Pulling pilings

Kootenai County gains authority to remove hazards

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A boater navigates that pilings Tuesday at the mouth of the Spokane River as he leaves Lake Coeur d'Alene. Kootenai County will remove the log pilings and booms from the Spokane River beginning in October.

COEUR d'ALENE - Boaters new to the area tend to stumble across an unpleasant surprise when they head down the Spokane River, says Craig Brosenne, general manager of the Hagadone Marine Group.

Log pilings.

"A lot of them aren't flagged, so in the dark at night when you're coming in and out of the river, you can't see them," Brosenne said. "People visiting want to go down to the Spokane River, and next thing you know, you've got a log sticking in front of them. All the boaters would enjoy if they were gone."

Boaters will get their wish.

Kootenai County has just gained authority to remove all hazardous log pilings and booms from the Spokane River and Lake Coeur d'Alene, thanks to a Memorandum of Understanding the county signed with the Idaho Department of Lands last week.

It's possible that at least 250 pilings will be removed, estimated Nick Snyder, director of county Parks and Waterways.

The first phase will focus on logs cluttering the river from Cedars Restaurant to the Post Falls Dam, he said.

"There is a significant amount of boat traffic in that corridor, and it's narrow," Snyder said. "Some of these are submerged and those that are visible pose a navigational hazard, particularly at night."

Although the pilings are vestiges of logging operations a century old, they haven't posed a risk until boat traffic starting increasing in recent years, he said.

Dock building has also left less space to maneuver.

"Growth has just prompted us to take a look at it," Snyder said. "We can all agree it's a matter of time until someone makes contact with pilings during navigation."

Brosenne says boaters already have.

The marina has repaired damages on several boats that have collided with logs in the river, he said.

"It depends on how fast they're going," he said of damages. "To boaters who have boated here a long time, they're really familiar with them (the pilings). But we get a lot of day boaters from other parts of the state, and it's really bad for them."

The sheriff's marine division could not be reached for comment about how often injuries occur.

Jim Aucutt, chairman of the county Parks and Waterways Advisory Board, said boats run into the pilings frequently, especially in the narrow section by the Bellerive development.

"Sometimes it's just a minor bump, sometimes it's major damage," Aucutt said. "There's no requirement to report an accident, and most boaters just don't. They're afraid they'll get into trouble for hitting those and just get it fixed."

Carl Washburn with the Idaho Department of Lands said the MOU was more than two years in the planning.

"For one, you had a mill open and still running, so you got to go back and forth with everybody on this," Washburn said. "It just took a little while."

The IDL was pleased to see the agreement happen, he added.

"I think it's going to improve navigability on the river," he said.

Commissioner Todd Tondee said his only worry is that injuries could occur without the pilings, too.

"It (the removal) will open up where you can get closer to shore, and there could be some dead heads closer in we didn't see," he said. "It's just something that needs to be a concern."

Removal on the Spokane River will begin in October, Snyder said.

It is unsure when work will begin on Lake Coeur d'Alene, he added.

"I imagine it will be years," he said. "Funding will set the tone for how and when we remove these."

He couldn't predict what the overall cost would be.

Avista is contributing $25,000 toward the piling removal, as agreed under its relicensing process.

Kootenai County is hoping to partner with others on the cost, Snyder said, possibly including the cities of Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls, as well as private individuals.

Anyone interested can contact Snyder at 446-1275.

"As of now, we do have some funds to at least start the process," Snyder said. "It's really going to be beautiful when it's completed."

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