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Friday, April 29, 2011

...And Then You Win Some

Four years. Four long years fighting to keep our rural valley in norther Idaho rural. And, now, we've won! Last night, the Kootenai County Board of County Commissioners voted 3-0 that the proposed wedding/special events center had no place in rural areas of the county - that it would fit in a commercial zone; that the commissioners wouldn't pass a text amendment to county zoning ordinances to facilitate commercial resorts, and would not authorize a conditional use permit to the applicants.

What did it take? Community organizing - all but one family in our valley was opposed to the "party barn," and registered their objections throughout the process. Effort - forming an association to challenge the county Planning Department (and win) in district court, meeting frequently and attending way too many hearings of government commissions and boards. Money - people throughout our valley (and a few from other parts of the county) donated tens of thousands of dollars to the fight. Persistence - going through county files and filing lots of public records requests. Professional help - a great attorney and an experienced planning consultant. The electoral process - the Board of County Commissioners granted the applicants a conditional use permit in 2009 on a 2-1 vote. In 2010, two commissioners were voted out of office - one supporter of the party barn and one opponent. They were replaced by two commissioners who saw to the heart of the problems with county planning processes and dragged along the remaining commissioner who had approved the project in 2009. So, a clean win.

And why does it really matter? I've come to cherish the rural lifestyle that has can be difficult to maintain, and easy to lose - the quiet mornings, punctuated by the calls of magpies, chickadees, and wild turkeys; the walks on our property, among the deer and the burbles of our spring, the breeze through the pines, firs, and aspens; the herd of elk that graze and then bed down for the night in the meadow by our house and on our middle hillside; neighbors who help you free your chainsaw from a tall tree, who ask your help to clear a line of sight for their satellite TV signal, who graze their cattle on your land and who graze your cattle on their spring grass. The enjoyment of neighboring children riding their horses along the county road and onto our trails.

This win also shows that, while you might not be able to fight city, you can fight the county - if you try hard enough.

Congratulations to everyone involved in our fight - and a big thanks to the Kootenai County Board of County Commissioners.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again

As Gene Autry sang, I'm back in the saddle again. Today was the first truly lovely day for cycling in months. Sunny, in the upper 30s when I went out, just a bit of a breeze. I'd been out a few times this spring, but it was a fight against the cold and wind. A couple of tech notes: after riding with a Giro Helios for nearly a decade, this winter I picked up an Ionos from Colorado Cyclist. The helmet liner really obviates the need for a cap on other than really cold ear-frosting days. Very cool. And, having lost about 20 pounds this summer, my old Pearl Izumi cold-weather jacket no longer fit; the bottom leaked like a badly insulated door. Got a Castelli Spunto from one of my LBS (Vertical Earth, in Coeur d'Alene), and am enjoying a close fit and comfortable warmth - particularly with the fold-up collar.

It was a day to enjoy nature - the rushing noise of the Spokane River, filling with water from the Post Falls dam; the chickadees; the Canada geese one of which managed to perch on a topped pine-tree about 8 feet off the ground (must have been a fantastic landing); and a whole array of dogs being walked by their people on the Centennial Trail, including two different people with Schipperke's (I'd only seen one before). A bit of a tailwind out, a bit of a headwind in. About 3 miles from the end of my 26 mile ride, a young woman on a new Trek time-trial bike caught me, and we chatted for most of the way back about her bike and triathlon experience. Then, she took off, and I rode back to my car.

The critters have come out with the spring. The Tom turkeys are strutting around near the house, fanning their tails, which seem to tilt left and right to help them navigate, like a mainsail on a three-master. Wings dragging on the ground, their heads blue and caruncles red, they work to corral their hens, putting on quite the show. Whitetail deer graze in bunches of six or eight. A few evenings ago, 7 cow and 1 bull elk grazed and bedded down on a hillside that last spring was logged off. I think that's a sign that the altered landscape will be in good condition.

So much rain this spring. I had to mow the back yard last weekend, the earliest in four years. The ground is still soft in most places, and the state road restrictions are still in place for our county road. Karen's been stalking the hillsides and meadows with her weed-puller, clearing any mullein and thistle within eye sight.

Yesterday, we were working on the hillside, Karen clearing weeds, I trimming off ankle-biting, eye-poking hawthorn branches, when a county pick-up appeared above us on the driveway leading to our putative home site. It was Jerry from the timber and ag department, coming to get the status of our grazing plans. I walked him through the meadow we're going to fence off this year, and the one we used last year (and will use again this year). We added a steer this year to our neighbors' herd, and we'll move them on to our place in a few months, when the meadow grass comes up ("meadow grass" always reminds me of Tom Rush's version of "Urge for Going." Blue, our diabetic Siamese, was with Karen; the twice-daily insulin shots have been doing him a lot of good. But, he's growing visibly older, and I don't know how many years we'll have with him. We're going to try to enjoy the summer together.