Ecology steps into Coyote Rock dock fight
May 11, 2010
Center for Justice
Forum Note: You can also read attached Ecology news release below.
State agency follows Spokane Riverkeeper’s lead in challenging controversial dock project.
The state’s top environmental enforcement agency is siding with the Spokane Riverkeeper in the case of a riverside development project that would add as many as thirty docks to an especially scenic and ecologically important stretch of the Spokane River.
The position contesting the dock project is laid out in a petition filed today on behalf of the Washington Department of Ecology in Spokane Superior Court. Specifically, the petition says the City of Spokane Valley erred when it exempted a Coeur d’Alene, Idaho-based real estate developer from a permit required by Washington’s Shoreline Management Act. (SMA).
The exemption was necessary for the developer, Coyote Rock, LLC, to justify a floating dock. The dock, put in place earlier this year, is being used to showcase recreational watercraft access to the Spokane River for prospective home-buyers in the Coyote Rock development in the Spokane Valley. The stretch of river is below the high bluff under the landmark Arbor Crest winery, just downstream from the county’s Plante’s Ferry Park, and is managed for the conservation of native redband trout.
The petition filed by Ecology names both the City of Spokane Valley and Coyote Rock, LLC as respondents. It asserts that the City wrongly issued a letter of exemption to Coyote Rock last month both because the single dock the company built on the river last winter does not qualify for the exemption, and because the “cumulative effects of locating 30 individual docks on this reach of the river will result in complete degradation of the shoreline” in violation of the SMA.
On the first point, and as a technical matter, Ecology acknowledges that the dock would have qualified for an exemption if, in fact, its purpose was intended for pleasure craft only, for the private non-commercial use of the owner.” But, according to Ecology, that’s not why the dock was built. Instead, Ecology argues, it was put there as a “spec” dock for the purpose of increasing the value of the lot and “intended for the future use of the purchaser of the lot.”
“Because the dock does not meet the terms of the exemption,” Ecology contends, “it is prohibited.”
More importantly, Ecology zeroes in on the long term plans to build 29 additional docks and criticizes the City of Spokane Valley’s exemption for failing “to contain appropriate conditions to address cumulative effects arising from the reasonably foreseeable construction of similar docks in the area.”
Ecology’s objections were filed by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Young.
“We very much support and appreciate Ecology’s leadership in appealing this issue,” says Spokane Riverkeeper Rick Eichstaedt. “Without addressing the cumulative effects of the thirty docks planned by the developer, this reach of the river could suffer a death from a thousand cuts.”
Eichstaedt said the Spokane Riverkeeper is seriously considering intervening in the petition action in support of Ecology’s efforts.
In February, on behalf of the Riverkeeper and the Spokane Falls chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Gonzaga Environmental Law Clinic appealed to the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife to have the dock removed and to force Fish & Wildlife to withdraw its approval of the project based, in part, on the agency’s refusal to look at the broader scope of the developer’s plans to add the additional docks.
But this appeal was rejected by a WDFW assistant director last month who, among other things, concluded that the agency was only required to address the single dock (and not the cumulative effects of all the planned docks) and that WDFW simply had “no authority to consider compliance with the Shoreline Management Act when conditioning or denying” its permit for the project.
Eichstaedt says the Riverkeeper intends to appeal the WDFW determination.
“Unlike Ecology,” he says, “the Department of Fish and Wildlife doesn’t seem to understand how these docks will have a cumulative and damaging effect on the river in this area.”