Piling a new economy on the old
by Paul LarmerFor a century, mining and logging drove the economy of Coeur d'Alene. When those industries went bust in the early 1980s, a small group of city leaders began searching for a new engine.
Among them was Duane Hagadone, a native son who owns most of the newspapers in northern Idaho. He decided that the city's best assets were the lake, the gentle surrounding hills and a relatively mild climate.
So in 1986 he opened a resort on the site of the old Potlatch timber mill. The resort's centerpiece is its golf course, which opened in 1991. Three years later, Golf Digest ranked it the nation's number-one resort course, ahead of California's world-renowned Pebble Beach. The following year the resort hosted a major pro-golf tournament.
The heady mixture of the resort and an urban exodus to the inland West has boomed the Coeur d'Alene area. Dave Daniel, a building official with Kootenai County, says the county has averaged about 2,000 new single-family homes a year over the past few years, most near Lake Coeur d'Alene. "And that doesn't even include mobile homes," Daniel says. Kootenai County's population is expected to increase from its current 85,000 to between 100,000 and 125,000 by the turn of the century, he says.
New residents won't learn much about heavy-metals pollution in the area by reading the local newspaper: Hagadone owns the Coeur d'Alene Press, which has consistently downplayed the danger. He also sits on the board of directors of the Coeur d'Alene Mining Company, and back in the 1980s, was a member of a partnership that purchased portions of the mining properties within the Bunker Hill Superfund site. The partnership, Bunker Limited Partnership, spent much of the late 1980s fighting efforts by the EPA to hold it responsible for cleanup costs, according to the Portland-based Oregonian.
Hagadone's control of local media is a source of irritation for Scott Brown of the Idaho Conservation League.
"The Coeur d'Alene Press is really one-sided when it comes to the mining and timber industries," says Brown. "It's ironic that the long-term viability of Hagadone's resort is at stake, yet his paper gives the industry line that the pollution is not a problem."
To get around Hagadone, the Idaho Conservation League recently joined with the Inland Empire Public Lands Council to distribute a new video showing the heavy-metal pollution problem that extends from the Montana border to Spokane, Wash. Activists went door-to-door in Coeur d'Alene and dock-to-dock on the lake via canoes to deliver Get the Lead Out.
"There's lots of newcomers here, and they're coming because of the beauty and the natural resources," says Brown. "When they understand there is a real problem, they'll want to do something about it."
Mining officials call the video propaganda. Hagadone's resort partner, Jerry Jaeger, says he found it "interesting, but the mining companies and the government are already doing a good job cleaning up. Why dig up the lake when there isn't a problem?"
For a free copy of the video, write or call Inland Empire Pulbic Lands Council, 517 S. Division, Spokane, WA 99202 (509/838-4912). © High Country News