Packed house at Lakes Commission meeting
Many offer passionate testimony for preserving Lake Pend Oreille
(Sandpoint, ID) – It was standing room only at the latest meeting of the Lakes Commission, held Oct. 23 at the Sandpoint Center.
An estimated 200 people packed the room, and several dozen took the stand to voice their opposition to fluctuating lake levels on Lake Pend Oreille. Most of the speeches were met with loud applause from the audience.
“We’ve heard a common theme here tonight,” said Lakes Commission member Brent Baker when the testimony was complete. “Is there anyone here who doesn’t agree?”
When nobody spoke up, he turned to the table full of federal officials from the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and said:
“You’ve heard the voice of this community.”
During opening remarks, Rick Pendergrass, manager of power and operations planning with BPA, announced that the public outcry had already prompted results.
“The proposed August and September drawdowns are now off the table, and will be taken out of the Kalispell MOA,” he said. “We heard you, and we heard Gov. Otter, and took some steps to benefit you all.”
Beth Coffey, chief of operations for the Seattle district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, pledged that the Corps would keep Lake Pend Oreille at 2062.5 until Labor Day.
“We are working on how to regulate in September, and then drawdown in October,” she said. “We are using what we did this year as an example.”
She added: “Albeni Falls Dam is a multi-purpose facility, and we are balancing flood risk upstream and downstream with power generation and navigation. We have to find a balance between competing needs.”
Senator Shawn Keough, the Idaho State Senator for Legislative District One, said: “As co-creator of the Lakes Commission, I am proud to see our vision is in practice here. This is exactly what we had hoped – to give the local people a voice in regards to the lake. We do need to find a permanent solution in the operations that includes our concerns, for the future of the people who live and work here.”
From Bonner County Commissioner Glen Bailey: “Lake Pend Oreille is at the very heart of Bonner County…. We rely more and more on tourism and those people the lake attracts.”
Scot Campbell, Sandpoint city attorney: “We’re just asking you keep in mind that recreational use be considered on equal level with other factors such as fishing and power operation.”
Brad Smith, Idaho Conservation League: “This lake is our lifeblood. The BPA gets to call the shots from Portland, while we bear the environmental and economic consequences. The BPA has failed to mitigate fully for operating impacts and construction impacts. We are also concerned that there is no fish ladder, which is at least 10 years behind.”
Dennis Hall, board member of the Lake Pend Oreille Alliance: “Our group has four asks: Since we believe the COE and BPA are not substantially in accordance with Senate Document #9, the Lake Pend Oreille Alliance is recommending a compromise – that it would benefit all parties if the COE and BPA agree to maintain Pend Oreille lake at normal pool of 2062.5 feet from Memorial weekend through October 1 except for those years when significant flood control measures are required and only with advance notice to and the involvement and input of the Lakes Commission.
“Second, we want the Army Corps Of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration to challenge and invalidate the existing Memorandum of Agreement with the Kalispell Tribe and re-draft it with input and representation of upstream stakeholders. Third, we ask to include wording in the Columbia River Treaty Recommendations that would preserve all the existing state and federal laws protecting Pend Oreille Lake, Priest Lake, and Coeur d’Alene Lake, and that no international laws would be created that supersede those state and federal laws.
“In addition, according to President Truman’s June 16 and 17, 1950 Columbia River Compact: Ownership, management and control of all federally built projects shall revert to local and State organizations as soon as the government is fully reimbursed for it’s reimbursable expenditures. Since it appears the government was fully reimbursed for the Albeni Falls Dam in 1962, The Alliance wants mitigation money to be provided in two forms: First, we would like reparation funds to be provided to The Lakes Commission, non-profits, local municipalities, and affected stakeholders upstream from the Albeni Falls dam for past use and effect as outlined in the 1950 Columbia River Compact. We propose those funds would be negotiated and directed on behalf of the citizens of the State of Idaho by a committee formed by the Lakes Commission. Secondly, and finally, we want an ongoing and perpetual mitigation annuity involving future proceeds from the Albeni Falls Dam. These funds would be provided to upstream stakeholders, the Kalispell Tribe, affected non-profits and local municipalities. We request the Lakes Commission set up a permanent hydropower royalty fund similar to that in place in the State of Alaska dealing with oil royalties.”
Jim Lovell, chairman of the board for the Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce: “We would ask that you maintain the summer pool for at least 18 weeks, that you provide mitigation funds to study the impacts of drawdowns during the other months of the year, and that you prioritize recreation along with other needs…Senate Doc. #9 says that recreation will not be damaged. We’re asking that you work with us. Let’s create the best use of Lake Pend Oreille. We insist you recognize that navigation and recreation is just as important as the other uses.”
Tom Trulock, owner and operator of Heitman Docks at Glengary and Schweitzer mountain operations director: “We are against varying the water levels even in winter, due to damage to infrastructure and the environment.”
James McDonald, Sandpoint attorney and board member of the Lake Pend Oreille Alliance: “I live on the lake – actually, I live two and a half months on the lake at best, and on a mud flat the rest of the year. It doesn’t seem too much to ask for water through the end of September. The law requires full pool for six months. Show me where are the original authorizing documents to prove otherwise?”
David Eacret: “I’ve been a shoreline resident since 1979. As an economist, I can tell you it is vital that we generate additional money for studies to determine the economic impacts in this community. We need economic certainty and knowledge of what is about to happen.”
Jim Haynes, president of the Selkirk Association of Realtors: “I was born and raised here, and fortunate enough to see some of the world and return home. As a realtor, we see our clients purchase waterfront property at premium value, expecting it to stay at summer pool. I’m concerned about our property values and those of our clients – and concerned for our water rights. I support summer pool levels and adding language to the Columbia River Treaty Review to protect our water.”
Ryan Wells, Sandpoint Staples store manager and avid boater: “Along with lake drawdowns, we notice a dormant period in the service industry – and shortening this season has negative impacts. I request that you set dates of operation that businesses can rely on.”
Win Taylor: “Listen, the state of Idaho has sovereign water rights. We need to go to Governor Otter and dictate to these agencies what was mandated by law – for six months, not 18 weeks, and only for flood protection in May and June. They have neglected their duty for years, with no fish ladder. If you want to stay in business, let’s give this dam operation back to private control, and give these folks a chance to do something else.”
Brant Hinze: “I am pleased to see some of the previous proposals have been reconsidered. A University of Idaho grad, military veteran and lakefront property owner, I am anticipating enjoying my retirement on the lake. Thanks to the Lake Pend Oreille Alliance for letting us know what is happening.”
Mary Sturgis: “I have lived on the lake since 1985. Please keep the water levels up from May to October. Thank you.”
Devon Chapman: “We have four acres of shoreline on Odin Bay. A two-foot drawdown makes the water recede by up to 100 feet. We depend on high water to irrigate and boat. There is also a non spring-fed wetlands, Sunnyside Preserve, with 77 acres. The Corps would be allowing destruction of wetlands habitat that will adversely affect many forms of wildlife. Sacrificing many species in exchange for just one is not sound ecology.”
Bob Kerslake: “As a homeowner on Lake Pend Oreille, I deal with dried-up docks for 8 or 9 months out of the year.”
Tom Anderson, Sandpoint Outfitters, 44-year resident: “When the lake levels come down, the waterfowl hunting goes to hell in a handbasket. They’ve been dropping the lake too quick, and the food dries out and the waterfowl can’t eat. We see an impact in hunting licenses and gear. I’m also concerned about ice fishermen having safety issues with fluctuating winter levels. Let’s handle this as equal partners – give us a hand here.”
Lonnie Williams, Sandpoint Title Insurance: “There is a tremendous trickledown effect from tourism on Lake Pend Oreille. Do not mess with those dollars in such a small community. Please enforce the laws that are already on the books.”
Charles Wilson, senior consultant in real estate developing: “Having been involved in projects of over two billion dollars, I know what effect a negative dynamic can have in the marketplace. The mere discussion of whether lake levels will be changing is deleterious. It’s an ongoing, irresponsible act – you are flying in the dark with no instruments, and the effects on this community are devastating.”
Stan Hatch, real estate broker in Sandpoint: “My wife, Bev, and I also live in Odin Bay and see the problems caused by drawdowns there as mentioned earlier. As a broker, I’m required to create a market analysis for properties for the banks. These have become more significant than appraisals. And in the market analysis, uncertainty is definitely something you have to take into account. Please do not put us into a situation where uncertainty is at a significant risk. Let’s give the assessor a break – I never thought I’d say that.”
Phil Johnson, waterfront property owner since the 1940s: “Thanks to the Lakes Commission for this – otherwise it would have just gone through. I’m happy the Lake Pend Oreille Alliance is holding these agencies accountable. Talk is cheap – make it happen!”
Clif Warren, former chairman of the board for the Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce: “Our town is really making a concerted effort to try to extend the economic life of the town into the fall including September and October. Please think of the economic impact of recreation.”
Clint Nicholson, board member, Lake Pend Oreille Idaho Club: “I can tell you that the real trophy fishermen are fishing this lake certainly through November. Drawdowns create a real issue with access that time of year.”
Don Morris, property owner on Warren Island: “I’ve hunted here for 30 years. When the water drops slowly, the waterfowl can move with it. This year it moved so fast that the birds were gone within a week.”
Don Childress, president, Panhandle chapter of Trout Unlimited: “I am concerned about any effects on coldwater fisheries. I’m happy to hear that the MOA has been set aside. We need studies – we need an Economic Impact Assessment and Environmental Impact Assessment.”
Jay Bredl, waterfront property owner: (speaking to the crowd): “Thank you – all of you – for coming. Eventually this needs to work in a more transparent way, so we don’t need to force the government to give us information. We need posted heights and plans for any changes. We need more information going out in a modern way. They need to coordinate better with upstream entities. I would urge us to keep the pressure on them. Just because they put something in writing doesn’t mean they’re going to do it.”
Todd Sudick, Bonner County Commissioner, member Bonner County Waterways Advisory Board: “I’ve lived here for 33 years, and the only thing that remains constant is the quest of the BPA for more water from Lake Pend Oreille. Twenty-five years ago, if you recall, they wanted to permanently lower it by two feet. We asked too many questions and they left town.
“Back then, 14 percent of total tax revenues came from waterfront property owners. Now it’s 20 percent. If you cut those values in half with a drawdown, it spells economic catastrophe.
“I believe, as do many others, that the real reason for the water grab is for downstream power generation. Bottom line – the Feds and the BPA will not let California run out of power. They’ve sent power to California in past times of crisis. Right now, 43 percent of LA’s power comes from coal-fired plants in Arizona. As soon as those are phased out, where do you think they will come looking for that lost power generation? This is an ongoing pressure that will affect everyone who lives here in Bonner County.”
Patricia Sudick, chair of the Head of Pend Oreille Regatta. “It’s vital to have consistency in the flow rates and water levels. We have many potential directions for economic growth that depend on it.”
Dale Snipes, board member Lake Pend Oreille Idaho Club. “Living on the waterfront as a widow, I pay $7,000 in waterfront taxes per year and for most of the year I live on a mudflat.”
The meeting wrapped up with these closing remarks:
Ford Elsaesser, chairman of the Lakes Commission: “I have noticed that Lake Coeur d’Alene has ongoing heavy boat traffic through September. That should remind us of the importance that the shoulder season can have to our lake and economy here.”
Andrew Y. Park, lieutenant colonel, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: “Thank you for the remarks – we will take them back to leadership. Please note that one of our primary concerns is minimizing hazards to life, health and safety.”
Beth Coffey, chief of operations for the Seattle district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: “Our drawdown to 2056 in October is required for spring flooding. In the last five years, we have had higher flows with higher precipitation and late snow. We are targeting late June for the Hope gauge to be at 2062 to 2062.5.
“Per the request to have the lake at summer pool by Memorial Day, we have to make sure we are protecting property and lives both upstream and downstream. Memorial Day does put us in a position of increasing flood risk to downstream communities.
“We are trying to increase our communication with the communities. We are planning spring and fall operational update meetings, posting lake levels to our website, and we appreciate the feedback on giving you more control.”
Bill Maslen, BPA fish & wildlife program director: “Taking the temperature studies and drawdown option out of the MOA is a permanent change to the agreement that lasts through 2022. It is in the process of amendment and signing.”
Rick Pendergrass, manager of power and operations planning with BPA: “I grew up in a small community that relied on recreation, and I understand the issue well. We will take these concerns seriously.”
Linda Mitchell, board member, Lakes Commission: “…I urge you – don’t go down to 2051. Consider going only to 2055 or 2056 instead.”
Ford Elsaesser, chairman of the Lakes Commission: “I want to commend the Lake Pend Oreille Alliance for keeping this issue on the table and motivating change. I also want to make it clear that simply because this community is opposed to the federal MOA with the Kalispell Tribe, we are not at odds with the Tribe. In fact, I would say that we are largely aligned with the Tribe in our concerns, and admire the work they have done with fisheries in Priest Lake and other fish and wildlife conservation efforts – I commend them for all of that.”
More information at www.savependoreille.org