Army Corps of Engineers plans to revoke Idaho Club’s permit for marina development

The US Army Corps of Engineers intends to revoke the Idaho Club’s permit for a private marina and housing project on Lake Pend Oreille in response to recent litigation by conservation groups.

The Idaho Club, a golf resort near Sandpoint, wants to build the project at the mouth of Trestle Creek, about 4 miles south of the golf course along Highway 200. The creek is a major spawning ground for endangered bull trout.

In a Sept. 15 letter addressed to William Haberman, managing member of Valiant Idaho LLC, which owns the Idaho Club, the Corps stated it will continue to suspend its permit for the Trestle Creek Marina Project, and proposed to revoke the permit effective Sept. 26.

Haberman and an attorney for the Corps did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Idaho Club was given an opportunity to request a meeting with the Corps for more information. The letter stated that the Corps would revoke the permit after the meeting.

“We are really pleasantly surprised the Corps is planning on revoking their permit,” said Kristine Akland, northern Rockies attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. Last week, Akland said she witnessed bull trout spawning in the creek, which was “incredibly special and unique.”

On Aug. 25, the Idaho Conservation League and the Center for Biological Diversity sued the US Fish and Wildlife Service for violating the Endangered Species Act and the Corps for violating the National Environmental Policy Act. Then on Sept. 7, the conservation groups sent a notice of intent to sue the Corps for also violating the Endangered Species Act.

The Corps first permitted the project in 2009 and most recently renewed it in 2019. The Corps suspended the permit in August 2021 after the Idaho Conservation League and Center for Biological Diversity sent an earlier notice of intent to sue over the agency’s failure to restart consultation with FWS, which is required by the Endangered Species Act.

FWS issued a biological opinion on the proposed development’s impact on bull trout on Aug. 12. The opinion found that the development would wound, capture and kill bull trout; and would have negative long-term effects to the fish and critical habitat in Trestle Creek. FWS nevertheless concluded that the project would not jeopardize the recovery of the species.

The conservation groups filed their lawsuit in response. One of their complaints was FWS’s failure to review new design plans for the project.

In the letter to Haberman, the Corps said the revocation is warranted because of “changes in the proposed project” as well as “significant objections related to these new designs, raised in litigation associated with this project” that were not considered earlier.

The 2019 permit relied on outdated information from the original 2009 design plan, said Whitney Palmer, a Sandpoint-based staffer for the Center for Biological Diversity.

In August, the Idaho Club submitted “updated design information” that was not included in the documents evaluated by the Corps when it issued the 2019 permit. “The newly provided designs now include five waterfront single-family residential parcels, a community pavilion, and additional features such as road infrastructure,” the letter stated.

Akland said if the Corps revokes the permit, this would satisfy the concerns raised in the notice of intent because the project could no longer move forward without getting a new permit. “If there is a revocation, we are 100 percent calling this a victory,” she said.

Once the Corps revokes the permit, any new permit for the development would need to go through proper environmental review, a press release from the conservation groups said. This would require the Corps to complete an environmental impact statement, a public interest review, full notice and comment process, and new consultation with the Service under the Endangered Species Act to ensure threatened and endangered species would not be harmed. The Corps would also need to determine the effects the project would have on wetlands and could potentially require the developer to purchase credits through a wetland mitigation bank.

If built, the project would drastically reconfigure the creek and shoreline designated as bull trout critical habitat by FWS. The development would involve rerouting a branch of the creek that empties into the inlet where the marina would be built.

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