COEUR d’ALENE — Mayor Steve Widmyer told a crowd of more than 300 community leaders Tuesday that while Coeur d’Alene’s health, vitality and commitment to public art all deserve high marks, its commitment to Lake Coeur d’Alene’s health and vitality needs work.
“As a city and as members of our community,” Widmyer said during his State of the City address at the Coeur d’Alene Resort, “we need to do everything we can to protect our beautiful lake.”
Widmyer had assigned trusted longtime city advocates to grade Coeur d’Alene’s work on the community’s quality of life over the past decade, as dictated by 10-year goals set in 2010. Chaired by former Mayor Sandi Bloem and including locals Jon Ingalls, Dixie Reed, Wanda Quinn and Joe Morris, the group delivered report cards on downtown vitality (giving vitality an A), health care (a B-plus) and commitment to public art (another A).
But when it came to preserving Lake Coeur d’Alene, Widmyer said the town’s C-minus grade simply won’t cut it, a sentiment voiced by the committee as much as the Mayor.
“I think we have failed on these strategies,” Quinn said in a committee statement Widmyer shared during the early morning Chamber of Commerce breakfast event. “I don’t know if we need to improve the regulatory coordination, but we definitely need to start enforcing regulations related to the lake.”
Widmyer’s comments come on the heels of reports that detail an estimated 75 million metric tons of contaminated sediment along the lakebed, mostly the result of more than a century’s worth of mining that has since drawn cleanup efforts from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state.
“Lake Coeur d’Alene is, without a doubt, one of Idaho’s crown jewels,” Gov. Brad Little wrote, “a true gem of our state. Evidence and data form the basis of public policy in my administration. Therefore, I share the concern over the recent data in the environmental state of the lakebed.”
Little assigned Idaho Department of Environmental Quality director John Tippets to hire a reputable third party to review lake data from the state, the Tribe and their now-defunct Lake Management Plan.
“Hopefully, 10 years from now, the Mayor will be sitting here in 2030, and he will give us an A on Lake Coeur d’Alene,” Widmyer said.
Widmyer also praised staff and department heads, from the Water and Wastewater departments to the first responders at the police and fire departments — helmed by Chiefs Lee White and Kenny Gabriel, respectively — to library director Bette Ammon, who said her tireless staff is responsible for the library continuing to hum like a well-oiled machine. She added that a recent, unexpected national spotlight that included a late night show host sending an unhideable version of his children’s-ish book to the library provided at least one bright side: a surge in visitors.
“Many people do think that this big book is what your library’s all about,” she said. “My grandson ran around on Thanksgiving, yelling, ‘Grammie’s on Stephen Colbert,’ until I wanted him to go away for a long time. But it’s true: The big book is still there. Hundreds and hundreds of people came to see it, got their picture taken with it, sent emails, donations. We’re still talking about having all sorts of books for all sorts of people.”
She said the heart of the library can be seen every day, where 250,000 patrons walked through the doors last year, checking out around 850,000 books and other items with the help of a dedicated staff.
“That’s the story of your public library,” she reported, “where sometimes books are hidden, but mostly, books are found.”
Widmyer also gave the audience a taste of Coeur d’Alene’s early days, paying homage to the newly formed Historic Preservation Commission as he recapped the J.C. White House move to the base of Tubbs Hill on Nov. 16. He closed his speech thanking staff and volunteers for their hard work, laying a promise for the year ahead.
“I can’t promise you that we are perfect, but what I can promise you is that every day we work for the City of Coeur d’Alene, we will do our best to create the city you expect and deserve, a city of excellence.”