Boat launch goes nationwide

Dept. of Parks and Recreation sends letters to 42 different states Country hears of potential loss of launch

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Dave Clancey, right, and Chuck Schriner load equipment used for the Coeur d'Alene Resort's annual holiday lights display onto a truck from a barge at the Third Street boat lunch on Monday. The popular launch site is included in the city's renovation proposal of McEuen Field.

COEUR d'ALENE - McEuen Field is crossing borders.

More specifically, word about the possibility of removing the Third Street boat launch has reached boaters as far away as Alaska and Alabama.

And their votes on McEuen Field's future count, too.

"You submit a survey and you have your name and address on it, it gets counted," said Doug Eastwood, parks director.

Those votes could come from 42 of the other 49 states in the union, after the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation sent out roughly 32,000 letters to registered Kootenai County boaters notifying them of the potential plan to reshape McEuen Field and its boat launch.

Of the 32,000, nearly 13,000 were sent out of state, while 6,183 had Coeur d'Alene addresses.

"Whenever there's an impact to users, we like to let them know," said Dave Dahms, boating manager for the state's recreation department on why the state office weighed in. "It's not just the fact that a boat launch is closing, it's that we feel it's our duty to let them know when their recreation use is being discussed."

City officials were aware, but the letters' reach - which cost $11,000 in postage and supplies - caught the parks department off guard.

That's because to register a boat in Kootenai County, one mustn't live in Kootenai County; rather the boater only need to choose the county as his or her primary or secondary recreation area.

Basically, the boater chooses to which place his boating fees should go.

So where did the 13,000 out of state letters go?

Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

"I don't think there is a concern if they have adequate information on the plans," Eastwood said of the letter recipients. "Which they didn't have when they got their letters."

The state's Dec. 29 letter said the city is considering a conceptual design for McEuen Field, which could include closing the launch. It gave the date of the Jan. 6 public meeting, the website for more information or to fill out a survey, and contact info for the parks department. It didn't say anything about the city's promise to provide equal or better value should the launch close.

Now, some city officials said they're unsure how much weight to give out of city, county or state opinions.

If the city's urban renewal agency, Lake City Development Corp., pays for some of the project, it's the city's taxpayers paying the bill. How much stock should an out-of-state voice carry then?

"I haven't put any geographical restrictions on what I'm hearing, but I think an out-of-state voter isn't as important as a resident of Coeur d'Alene in my mind," said Councilman Mike Kennedy. "It doesn't mean I'm not listening and they don't have good input, so I'll hear it from anyone, but it's something I'll factor in."

Many of the letters were received after Jan. 6, the date of the public meeting.

Eastwood said his office fielded around 200 responses, many of them confused that the public input process was already over. It wasn't, but Team McEuen, the design team behind the conceptual plan, did notice a surge in disapproving votes and comments online shortly after.

Team McEuen is tracking residency of its survey submissions.

Of the 358 website surveys, 90 lived outside Coeur d'Alene. Of the public meeting surveys, 106 of the 133 responders were Lake City residents. Results were similar, with between 66 and 75 percent approval for the project's ideas between residents, non-residents and online and in person surveys. The team will type out every written comment from the surveys and present them to the City Council, which will likely have the final vote on the conceptual plan.

But factoring in residency could be subjective, or "completely unscientific" as Kennedy put it.

North Idaho opinions would carry a lot of weight, but at what point does the boundary stretch too far?

"I haven't thought of that to tell you the truth," said Councilman Woody McEvers. "I'm trying not to make up my mind because it's not the right time to. But at the same time it's important to take note and make sure those questions are answered at some point."

Meanwhile, Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, requested the Senate Resources Committee review the possibility of closing the boat launch.

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