Mudslides, storms challenge 2017

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SANDPOINT — From mudslides and ice storms to racist fliers and the school district’s supplemental levy, 2017 saw no shortage of news in Bonner County.

This is the second in a series of articles looking back at the top local stories of the year, continuing with February and March. Stories are listed in no particular order.

• Two collapsed roofs, downed power lines and minor downtown flooding were reported after an ice storm shellacked Bonner County on Feb. 9.

Selkirk Fire, Rescue and EMS Chief Ron Stocking said two snow roofs shielding mobile homes on Walker Way in Sagle failed. There were no injuries and Stocking said one of the trailers was inhabited, while the other was vacant.

Northern Lights, meanwhile, reported that 5,398 of its power customers were affected by the ice storm. By Thursday evening, 3,719 customers were without power. The most hard-hit areas were Priest Lake, Boundary County and northwestern Montana, where hundreds of customers were without power. The utility also reported scattered outages north of Sandpoint.

Avista Utilities reported a half-dozen outages in its service area on Thursday night. Because of the rain and snow, city officials were concerned about flooding in the area and asked residents to help clear the storm drains in front of their homes and businesses. Among the areas which experienced minor flooding was the Cedar Street Bridge, which saw some water come into the structure.

• Mud, debris and unstable ground conditions wreaked havoc on roads and homes across the county in March.

Crews were working hard to get East River Road, north of Priest River, opened back up for traffic after a mudslide not only closed the road, but knocked out power in the area overnight. A mile or so north of that slide, the road had been closed for about a week and remained closed for a couple months due to an unstable hillside causing the road to collapse.

Along the same area north of Priest River, a mudslide on Peninsula Road near the intersection with Highway 57 closed the road briefly, and a mudslide at milepost 2 on Highway 57 cut off traffic for several hours. In addition, one home was destroyed and another half-dozen homes were threatened in a landslide at Talache in Sagle on March 18.

Selkirk Fire, Rescue and EMS Chief Ron Stocking said the slide forced the closure of Talache Beach Road. The home that was destroyed was unoccupied, but another home was and had to be evacuated. As many as six homes were evacuated because of the subsidence, which Stocking said was caused by soaking rains saturating the hillside.

Soon after, the National Weather Service in Spokane issued a flood warning on for the tri-county area. The agency said recent rain and snow melt would result in increased runoff with areas of small stream flooding and field flooding.

Bonner County declared a state of emergency in mid-March, although the declaration waves no wand to fix slide troubles, particularly as they relate to roads. But the declaration could free up funding for uninsured homes impacted by landslides.

Soon after the Talache Beach landslide, Lee and Myloa Stewart of Spokane Valley sought $367,265 in damages after their home was knocked off its foundation. The tort claim, which serves as a notice of intent to sue unless damages are awarded, was filed in 1st District Court on March 27.

If the claim is rejected, the Stewarts would be permitted to recover damages through a civil action in 1st District Court.

• Since July 2016, the Lake Pend Oreille School District has been inundated with public records requests — 132 as of Feb. 1 to be exact.

Public records requests are the right of citizens to keep informed about what is going on in governing entities, but district officials said the time to process those requests, on top of the cost of printing and legal fees, can be taxing on staff.

"Since July 1, hundreds of hours have been spent in response to these (requests)," said district Superintendent Shawn Woodward.

The district lists the requests on their website and according to those records, 117 of the public records requests had been made by a local couple, Kathy and Dan Rose.

Due to the amount of requests, the district added a line item to the supplemental levy ballot of $5,000 per year to cover the cost. Woodward said at this rate, $5,000 will not cover the hours needed to fill the requests, as the time associated with the requests is more of a concern than the actual cost and hinders staff from performing the regular duties required by their position.

• Criminal proceedings against a Blanchard man accused of shooting two Bonner County sheriff’s deputies were placed on hold amid questions of mental health.

Defense counsel for Adam Deacon Foster moved for a mental health evaluation to determine his capacity to understand the proceedings and assist in his own defense.

“The foregoing motion is brought on the basis that the defendant is having difficulty determining what is real and not real, and has been suffering from this incapacity for over a year,” Chief Public Defender Janet K. Whitney said in the Jan. 27 motion.

Judge Debra Heise granted the motion on Jan. 30, court records indicate.

Threats of imminent homicidal violence prompted deputies to arrest Foster, according to unsealed probable cause hearing testimony.

As a result of Foster’s disturbing comments, Bonner County deputies Michael Gagnon, Justin Penn and William Craffey devised a plan to apprehend Foster on a year-old arrest warrant on battery charges.

Foster, 31, is charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder in connection with the wounding of deputies Michael Gagnon and Justin Penn during a shootout outside Foster’s home on Mountain View Road on Jan. 16. Foster was injured during the exchange as well.

Foster’s fitness to proceed in court was drawn into question because his attorneys believed he was having trouble differentiating reality from fantasy, according to court documents.

• Nearly 200 people packed City Hall on Feb. 1 after a controversial Greenprint report resurfaced on the City Council's agenda.

With about 130 people in Council Chambers and many more lined up out the door, it was a stark contrast to the previous meeting on Jan. 18, which garnered no public attendance whatsoever. Of those who were able to get in the door, about half were in agreement and half were against the report as indicated by the applause, or utterings of disapproval, depending on who was speaking.

In the end, after about 50 public comments and nearly four hours, council members voted in support of the report with the exception of Councilman Bob Camp, who believes it is overreaching.

Finalized in 2016, the Greenprint report was initiated in 2014 by the Idaho Conservation League, Kaniksu Land Trust, the Trust for Public Land and the planning departments for the cities of Sandpoint and Ponderay. It focuses on 94,500 acres prioritized for land conservation with four main goals: maintain water quality, provide recreation, protect wildlife habitat and preserve working lands.

The Greenprint area includes Sandpoint, Ponderay, Kootenai, Dover, Hope, East Hope, and spanning even further into Bonner County to include much of the Idaho Panhandle National Forest and Selkirk recreation areas.

• Hannah Fingel, a Sandpoint High School senior at the time, was recognized as one of the top students in the country as she was named a finalist in 62nd annual National Merit Scholarship program.

Between her outstanding academic achievement with a 4.38 GPA, her community involvement and other accomplishments, Fingel is deserving of the honor.

• When Idaho Gov. "Butch" Otter signed Senate Bill 1060 into law in March, it was a huge win for one local family, among others.

Jessica Rachels, a Kootenai mom, worked with Idaho legislators on the bill in hopes that, through education, soon-to-be moms will avoid contracting cytomegalovirus — one of a few viruses that can pass through the placenta to the fetus.

Her daughter, Natalie, 11, was born with CMV after Rachels unknowingly contracted this "silent virus" while she was pregnant. The virus typically shows few, if any, signs and may simply feel like a cold. But when a child is affected in the womb, it can cause damage to the child's brain, eyes and/or inner ears. It can also cause miscarriage or death of the child after it is born. One in 150 children are born with CMV and nearly one in every five who are born with CMV develop permanent disabilities.

The law will now require the state Department of Health and Welfare to make available up-to-date and accurate information regarding CMV to health care providers, day care providers, churches, schools and more.

• In March, the decision of whether to dissolve Sandpoint’s Business Improvement District or keep it in place was given an end date — July 19. Council members agreed on the date to coincide with budget season and have a decision made prior to the city's budget hearing in August.

A survey of business and property owners within BID boundaries found that 55 of those who responded believe the BID should be dissolved, while 25 percent said it should continue and 20 percent were undecided. Because these numbers indicate a desire to see the BID dissolved, Councilman Bob Camp said it seems like a waste of time for council to draw out the process.

The fate of the BID was an ongoing discussion by council members, community members and city staff until the ultimate decision in summer of 2017 to dissolve it.

• A proposed property swap was rejected by Ponderay City Council members in February, but resurface in March. The second time time, however, it was approved.

The properties include a city-owned parcel and its adjoining property located on Triangle Drive just north of the Lake Pend Oreille School District offices. City planning director Erik Brubaker said a small business owner, who is looking to relocate to Ponderay, was interested in doing the swap — acre for acre — for the parcels. The privately-owned parcel, south of the city-owned parcel, is slightly larger and has a drainage running through it.

After hearing the proposal during the Feb. 21 meeting, council members were not opposed to the land swap, but the city would have, in the original proposal, been stuck with a $5,000 engineering cost to create an access road on the individual's property. Council members agreed they were not comfortable with the cost. Brubaker then spoke with the individual who was still willing to do the swap and split the cost.

The benefit to the city is that it will have a say in the process as city engineers will do the design, which is important mainly because of the drainage. The city will also get right-of-way dedication to provide an access road that lines up with Schweitzer Plaza Drive to the other side of the property in the Larkspur Street and Lupine Loop area. Brubaker said the property is used heavily by foot traffic going back and forth between Triangle Drive and the Larkspur and Lupine area.

• Luke Mayville, Yale graduate, author and postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University, credits his success to the education and inspiration he received from his teachers growing up — from his early years at Sagle Elementary to his graduation from Sandpoint High School in 2003.

Because of his adoration for the school system he grew up in, Mayville and a fellow SHS graduate who still lives in the area, Garrett Strizich, organized a door-to-door campaign this weekend to advocate for Lake Pend Oreille School District's $17 million supplemental levy, which was up for vote the following Tuesday.

"The schools meant so much to me growing up, I feared waking up out of town on March 15 and seeing that the levy failed by 20 votes, and that, therefore, the system that helped raise me would begin to die," Mayville said.

In addition to Mayville’s campaign, more than 40 SHS students marched through downtown in support of the levy.

• After waiting anxiously for the election results on the night of March 15, Lake Pend Oreille School District officials were thrilled to see the turnout of support for the district's $17 million supplemental levy. 

The levy passed with 64-percent voter approval with 4,991 voters in favor and 2,806 against the levy. With 7,797 votes cast, district Superintendent Shawn Woodward said he believes the turnout was the highest it has ever been for a supplemental levy election in the district. It was also the second highest passage rate for a supplemental levy in the district, he said.

"Typically we might get anywhere between 3,500 and 5,000 for a supplemental levy, but we had close to 8,000 turn out," Woodward said.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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