Where are the Buoys?

July 11, 2020

Just the other day I received an e-mail from a neighbor just across our small bay.  She expressed her frustration with the slow pace of legal navigational buoys deployment. She went on to explain that their illegal buoy was removed in good faith to pave the way for deployment of legal buoys to mark the two hundred foot no wake zone.  She described that in the meantime, Jet Ski incursions into the bay which is not four hundred feet in width continue.  She described the situation with wading and swimming in the bay and such incursions as an accident ready to occur.  I have little doubt she is alone in her frustration, because I too am as frustrated with the inability of the governing entities involved to coordinate a plan to set a number of legal navigational buoys to instruct power boat and Jet Ski on the legal limit and then enforce that limit for the safety of all the users of Hayden Lake.

Responding with an e-mail expressing my frustration and copying as many county commissioners and improvement district board members as well as the sheriff’s office was the least I could do to push this process forward.  The effort seems akin to howling into a gale force wind.

What we have here is a near perfect storm of the partitioned governing responsibilities over the recreational use of our lake mixed with some admixture of bureaucratic turf protection.  The Department of Lands manages the encroachments into the lake which is the public’s property.  Lands has required all the illegal buoys be removed before the legally permitted ones are placed.  Rather than to simply remove these illegal encroachments on the public domain, the Department has a long drawn out legal process to force their removal.  It is as if somebody pitched a tent in my driveway without permission and I’d not have the right to remove it without bringing a legal process against the trespasser. Given this management paradox, the Hayden Lake Watershed Association joined the Hayden Lake Watershed Improvement District in requesting illegal buoys be removed. 

Meanwhile the Department of Lands only issues buoy permits to marinas and governmental units.  Even though the Hayden Lake Watershed Improvement District is a subdivision of state government, the county made application for the fourteen legal navigational buoys.  A system of some thirty drawn up by an expert on boats and their operation and proposed by the Association was cut to eight primary and six alternates by the county and sheriff’s office. The Association and the District were willing to accept fourteen to get the ball rolling, but the county has stuck to the eight figure.  So there were sixty some buoys that lake residents illegally put out to protect themselves from illegal boating practices.  The Association proposed a system of thirty buoys and accepted fourteen in the hopes shifting to a system that is legal and enforceable. Now we are told eight should replace some sixty. One has to question why the county is involved in setting buoys in the first case on our lake, when we have a district that will do all the work of purchasing, placing and maintenance at no cost to the county that claims their Parks and Waterways Division is already overcommitted.

Meanwhile the sheriff’s marine patrol told us they were beefing up their force and would have a boat assigned to Hayden Lake.  Our hopes were high that a force would be in place to referee the recreational use of the lake for everybody’s enjoyment. A county commissioner touted this as the solution. However, those hopes were dashed when attrition from the force scaled back the marine patrols plans and Hayden Lake was again relegated to the same level of enforcement as in years past.

Frustrating yes, but one can channel frustration into productive petition for positive change.  We know what is necessary to create a system where the enjoyment of Hayden Lake is protected for all its users.  We need to petition the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners and the Department of Lands to let the Hayden Lake Watershed Improvement District decide the number of buoys necessary to instruct our lake users on the limits the Commission has set.  We need the Sheriff to find and train the personnel to adequately patrol our lake.  Please channel your frustration into letters and e-mails to these agencies asking they get out of the way and assist in our efforts to bring legal use to the lake we all have a stake in.

Geoff Harvey

Hayden Lake Watershed Association President