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Protection for Cougar Bay pilings

by Alecia Warren
| June 23, 2010 9:00 PM

Century-old log pilings remaining in a bay of Lake Coeur d'Alene might have some life left.

A Cougar Bay conservation group applied with the Idaho Department of Lands last week for a permit to preserve the several hundred pilings and booms in the bay, despite Kootenai County's history of pursuing their removal.

The goal of the Cougar Bay Osprey Protective Association, Inc. is preservation - not only of the nesting habitat the pilings provide osprey and other birds, but also of the pilings' historical value and the no-wake zone created more than 20 years ago, said member Dave Larsen.

"It's such a wildlife area," said Larsen, a Cougar Bay resident. "Cougar Bay is to wildlife what Tubbs Hill is to the citizens of Coeur d'Alene."

The application for a non-commercial encroachment permit filed last Friday seeks to protect the 682 poles scattered across roughly 150 acres of Cougar Bay and Lake Coeur d'Alene.

The protective association, comprised of Cougar Bay residents, would handle any maintenance issues, said the group's legal representative, Scott Reed.

"We don't want to do anything except keep it (the way it is)," Reed said on Monday.

He added that this permit wouldn't conflict with the designation and mooring buoys that Kootenai County was permitted to install across the mouth of the bay.

The group would allow the removal of a few pilings to allow for the buoys, he said.

"We've got 682. We can spare a few," he said.

The group's chief interest is protecting the habitat for osprey and other birds, Larsen said. But the community has a long investment in the pilings, he added, beginning with the area's long logging heritage.

The pilings also ward off motor boats and preserve the no-wake zone, he continued, which provides one of the few serene spots for non-motorized vessels on the lake.

"People come out in kayaks and canoes to observe the wildlife," he said. "This is a community treasure."

The pilings have been in place throughout the last century for harvesting timber, and have remained unused since logging mills throughout the county shuttered.

The latest leasee on the pilings was Foss Maritime Company. Its lease expired in December 2009.

Jim Aucutt, chairman of the county Parks and Waterways Advisory Board, said he didn't think keeping so many pilings in the bay was a good idea.

The wood pillars are a hazard to navigation, Aucutt said.

"The waters of the state of Idaho belong to the boaters," he said. "For 100 years, that bay has been blocked off because of the commercial industry. Now that they (logging companies) are gone, it's time to give it back to the boaters."

The county has been in negotiations with IDOL for three years over removing the pilings, Aucutt said. He attributed the length of the discussions to red tape and protests from residents.

"If you had asked me three months ago, I would have said it would take about a month," he said.

He only thinks a few poles are necessary to maintain osprey habitat, he added.

Commissioner Rick Currie also said the pilings are a safety issue, and most should be removed.

"We do feel that some pilings do need to remain in place. We do feel there is a number that everybody can agree on," Currie said, adding that the commissioners will later discuss what that number might be with the waterways board.

He didn't know offhand how much it would cost to remove the pilings.

"With the logging industry in the straits it's in today, it's inevitable that these things have to be addressed," the commissioner said.

Nick Snyder, director of the Parks and Waterways Department, could not be reached for comment.

Carl Washburn with IDOL said it is still unclear whether the county would need to apply for an encroachment permit to remove the pilings.

The timbers are a great benefit to the osprey, said Phil Cooper, wildlife educator with the Idaho Fish and Game office in Coeur d'Alene.

"They certainly do benefit osprey. As far as others, I don't know if there are any other species really dependent on them or using them," Cooper said. "If they were removed, I would suspect that some osprey would find alternative sites. However, they certainly do benefit osprey by being there."

Numerous pilings is better for the species, Cooper added.

"From the osprey perspective, they are somewhat territorial. They don't allow others to nest real close to them," he said. "I don't know if it would be detrimental if some came out, but certainly the ones that are left will be of benefit to the osprey."

The Osprey Protective Association had filed an application to keep the pilings in place in 2008, Reed said, but it was rejected due to an insufficient application fee.

Reed pointed out that Cougar Bay only comprises 1.3 percent of Lake Coeur d'Alene.

"I have difficulty thinking there will be public opposition to this. You've got 98 percent of the lake to run your power boat on," he said.

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