COEUR dALENE The mountainous journey to develop the Health Corridor planted its next step forward Tuesday night as the Coeur dAlene Planning Commission voted to recommend the urban development project conforms with the Citys comprehensive plan.
Kootenai Health is truly a regional facility, Planning commission member Jon Ingalls said.
It serves folks from north of Bonners Ferry all the way south of Cottonwood. This community used to be [a] resourced-based economy with lumber mills everywhere, and were seeing the lumber mills long gone. Jobs used to be a resource economy; now its all about service jobs. Tourism is an important part of our economy, and I think the other big strength we have to offer ourselves and others is health care … I think its very important that we protect this asset and expand it. Its really part of our regions economic viability.
The 264-acre project, which stretches from Government Way to Northwest Boulevard horizontally and around I-90 to Division Avenue vertically, is intended to revitalize Coeur dAlenes health care district through development of some properties and re-development of others, all with the goal of attracting additional businessand, therefore, high-paying jobsto the area.
While the commission voted unanimously to make their positive recommendation to City Council, not all who attended the evening meeting supported the Health Corridor. Deborah Rose read a brief statement to the commission members denouncing the project as a payday for Kootenai Health.
What this project really appears to be is another opportunity to declare a certain area blighted in order to justify using government money in a corporate welfare scheme, Rose said. Private industry advancement through using taxpayer funds: The City shouldnt be using taxpayer funds to expand a private enterprise.
One long-standing fear accompanying criticism of the Health Corridor centered around the concept of eminent domain, which is the right of a government to expropriate private property for public use, often in exchange of fair market value. Tony Berns, who delivered the presentation, assured the commission the concept of eminent domain was a weapon of last resort.
The agency does have that authority under Idaho statute, Berns said. Weve never used that, weve never had to use that in our past districts especially in our Lake District, where we bought probably over 30 properties over the years, voluntarily, working with landowners with strategic intent to build parking garages, to do education corridors, to do memorial parks, things like that. We have that tool, but weve never used it. The board has never intended to use it, but it does exist.
Rose later suggested other avenues to explore before re-developing Kootenai Healths neighboring land, suggesting properties out near the Rathdrum prairie or Athol while citing Heritage Healths history of outreach into rural areas. Her ultimate concerns however, trickled back to financial gains.
Let the taxpayer money pay for the transportation infrastructure, Rose said. Let the hospital pay for its own expansion. Let doctors or investors pay for medical office buildings.
Rose finished her comments by contending public funds without direction is a recipe for disaster that ultimately benefits the local medical industry more than the people it serves.
Theres something rotten in the state of Denmark, Rose told the commissioners in her statement. A pot of money was allocated for urban renewal without any real plan. That money is now looking for a project, and that is an irresponsible approach. The city should have a need and then find the funds for the need, not create funds, and go looking for a need. Theres an assumption that what is good for the hospital is good for Coeur dAlene, but the hospitals self interest will always take precedence over the needs of the city.
The recommendation was approved without further dissent.
I think were darn fortunate every one of us that live here to have quality health care and the kind of services that are available, Ingalls said. It wasnt that long ago we didnt have a heart services here; you had to go to Spokane. You didnt have cancer services; you had to go to Spokane. You didnt have a [neo-natal intensive care unit]; you had to go to Spokane … If this isnt supported by the comp plan, I dont know what is.