COEUR d'ALENE — An upstream battle dealing with pounding wakes on Kootenai County waterways finally appears to be rounding the bend.
After county commissioners heard an earful of emotional testimony from both sides, Chairman Chris Fillios said at the end of the meeting Wednesday that a change in the rules was coming.
"This board will not kick the can down the road," he told about 100 attendees at the county's Administration Building, drawing applause from some in the audience. "No decision satisfies nothing. A decision will be made."
A specific proposal from the board, however, hasn't been determined.
"I expect that during the next two to three weeks we'll be contemplating an ordinance," Fillios said. "That will come before you with a public hearing."
Notices for public hearings must be published 28 days before the hearing. A decision on the proposed ordinance will be made after the public hearing.
Commissioners have recommendations from the county's Parks and Waterways Advisory Board to consider.
Terry Werner, the advisory board's chairman, presented the recommendations to the commissioners that include:
• Making the narrow channel on the north side of Spirit Lake near the public boat launch a no-wake zone.
• Resubmitting a January 2018 advisory board proposal that includes hiring an additional two marine deputies with an emphasis on the Spokane River, mandatory boater education for those who are cited for a boating violation, and funding for public education campaigns.
"This is a very contentious issue," said Werner, adding that he's been on the advisory board for five years and wakes have been discussed at every meeting.
"We request that the commissioners come up with a plan to move us forward. It would be nice to move on to other items."
John Condon, also a member of the advisory board, said the majority of the board agreed that the recommendations were a reasonable first step and less drastic than harsher proposals like eliminating wake surfing on the river.
"I think everybody in this room agrees there's a problem," he said. "What we disagree on is (how to solve it). We want rules that are enforceable and not too cumbersome."
Condon said increasing polarization comes from no action to correct it. He said that even if the move doesn't prove to be the right one, it can always be modified.
"Property owners have every right to ask for assistance in protecting their property," Condon said. "They pay a lot of property taxes. The boaters have every right to use public waterways, but more education should help them do that more respectfully."
Commissioner Bill Brooks said the vast majority of boaters want to be good neighbors and abide by laws protecting property, but perhaps 5 percent are not in that boat.
"It's a safety issue; it's a property rights issue," he said. "People who own property do not want to see their property diminished."
Homeowner Ken Stauffer said his 2-year-old granddaughter was knocked off his dock by a wake last year.
"If I wasn't there, the consequences would have been tragic," Stauffer said. "Education is not going to negate the physics. We've watched kayakers and paddleboarders be swamped."
Homeowner Clay Howard, who lives on Mill View Lane, broke down the issue this way: "A little mutual respect would be nice. The blatant disregard for property of others is continuously breathtaking."
While some property owners support banning wake surfing on the river, others believe that move would unfairly target the activity when other sources such as large boats can make big wakes.
"The problem is not just wake surf boats," Mark Robertson said. "We want equal access to the river."
Craig Hamelink said it's all about perspective.
"If I had 100 tubers going by my home on the Spokane River each day, I'd have an issue with tubers," he said. "If I had 100 big boats going by, I'd have an issue with big boats."
Susan Stiger, who has owned a home on the river for more than 25 years and has a civil engineering degree with an emphasis in hydrology, said typical boats generate a 1-foot wake that can be accommodated on the river. However, if the wake reaches 3 feet, the damage potential becomes nine times that of a typical boat. She suggested prohibiting boats that generate wakes of 24 inches or more on the river or within 500 feet of shore anywhere in Kootenai County.
"Focusing on the wave height (rather than the specific boat) is grounded in science," she said.
Greg Delavan, representing the Coeur d'Alene Lakeshore Property Owners Association, said pounding wakes is also a problem on the lake.
"When people leave the river, they still want to be close to shore," he said.
While the 45-minute meeting was not a public hearing, Fillios allowed attendees to comment for up to one minute until he had to close the podium due to another scheduled meeting on the budget.
Several attendees who did not have the opportunity to speak left written testimony with the clerk.