes. Our County Land Use Codes are the law of the land here in Bonner County, which is why it’s critically important that the Goals, Objectives and Policies reflect our local sentiments on issues like protecting our wonderful lakes, wetlands, waterways and the rural character of our county.

There is a critical flaw in the current planning process — all of the updates are being done without collecting current data about our community. Because of this, the Planning Commission intends to launch a full review and update of the Comprehensive Plan (including data collection) shortly after completing this revision of the Goals, Objectives and Policies. A full review and update will likely take 18 months to two years to complete, and, in the meantime, the partial update will provide the groundwork for codes to change and development decisions to be made based on old data and old sentiments. 

The wise thing to do would be to put the brakes on the current process, rather than make rushed changes that could ultimately undermine our rural way of life and permanently damage our environment. Our Planning Commission could simply decide to update the Comprehensive Plan the right way — by taking more time to include robust public input and updated data. 

Our Planning Commissioners are all volunteers and, while they deserve to be commended for their hard work and public service, their work needs to reflect the needs of their communities. Our Planning Commissioners were told by former Planning Director Milton Ollerton to put a huge cart in front of the horse and send it straight to the race track. According to state law, Planning Commission members can set their own processes and timelines, but are pressed to get this done in short order and they agreed. But there’s still time to stop this.

The changes the Planning Commission have been working on have very recently been made public and can be found in PDF format on Bonner County’s website (bit.ly/3z10koJ). Our community deserves to be engaged in the process more thoroughly, with open houses and workshops designed to help us understand the implications of the changes, and with opportunities to give input after gaining sufficient understanding. Concerned community members should ask our Planning Commission to take its time and get this right. 

Community input will be accepted at upcoming Planning Commission workshops onTuesday, Aug. 2; Tuesday, Aug. 16; and as late as Tuesday, Aug. 30. 

It’s best to attend the earlier workshops so commissioners will have time to consider your input before submitting their recommendations to the Bonner County Board of Commissioners. They are currently scheduled to submit those recommendations on Aug. 30, though they could decide to extend the timeline. Written comments can be sent to [email protected], and should be sent by Saturday, Aug. 20 in order to be included in the staff report. 

Show your love for Bonner County and let our commissioners know you value our precious waterways and landscapes, and want to protect them now and for future generations. Ask that they suspend their process to update the Goals, Objectives and Policies, and thank them for their efforts. Ask that any current or future planning process utilizes current data, the best available science and robust community input. Ask that they ensure our lakes, rivers, streams, shorelines, wetlands and rural way of life are securely protected for our lifetimes and for future generations. 

Jennifer Ekstrom is North Idaho Lakes Conservation associate at Idaho Conservation League. For more information, contact her at 208-318-5812 or [email protected]

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