An apparent fight over the future of Lake Coeur d’Alene’s Cougar Bay may not be as bare-knuckled as it first appears.
The brewing dispute pits advocates for wildlife and quiet water against the full-throttle hordes of power boaters and jet skiers who might invade the bay after a maze of old log pilings and booms are removed by state decree.
There’s been plenty of prickly minutiae in the past year: The Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) twice giving the brush-off to local conservancy groups; a lawsuit filed by those groups against IDL; Lake City mogul Duane Hagadone spending millions to expand a nearby marina; and a contractor hired to pull pilings out of the mud between the marina and the bay, as if they were so many bad teeth.
With rancor and distrust at toxic levels, Nick Snyder, director of Kootenai County’s Department of Waterways and Parks, was invited last week to speak about Cougar Bay at the monthly meeting of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance (KEA), at the Iron Horse restaurant.
Before a standing-room-only crowd, Snyder patiently explained that the pilings removed to date were navigational hazards in the mouth of the Spokane River and that once Waterways and Parks cleared the mouth of the bay, that would be it.
“We don’t have any plans other than what’s been permitted,” he said. The permit from IDL calls for a line of buoys across the mouth of the bay to mark — for the first time, visibly — the location of the no-wake zone, and to place three buoys for boats to tie up overnight inside the no-wake zone.
The remaining phalanx of pilings and booms (a legacy of Coeur d’Alene’s past as a sawmill town) would remain, serving as a de facto barrier for keeping powerboats from buzzing the bay. A clearly marked no-wake zone will allow marine deputies to ticket any jet skiers who motor into the bay from the adjacent Blackwell Island marina.
Cougar Bay, shallow and weedy in its extremities, is an important and rare spot where conservationists have worked tirelessly to preserve access, wetlands and wildlife on popular Lake Coeur d’Alene.
Statistically, “99.4 percent of the lake is available to open boating.
The rest of it is Cougar Bay,” says Scott Reed, who helped form the Cougar Bay Osprey Protective Association, Inc., which is suing IDL. Reed says he was encouraged to hear Snyder explicitly say that the bulk of the pilings will remain in the bay — something that was more ambiguous previously — and that he is suddenly “quite optimistic about being able to work out some kind of agreement with the county.”
“Two doors are open,” Reed says. One that’s opened at least a crack is the prospect of negotiations between the KEA and the county to agree on maintaining quiet water in Cougar Bay. The other, he says, “is our particular lawsuit” against IDL. An initial court date is scheduled for late this month.
On Monday, Snyder said, “We are planning another meeting. Once I hear a proposal, we can move it forward.
“It’s a unique bay. There is a lot of interest there,” he adds. “We need to make sure everybody’s interest is addressed, whether you are a paddler, an angler, hunter or osprey enthusiast.”