Kootenai Environmental Alliance provided testimony last night at a hearing by the Idaho Department of Lands on whether to approve a proposal for up to 12 overnight mooring buoys in Cougar Bay and a string of buoys across the mouth of the Bay to demarcate a no wake zone. The proposal, sponsored by Kootenai County Parks and Waterways, purports to protect the sensitive Bay in advance of removal of the existing pilings and log booms that act as a barrier to boat traffic currently.

 Cougar Bay remains an amazing treasure. It is close to town, but offers rich wildlife and bird habitat, excellent fisheries, and a natural shoreline protected by public ownership and private conservation easements. It is also a refuge for quiet water recreation. Near the BLM boat launch and protected by pilings from the bustling big boat traffic at the busy north end of the Lake, the Bay is the perfect spot for kayaks and canoes and quiet small-boat fishing.

 Parks and Waterways defended its proposal with Director Nick Snyder saying that “change will come someday” and this proposal gets out in front of that change. Jim Aucutt from the Kootenai County Parks and Waterways Advisory Board also defended the proposal, saying that “a lot of boats” will come into the Bay when the pilings are removed, and the proposed “no wake zone” would help to protect the Bay. However, there are no plans (or funding) yet to remove the pilings, left over from long-closed lumber mills.

 There was little disagreement with the no wake zone, but the overnight mooring buoys, which would take up 10 acres of the Bay, attracted a great deal of opposition at the hearing. Citing concerns with noise, sewage, and enforcement issues, in addition to the impacts on the natural resources and quiet recreation, nearby residents, paddlers, and KEA expressed opposition to the intrusion.

 Both Snyder and Aucutt, however, said that the mooring buoys were a “package deal” with the no wake zone. Snyder commented that the Parks and Waterways’ customer “is motorized boaters,” and both Snyder and Acutt noted that because boater fees will pay for the buoys, motorized boaters should get the benefit of mooring buoys in the Bay.

 Notwithstanding the disturbingly narrow view of a County agency’s mission, we do think the Parks and Waterways proposal is well-intentioned. But it is maybe a bit premature. While the pilings are still in place, a better approach might have been a wider collaborative effort. It should have been possible in a more comprehensive effort, for example, to resolve the issue of pilings simultaneously with establishing the no-wake zone and to get more thoughtful and permanent protection for all of Cougar Bay.  With a broader set of stakeholders, not everything necessarily would need to be funded out of boater fees, so the “package deal” for overnight mooring would not be a necessary element.

 Hopefully the Department of Lands, which is due to make a decision on the proposals by June 7th, will reject this proposal so that a better one can be crafted.