Preserving the pilings?

Osprey group sues in effort to maintain habitat in Cougar Bay

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Oscar Mooney, Capt., United States Coast Guard, holds the position of his tugboat steady Thursday as a North Idaho Maritime crane removed deteriorated pilings from Lake Coeur d'Alene at the mouth of the Spokane River.

COEUR d'ALENE - Advocates of birds and motorless boats aren't backing down.

The Cougar Bay Osprey Protective Association, Inc. filed legal action against the Idaho Department of Lands last week, after the state again rejected the nonprofit's permit application to preserve the pilings in Cougar Bay.

"We feel they violated the law. We met all the requirements, all the filing fees. They had no basis for rejecting us," said Scott Reed, attorney for the CBOPA.

The Department of Lands had initially denied the group's non-commercial encroachment permit application in February, over improper filing fees.

The state rejected another application in July, explaining that only public or government agencies could file for non-commercial encroachments.

Reed said the denial is arbitrary.

"Our position is, someone other than the government can do good," Reed said, pointing out that other nonprofit entities have been issued encroachment permits. "We have the same right to make an application."

He is convinced the Department of Lands and Kootenai County already plan to remove the century-old structures from the bay, he added, as part of the county's massive piling removal on the Spokane River and Lake Coeur d'Alene.

Not good news for CBOPA, created solely to preserve the Cougar Bay logs that provide nesting for osprey and a peaceful place for motorless water crafts.

"You're talking about less than 2 percent of the lake for the canoers, the kayakers and the birds. The power boats have the other 98 percent," said Sue Flammia, secretary of CBOPA. "All we want is a hearing so people can express themselves."

The Idaho Attorney General's office, representing the Department of Lands, could not comment on the pending lawsuit.

According to the department's July rejection letter, applications for non-commercial encroachments intended to improve navigation, wildlife habitat or recreational uses must be filed by a municipality, county, state or federal agency, or other entity empowered to make such improvements.

"It does not appear that the (Osprey Protection) Association can satisfy this standard as a private, nonprofit organization," the letter reads.

On Thursday, Kootenai County was only having pilings removed just outside the mouth of Cougar Bay.

The county does plan to eventually pluck some pilings from inside the bay, too, to make room for overnight moorings the state permitted this summer, said Nick Snyder, Parks and Waterways director.

"We'd certainly like to have that available for boaters as soon as possible, which would be boating season 2011," Snyder said.

He isn't sure how many pilings would be removed.

Snyder isn't worried about the osprey, he added.

That's because Idaho Fish and Game sent a letter to the county in 1999 stating that osprey are adaptable, and displacement from Cougar Bay is "unlikely to significantly impact" their population.

"Kootenai County will simply take the recommendation of the experts at Fish and Game," Snyder said.

Flammia argued that she hasn't seen osprey nest anywhere else in Coeur d'Alene.

"A lot of other birds use those pilings and booms to rest, too," she said.

The pilings also help maintain the bay's no-wake zone, Reed said. Buoys that the county plans to install across the mouth won't cut it, he predicted.

"Once you put a 16-year-old behind a power boat, there are no barriers," he said.

The Cougar Bay pilings are left over from former logging operations. They currently aren't maintained.

Flammia denies rumors that CBOPA only wants to maintain a refuge for the benefit of Cougar Bay area residents.

"If you really care about the public interest, you've got to have a safe place for the public to use their kayaks and canoes," she said. "That's my interest. The public interest, and the birds."

North Idaho Maritime works on a project to remove approximately 200 pilings from the Spokane River between Lake Coeur d'Alene and the Post Falls dam as a way improve safety for boaters. The Cougar Bay Osprey Protective Association, Inc. is opposing further removal of log pilings inside Cougar Bay, claiming that those pilings provide nesting areas for osprey and also help maintain the bay's no-wake zone.

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