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Golf as a Way of Life?

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A development proposal in Priest River raises concerns about roads and water

Picture a city street four miles from town. Kind of boggles the mind, doesn’t it? Mine, at any rate. That’s what residents—I’m one, at the end of said road in Priest River’s historic Italian Settlement—are trying to wrap their minds around if a massive annexation of much of the area is approved at a city council public hearing on July 28. Approximately one thousand acres of land are involved.

The annexation is sure to go through. The city looks at it as its sole means of controlling the impacts of a proposed, approximately 879-acre, high-end golf course and condominium development on two adjoining former cattle ranches that were previously owned by the Harold Anselmo and Frank Jachetta families.

The annexation was requested by a group of golf course developers who several years ago purchased the two ranches, east of the old L-P mill site (historically, Keyser’s Slough). The slough, itself now a wetlands mitigation project, lies adjacent to Highway 2, east of the highway bridge over the Priest River, at the current east city limits of the city of Priest River.

The developers of The Settlement, as the project is called, originally went to Bonner County to request a zone change that would make the project possible in the county. As a result, the zoning of the area was changed from Agricultural to Recreational. “But they (the developers) wanted to have their own water and sewer systems,” Priest River Mayor Jim Martin said in a recent interview. “There was the danger of the sewer effluent leaching into the (Pend Oreille) river, and I was not in favor of it (the project).”

The city’s drinking water intake pipe runs several hundred feet out into the Pend Oreille, just a couple of miles downstream. According to Martin and Bryan Quayle, the city’s planning and zoning administrator, county commissioners and the Department of Environmental Quality in Coeur d’Alene eventually sent the developers to the city to explore a possible annexation by Priest River.

On the face of it, the annexation seems a little far-fetched, but there are good reasons for it in the view of Priest River officials and several rural residents of the settlement area who have since requested that their properties be included in the annexation. Those residents are after the services—the main one, presumably, being access to a sewer system. One resident even told me he’d sold all but the two acres his house sits on to the developers to facilitate the golf course project, which he considers to be “the salvation of Priest River” (meaning jobs, taxes, and improved city services).

My property, and that of neighbors above and below me (I live on a hill), are not among the properties to be annexed. The county road will be the dividing line between us and the mountainside owned by the developers, and the road will be annexed. My primary concern is who’s going to plow the hill this winter?

When my husband and I were first married, over 50 years ago, we fought our county commissioner at the time to a standstill over snow plowing. Even though the road was county-owned, the commissioner was determined that we who insisted on living in such a “remote area” should not expect the county to plow our road. Until this spring, when Bonner County reconstructed the road up the hill, it hadn’t done much of anything else to improve and maintain it in all those years, but it has done a bang-up job most of the time in keeping the road open in the winter. Because of limited finances, the City of Priest River, on the other hand, doesn’t even do a good job of maintaining and plowing its current streets.

Well, according to County Commissioner Joe Young, Quayle, and Mayor Martin, I won’t have to worry about not being able to get in and out when the snow lies deep and the top of the hill is a sheet of glass. The details haven’t been worked out yet, but “we’re looking for an agreement between the county and the city to maintain the roads in the annexed area,” Martin promised. “We’re trying to be proactive and work with the county.”

Or perhaps the developers will be required to plow the snow, said Quayle.

One hundred percent of all monies realized from the county Road and Bridge tax levies go to the county if only county properties are involved, but otherwise the money is split fifty-fifty between county and city. Furthermore, said Quayle, the city is proposing an Urban Renewal District to include basically the waterfront in town, the school properties, and the city’s main streets, along with the roads in the Settlement development. State law allows a URD to include all roads within its boundaries, and those tax levies could be used to maintain the whole Settlement Road (and supposedly Corks Road up my hill).

In explaining that The Settlement could be enacted as either a subdivision or a Planned Unit Development, Quayle explained that, for those of us who live out here and everyone who cares about open space, the latter would be the way to go. “Developers can’t go beyond the maximum density stipulated in an annexation,” he said. “In The Settlement that would be one unit (residence) per acre. One unit per acre without the golf course is different than one acre with the golf course. The latter will allow for open space by clustering the houses in pockets. One unit per acre otherwise will cause a loss of open space.”

Quayle explained that, because state law makes a subdivision proposal a quasi-judicial matter, public officials can’t discuss a subdivision outside of a public hearing. An annexation, however, is a legislative matter that can be, and the city welcomes and encourages questions and discussion.

Perhaps the biggest concern of the present city residents is the matter of whether the city can provide water and sewer services to the development without hurting those already on the systems. Priest River’s delivery systems, especially for water, have been struggling for years.

According to both Martin and Quayle, Priest River’s upgraded Wastewater Treatment Plant will be able to handle all of the sewage coming from the annexed properties. The water plant is another matter. Martin said it would currently cost $8-10 million to upgrade and expand the city water system to meet current environmental requirements, which seem to become more rigorous all the time. The city doesn’t want to go that route any more, and not just because of the cost. Sedimentation and possible water contamination are big concerns with the city’s current system, and the latter has now been exacerbated by the milfoil treatment being conducted annually in the Pend Oreille. As a result, the city has acquired three acres of the old L-P property and is drilling a water well in an area known to contain a major aquifer.

“With the well behind the Sheriff’s Sub Station, there will be no need for a water plant,” Martin said. “Wells use a chlorinator ingester system that doesn’t require the filters and other equipment that a water treatment plant needs.” Since one well probably won’t be able to handle the city’s current water needs and that of the annexed area, a second well will likely become necessary (at the developers’ expense), but that has not been determined as yet. It could be drilled by the existing well or on the east (far) end of the Settlement. He believes it would most likely be drilled by the existing well, since the adequacy of the aquifer on the east end is doubtful. Also, “if there was a well on the east end of the Settlement, a reservoir tank would probably be needed,” Martin added.

As a neighbor of the proposed annexation, I’ll never favor either it or the development simply because I am still grieving the loss of those two beautiful ranches, where whitetail deer and turkeys are seen throughout the year, elk and moose in winter and spring, and Canada geese rest and recuperate on their annual migrations in spring and fall. (I could do without the turkeys, but that’s a different story.) Occasionally, even a black bear puts in an appearance.

And, if I’d wanted to live in town, I’d have moved to one long ago. While snow plowing is my major concern, I also worry about traffic and losing my irrigation water. It comes from the small creek that tumbles down the mountainside through my place. My storage reservoir will be on city right-of-way when the annexation goes through, and the intake pipe is situated in the middle of the creek on development property. Supposedly, I have the first water rights on the creek. I hope that means “in perpetuity.” For the last nearly 25 years, first one well, which failed, and now a new one has provided my domestic water, but the well isn’t very deep and is located on the opposite side of the creek from my garden and orchard. My acres are on south- and west-facing slopes, whose thin, rocky soil is highly dependent on plentiful water.

The city’s major concern at the present time is that neither the city nor anyone else knows exactly what the developers will present as their final plan for the development. The concept has changed several times since first proposed. “We’re trying to be proactive about it because of the concerns about it,” Martin stressed after the recent public hearing by the city’s planning and zoning commission that sent the annexation proposal to the council. “A lot of work has to go into it between now and the (council’s) public hearing.”

Oldtown resident Greg Snow, of Inland Northwest Consultants, is the front man and spokesman for the developers, a consortium of investors who call themselves R and R Leasing (who are these people?). He says the next step in the process after the annexation is approved will be a “presentation of some kind” from the investors spelling out their final proposal in detail. Like Martin and Quayle, he believes the annexation will be a good thing for the city. “The city won’t get the tax revenues (if it’s in the county),” he said, “but it would get the impacts.”

As Quayle pointed out, the proposed annexation is friendly. The city made the developers go to the neighboring landowners to ask if they wanted to be included, and some of them did. “The city is not interested in a hostile annexation,” he said.

Cities seem to have to grow or die, and as Mayor Martin said, east is the logical way for Priest River to expand. I am reminded of a statement made by one of the original developers of the Rivertown Mall in Priest River in the early 1980s. “I think Priest River’s a sleeper,” he said. “Someday it’s going to wake up.”

I’m also reminded of all the comments I’ve heard about my town from Sandpoint residents over the years since. “What’s the matter with Priest River?” they’ve demanded to know. “Why don’t residents do something about its rundown condition so it can progress and thrive?”

Well, many people did, finally. But “progress” has its drawbacks! Where can we rural dwellers go to keep the kind of lifestyle we treasure? No matter how far we run, we can be sure the developers will be hot on our heels, itching to spoil what they trumpet as our wonderful quality of life. Maybe we all should reconcile ourselves to golf as a way of life?

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Marylyn Cork

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