'I don't even like it'

Subcommittee suggests city adopt plan to begin removing trees on dike

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Mary Anne Markowski, left, and her husband Mark Markowski enjoy an outing to the beach at the mouth of the Spokane River with the trees lining Rosenberry Drive behind them Monday.

COEUR d'ALENE - Before it can compromise, the city of Coeur d'Alene will likely comply.

A subcommittee recommended Monday the City Council adopt a mitigation plan to begin removing vegetation and addressing other concerns regarding the levee along Rosenberry Drive in response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' March order.

"I don't love it," said Deanna Goodlander, City Council and Public Works Committee member, on moving forward with the plan. "I don't even like it."

The Public Works Committee recommended the City Council adopt the mitigation plan during its Aug. 2 meeting, saying the city's hands were tied because of possible insurance increases for the surrounding neighborhood should it not adhere to the changes.

"We're in it for the long haul," City Engineer Gordon Dobler said of the two-year plan, which may have its deadline extended if the city proves it's willing to work on the issue.

The Army Corps of Engineers listed around 125 concerns it had with the dike around Rosenberry Drive, known as Dike Road, near the Spokane River and North Idaho College.

Those include encroachment, erosion and depression concerns in addition to vegetation, all of which pose a danger to the dike in light of possible 100-year flooding.

To address the concerns, the city's plan would begin to outline how and when it will begin sealing cracks in the seawall concrete, obtain permits to allow already existing signs and benches, and remove the trees along the embedded slope on both sides of the road, to name a few.

If the plan is approved, the city could begin applying for permits to allow for many of the encroachment concerns - such as picnic tables, benches, trash cans, signs, and bathrooms near NIC - to stay in place. Some of those permits aren't on record, but Dobler said the Army Corp of Engineers said they would likely be approved officially once the city re-submits written requests for permission.

The city would also begin thinning smaller vegetation, while it works with the federal department to determine if compromise can be reached on some of the bigger trees.

The affected tree area is along the sloped embankment, meaning bigger trees on the flat ground closer to the beach would be allowed to stay.

"It all comes down to trade-offs," Dobler said.

Meanwhile, city staff and concerned citizens will still look at what options are out there to save as many of the affected trees as possible, even as the mitigation plan likely moves forward.

The risk of not complying is a financial one.

The Army Corps of Engineers' order came after the federal department studied maintenance and safety protocol along a number of dikes, levies and embankments nationally following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. If the city doesn't comply, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the insurance provider, could take the Fort Grounds area off the protected flood plain area, thereby increasing insurance costs to commercial and residential properties there.

Those bumps could be several thousand dollars in premiums alone, Dobler pointed out. It would also make new construction proposals in the area difficult to gain compliance.

"They're the ones taking the risk," Dobler said of FEMA.

NIC could partner to help alleviate some of the expected $100,000 cost. Federal funds, however, aren't available.

Concerned citizen Tom Torgerson, who is organizing an effort to see what can be done to spare the trees there, said Monday he still wants the community to get involved to find some sort of compromise.

"We need to do whatever we can to buy some time," he said.

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