Today, Kootenai Environmental Alliance filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers mandate to remove the trees along the Rosenberry Drive (“The Dike Road”) in Coeur d’Alene.  The lawsuit alleges that the Corps failed to perform an adequate environmental analysis, and that the Corps is attempting to enforce a memorandum that isn’t actually a law. The Gonzaga University School of Law’s Environmental Law Clinic represents Kootenai Environmental Alliance in this case.

In an inspection just over a year ago, the Corps of Engineers cited the City of Coeur d’Alene for more than a hundred maintenance deficiencies on the flood control equipment that purportedly protects North Idaho College and the Fort Grounds neighborhood from flooding. Among the deficiencies cited by the Corps was the fact that the hundreds of mature Ponderosa pine trees that line the earthen levee portion were in violation of the Corps’ standing vegetation policy for levees.  To correct the deficiency, the City of Coeur d’Alene was instructed to cut the trees, remove the roots, and re-construct the levee embankments. To maintain the critically important certification for the levee, the City was given two years to comply.

The KEA lawsuit alleges that, at some point, the Corps of Engineers should have performed some sort of environmental analysis for the vegetation removal – either at the national program policy level, or at the local implementation level.  The Corps has essentially done neither, which KEA alleges is in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

We believe an environmental impact statement, if actually done, would show that the Corps policy would be devastating to the City of Coeur d’Alene, as well as communities around the country facing similar mandates. Moreover, a hard look at the environmental impacts would also show that there is essentially no scientific basis for a sweeping one-size-fits-all tree removal requirement.

In the lawsuit, KEA also alleges that the requirement that the City remove the trees is derived essentially from a Corps of Engineers memorandum, not actual regulations. For regulatory requirements to be enforceable, they should have been published in the Federal Register and opened up to the public for comment. That didn’t happen.

In many respects, the KEA lawsuit mirrors a lawsuit filed in California regarding the Corps of Engineers vegetation policy that would require removal of a huge swath of habitat in the Sacramento region. That lawsuit is still pending, and was recently joined by the California Department of Fish and Game.

The Corps of Engineers will be officially served with the lawsuit in the coming days. The complaint (a 20 page pdf) is available here:

2011-12-07 Complaint KEA v Army Corps