Lake Coeur d'Alene at stake

 

IDAHO

Locked in a custody battle over the southern third of Lake Coeur d'Alene, the Coeur d'Alene tribe and the State of Idaho are arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court. Idaho says the entire lake falls under its aegis. The tribe, however, claims partial ownership under the 19th century treaty that established its reservation.

"It's God's lake, but he put the Coeur d'Alene tribe here to take care of it," says tribal spokesman Bob Bostwick. "The State of Idaho has allowed the lake to be a toilet for the mining industry for over a hundred years." The tribe, embroiled in a separate court action over mining pollution in the nearby Silver Valley, says that partial ownership will give the tribe more control over the cleanup of toxic sedimentation in the lake (HCN, 11/25/96: A tribe that takes the high road).

Idaho says it's doing a good job managing the lake and that the tribe's claim violates state sovereignty over navigable waterways. According to the Idaho attorney general's office, tribal control of the lake would raise issues over how to manage fisheries and boating permits. Ten other states - eight of them in the West, including Oregon - have filed briefs in support of Idaho.

"Oregon has a lot of public interest in the public ownership of lake beds and banks," says Stephanie Striffler, special counsel to Oregon's attorney general. "When another Western state is involved, we want to remind the court how important these issues are."