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Bonds for Books

COEUR d'ALENE — Spokane is licking its wounds after losing firefighters, police, city staffers and numerous community programs to its record $18 million budget shortfall, but citizens of the Lake City may be getting a brand-new library, additional police officers, firefighters and upgrades to fire stations. But it's only if citizens vote yes on two bond proposals coming up Feb. 1.

The library bond would charge $1.29 per month ($15.48 a year) to residents with homes valued at more than $150,000, collecting a total of $3 million over 20 years. That amount would be coupled with an additional $3.5 million collected from other sources such as private donations and grants, to build a $6.5 million dollar library. It would be four times the size of the current CdA library, carry roughly 40,000 more volumes and be able to host a variety of traveling children's shows, authors and new programs. It would open in downtown Coeur d'Alene sometime in 2006.

"We're doing all we can to educate our citizens about this effort," says Denny Davis, co-chair for the Citizens for a New Library campaign. "It's a terrific bargain: Where else can you get resources, entertainment and safety for $1.30 a month for the whole household?"

Davis says two-thirds of voters will need to approve for the bond to pass. Coeur d'Alene has had library service since the turn of the century, but the city has never constructed a building specifically for library use; the Lake City's library material has moved from downtown storefront locations, to the old City Hall, to a private home, to where it is now, in a former corporate utilities office.

In addition to the library bond, CdA citizens will vote on a public safety bond, which would accrue $7 million over 10 years. Residents with homes worth more than $150,000 would pay an additional $4.60 a month. If it passes, the Public Safety bond would pay for a new training facility for fire and police and the remodeling of Fire Stations I and II; it would also purchase a new rescue and fire engine.

CdA Fire Chief Kenny Gabriel says the $7 million bond is the bare minimum needed to keep up with the area's growth. "The training center is the number one priority," he says. "Because we are short on staff, the folks we have need to be trained the best we can. There is no training station in northern Idaho." Gabriel notes that one of CdA's fire stations, designed to hold just two people, is overcrowded with four or five firefighters on duty all the time; two chief officers work in the storage basement, women don't have proper quarters and the station itself was built out of salvaged materials. In addition to remodeling, the bond will pay off the police station and one fire station.

Paying off those stations, says Gabriel, "would free up $388,000 in the general fund for hiring additional police and firefighters." -- Cara Gardner

Thirsty?

COEUR d'ALENE -- Water lovers in Eastern Washington and North Idaho gulped in relief at news that the Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer -- the sole source of the area's drinking water -- hadn't been turned into a toxic toilet by a leaking pipe at a rail-refueling depot.

But not everyone is satisfied with the report released by the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co., which stated that while a smattering of nasty chemicals (like, say, toluene and ethylbenzene, both of which have been linked to kidney and liver problems) did leak into the soil, the level of those chemicals didn't approach danger levels as defined in federal drinking water standards.

Greenies from the Kootenai Environmental Alliance say that the report is hardly comforting. "It is important to note that the level by which the health risk is judged [are] the maximum amount of contaminants that can be ingested before health problems occur," says Ken Lustig, a KEA member and the former director of the Environment for Panhandle Health. "What happens to individuals who are more sensitive to these chemicals?" he wonders.

And while flaks from Spokane County and the Washington State Department of Health are indicating that the coast is (at least relatively) clear for drinking water, Lustig claims that the contaminant plumes in the aquifer "expand, decompose and migrate at different rates and at different levels of toxicity," suggesting that the worst could still be ahead.

Officials from the Idaho Department of Environmental Equality, the Washington Department of Ecology and the Kootenai Environmental Alliance all say they're still analyzing the data. Until then, go ahead, drink up. -- Joel Smith

Publication date: 1/06/04

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