What to do with the old highway?

City of Coeur d'Alene trying to decide whether to take ownership of 5 miles of East Coeur d'Alene Lake Drive

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A motorist travels along Coeur d'Alene Lake Drive near the lake on Friday. The City of Coeur d'Alene will hold a public hearing on Monday to weigh comments regarding a proposal from the State of Idaho to take possession of the road.

COEUR d'ALENE - The offer is on the table, and decide the city of Coeur d'Alene must do.

But before it does, it wants to know what the public thinks.

Should the city take ownership of roughly 5 miles of East Coeur d'Alene Lake Drive from the Idaho Department of Transportation?

If the answer is yes, the state will kick in $3 million.

So the question is, should the city take over waterfront property along the old highway and a few million of dollars for its troubles?

It might not be the slam dunk decision it appears to be.

"I think it's only fair to say I should listen to the presentation, as I see it, and hear the concerns and be sure I have all the facts - what the cost will be and so forth - before I make a decision," Mayor Sandi Bloem said. "But I do know, if you can get control of waterfront property for the public, do so."

The deal was pitched by the state as the city was looking for possible relocation spots for the Third Street Boat launch last year as the city was working on the McEuen Field conceptual design. In order to remove the boat launch from McEuen Field, the city had to provide an equal or better replacement launch. The state said the city could take over the East Coeur d'Alene Lake Drive, which would allow the city to put in a launch near Silver Beach.

The timing on that plan fell through, however, and the boat launch remained in the McEuen Field plan. Regardless of the timing, the state said the deal is still on the table.

"It doesn't serve our need, but it serves the city's needs," said Jason Minzghor, ITD project development engineer. "It has to be a benefit all the way around for the deal to happen, and I think everyone wins with this deal."

ITD wants to give the road away so it doesn't have to maintain it. It did that with portions of roadway near Worley after U.S. 95 was improved and is in the process of doing that with a highway near Wallace, as well as portions of roadways in Sandpoint after the highway upgrades there.

"The city is taking on some risks themselves," Minzghor said. "They have to maintain it."

That would cost the city around $13,160 a year in costs, street superintendent Tim Martin estimated at a City Council workshop in July. That would pay for paint for striping, labor costs and 11 passthroughs by snowplows, which is the typical amount for an arterial road each winter.

All of which is "doable," Martin said then.

Once a highway, the road is now used as much by pedestrians as commuters thanks to its scenic views and the Centennial Trail, which runs along the waterfront to the road's end at Higgens Point, another popular hiking destination.

The city would also take control of that portion of the Centennial Trail, which runs adjacent to the road. Ownership would include portions of waterfront land, which could make spots for possible public pocket parks.

Some residents who live near the road said they don't want the city to take it over.

They said it could be the first step toward annexing the neighborhoods into the city, which they oppose.

"I think it sucks. It's city expansion without city benefits," said Gary Lund, who has lived with his wife Vicki off Wilma Road since 1991, and doesn't want to live under city jurisdiction or pay city taxes. "That's why I bought in the county. I don't want their ordinances."

Others said the deal, no matter how you slice it, is centered around the city building a boat launch on Silver Beach one day. That could mean the boat launch at McEuen Field would go away one day, too.

City Councilman Ron Edinger, who has opposed the McEuen Field plan since the get-go, expressed that concern in the July workshop on the deal. His brother, Lawrence Edinger, lives off East Coeur d'Alene Lake drive near where the proposed boat launch would go and also doesn't think it's a good spot for a launch, but thinks it's a done deal anyway.

"The city is going to accept (the deal). This is just a formality," he said of the City Council's workshop at 5 p.m. Monday on the proposed deal. "You don't turn down $3 million."

But Bloem said annexation doesn't have anything to do with the deal.

The surrounding area is identified in the city's area of impact, meaning the city could one day expand that way, but annexation is primarily a sewer and water issue sought by applicants contiguous to city limits wanting inside the city, which this issue isn't.

And while the deal did come to be because of a possible boat launch, it has to be considered on its own merits, she said, And that's less about the boat launch spot and more about whether the city should take the waterfront land and money.

Obtaining waterfront property for public use, she said, has always "a real driving force and long term goal" of the city.

"Another boat launch in the future is certainly a possibility," she said. "That could be part of (the City Council's) decision, but it's certainly something that isn't in the works at this point."

At the July workshop, City Councilman Steve Adams suggested the city take a portion of the $3 million windfall and set up a trust, which would allow the city to pay maintenance costs from interest on that trust.

While the city would take ownership of the land, the road wouldn't be annexed into the city. The difference is Kootenai County would still regulate it, whereas annexed land is subject to all city ordinances, according to the city's legal department. And if the city did take ownership, a group of hydroplane enthusiasts spearheading a drive to bring unlimited hydroplane races back to Lake Coeur d'Alene would likely have to seek permits though the city if it wanted to use the old highway for bleachers, for example.

The City Council would have to turn down that request based on an ordinance it adopted in 1996 after voters voted to ban the races on city property. Voters favored the ban 7,899 to 4,554 against, according to city records.

Or, City Attorney Mike Gridley pointed out, the City Council could amend or appeal the ordinance if it wanted to issue the permits.

The workshop is in the Community Room of the Coeur d'Alene Public Library.

The state had offered the same stretch of road to the East Side Highway District. The district asked ITD around two years ago to put the offer in writing, including how much the state would be willing to help in maintenance costs, but never heard back, which killed the deal, according to John Pankratz, EHD district supervisor.

Jim Stravens, who has lived by the road for decades, doesn't see the deal as a good fit. He doesn't think the boat launch would mesh well on the busy road, which has a slide area near Bennett Bay Inn. County residents would also be reliant on city services, he said, an awkward pairing.

"A lot of people are concerned about it," he said.

Gary Lund, a resident of the Yellowstone Trail area since 1991, is concerned about services and possible annexation decisions the City of Coeur d'Alene could have impose if it takes possession of Coeur d'Alene Lake Drive.

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