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Blackwell gets thumbs up

by Alecia Warren & MIKE PATRICK
| April 10, 2010 9:00 PM

On Friday, the Army Corps of Engineers officially signed off on The Hagadone Corp.'s request to completely overhaul Blackwell Island, the roughly 26-acre chunk of land that greets travelers on the right side of U.S. 95 as they enter Coeur d'Alene. An expanded marina, retail, office and residential neighborhood will replace the rundown buildings and infrastructure there, with extensive environmental improvements made along the way.

COEUR d'ALENE - In five years or so, the southern entry into Coeur d'Alene might not be recognizable.

And that's a good thing.

On Friday, the Army Corps of Engineers officially signed off on The Hagadone Corp.'s request to completely overhaul Blackwell Island, the roughly 26-acre chunk of land that greets travelers on the right side of U.S. 95 as they enter Coeur d'Alene. An expanded marina, retail, office and residential neighborhood will replace the rundown buildings and infrastructure there, with extensive environmental improvements made along the way.

The permitting process took almost five years, but Hagadone officials said the time and effort have been worth it.

"This is a great thing for our company and it's a great thing for our community," said Duane B. Hagadone, chairman of The Hagadone Corp. Hagadone lauded the work of Hagadone Corp. executive John Barlow and a small army of consultants who guided the proposal through what Hagadone described as "a very complex and difficult process," a process that ultimately saw various environmentalist groups applauding a project they once opposed.

"I have the highest regard for the work John Barlow and his development team have done," Hagadone said. "When it's complete, this project will dramatically improve the environmental health of Blackwell Island and eliminate an eyesore for everyone who comes into the community from the south."

Barlow said Blackwell Island holds a place in the region's history, and that the project is intended to build upon that history.

"This ground way back was used by the Coeur d'Alene Tribe at the mouth of the Spokane River," he said. "It later was strategic to the original Fort Sherman compound, where it was an important trade center. For years the Blackwell Lumber Company operated there, and it became the Marina Yacht Club in the 1950s or early '60s.

"As a result of all that use and diversity, it's endured some abuse that this project is going to heal."

Barlow said some of the most important work will involve removal of mine waste, repair of shoreline and improvement of stormwater runoff. But he believes it's a solid investment.

He said the marina will be "the finest on the lake," with parking adjacent to slips and some larger slips for people who spend summers on their boat. "This is just an ideal location with virtually no wind," he said.

Eventually the project, which will have phased construction over the next several years, will include 405 leasable slips, 15 showroom slips and a reconstructed marina facility.

Clean sand and gravel dredged out of the basin will be used as fill to build other areas on the island above flood levels for retail and office development.

The final proposal didn't pose any long-term environmental impacts, said Greg Martinez, environmental resource specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office in Boise.

"This is one of those projects that took a long time to get to the point where it was a permitable project," Martinez said. "I think the applicant put a lot of effort into getting it to that point, and all the resource agencies worked very hard on it. Everyone in the end was pleased with what it ended up being."

The plan was constantly evolving, said Dan Redline, regional administrator for the Coeur d'Alene office of the Department of Environmental Quality, which granted water quality certification for the project.

"It did go through quite a bit of public reviews," Redline said. "That was an essential component, to have those opportunities for public review and have the applicant respond to various comments along the way."

Barlow said that ultimately, the island will be a place for people to "live, work and play."

"The significant thing to me is the effort it took to get this permit with an excellent team of consultants," he said, adding that experts include a civil engineer, geological engineer, hydrologist, land planner, environmental engineer, landscape/marina designer, surveyors and a historical consultant.

Barlow also said that as his company worked with the Army Corps of Engineers, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, the Idaho Department of Lands, the EPA and other interested agencies and groups over the past four years, "you could feel the cooperative effort coming together."

Barlow, who has worked with Hagadone for 31 years, helped replace another eyesore on the city limits. Two decades ago, the dilapidated, environmentally challenging remains of a sawmill at the eastern entry to the city were transformed by Hagadone into the Coeur d'Alene Resort Golf Course and its world-famous floating green.

Barlow said the same elements were at work with Blackwell.

"When Duane saw the property available he had the vision of it becoming this next genesis," Barlow said.

He said one of the reasons the permit has been approved is because all the entities involved know "we do what we say we're going to do and we do it right.

"We're different from a lot of companies because when the work is done, we're still going to be here. We also keep what we create so we make sure it's maintained to the very highest standards attainable."

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