by Inlander Staff

Protesters Winning -- SANDPOINT, Idaho -- The Rock Creek Alliance, in coalition with five other environmental groups, seems to have won a skirmish in its battle against the proposed Rock Creek Mine.

On Thursday, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service withdrew its approval of the mine -- putting the project on hold for at least a couple of months.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service wanted to reevaluate their biological opinion while still keeping it in place," says Mary Mitchell of the Rock Creek Alliance. "But the judge said they either had to defend it in court or withdraw it. They chose to withdraw it." Without a biological opinion in place, the project is stalled.

An already planned rally and march against the mine will still take place in Sandpoint on Saturday.

The Rock Creek Mine would be located off the Clark Fork River, 25 miles upstream from Lake Pend Oreille, and would tunnel underneath the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness Area.

When federal and state authorities approved the mine earlier this year, environmentalists stepped up their protests, saying that the agencies involved weren't protecting grizzly bears and other endangered wildlife in the area. The coalition eventually sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"We're hoping in several months they'll come back with the reevaluation and say that there is no reasonable way they can allow this mine," says Mitchell.

-- Pia K. Hansen

The rally is at noon on Saturday, April 6, at the north end of Long Bridge. Call: (208) 265-8272.

Signs of Age -- SPOKANE -- It's 91 years old, and its youthful vitality has crumbled away: The Monroe Street bridge needs to be rebuilt.

City engineers discovered this three years ago, following an investigation that revealed broken bridge supports and concrete eroded so badly that the reinforcing iron inside was exposed and rusting. A kiosk unveiled Monday at City Hall shows, through historical photos, how workers constructed the bridge in 1910-11, and how present-day workers plan to rebuild it, beginning in October.

The kiosk is available for public viewing at City Hall until April 16. That day, from 4 to 7 pm, there's a public meeting on the matter at the Spokane Arena's Champions Room.

What city officials don't know quite yet is who is going to pay for the $20 million project.

Oh, the feds will pay for most of it, at least the $14 million that they've already promised, according to City Engineer and Project Manager Jerry Sinclair. The remaining $6 million tab will be split among U.S., state and city governments, but the city won't know how much will come out of local budgets for about a year, Sinclair says.

The Monroe Bridge is one of five spans across the Spokane River in downtown. The others remain in good repair, according to Sinclair, except for the Post Street Bridge.

Aged and stressed already -- officials closed it to truck traffic several years ago, well before even Monroe was -- the Post Street Bridge will someday be closed to all vehicles, says Sinclair. It will remain open to pedestrians, and continue to protect a large sewer line below it.

Says Sinclair: "We're hoping to get started on it as soon as the Monroe Bridge is done." -- Dan Richardson

The Drought is Over -- SPOKANE -- There are two questions when it comes to drought-relief: How much snow fell, and how quickly will it melt? Government sources report average or better snow packs in Inland Northwest mountains this spring.

Last year's drought appears to be over for Eastern Washington and North Idaho, says Rich Tinker, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center outside Washington, D.C.

Officials record the Spokane, Priest and Coeur d'Alene river basins' snowpack at about 120 percent of normal. The Idaho Panhandle is also at about 120 percent, and the Clark Fork River basin in western Montana is around 105 percent.

Last year's drought was one of the area's worst ever. Last summer, the Spokane River ran at less than half its historic average, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. That meant paltry power generation at Avista's eight Spokane and Clark Fork dams, translating into record power costs for residents.

The question now is, how quickly will all the snow melt away? The dams can only use so much at one time to generate power, says Avista spokeswoman Catherine Markson.

"It's easy to look up in the hills and say, 'great snowpack' and say 'great runoff,' but that's not the case. It's really how fast it comes off," says Markson. "What we really want is long, cool spring." -- Dan Richardson

Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Feb. 13
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