Tremain Albright’s tree house in Bonners Ferry is not dead yet. It was given a death sentence by the Army Corps of Engineers to be carried out Friday. But in a surprising turn of events, the city initiated a property survey and determined that the tree in question is actually on city-owned property, not on Tremain's private property as originally believed.
This new information will be front and center this Tuesday when the City Council meets to decide the fate of the tree house.
Bonners Ferry is a little town of just over 2,500 people situated in the mountains of northern Idaho just half an hour from the Canadian border with a crime rate less than one-third the national average. Not the kind of place one would expect to find an enforcement controversy that is making national news. But there it is, nonetheless.
Until the city intervened, the tree house was doomed. The Corps wanted to chop down Albright's one-of-a-kind guest tree house. He says he spent almost $14,000 building it, but now he is being told that it must be destroyed because if it were to fall over it could damage a water levee in the Kootenai River.
This is not Tremain's first interaction with the Corps. In 2007 he says he received a variance from the Corps after doing some rock work to shore up the project. He thought this would settle the matter, but after the Corps came back to inspect the levees in 2012, he says he was told it was no longer sufficient.
The city is disputing Albright’s claims in various media interviews that it gave him permission for the structure following a public hearing in 2007. “None of that happened,” says David Sims, assistant administrator for the city. He made his comments to the Bonner County Daily Bee.
Sims told IdahoReporter.com that the inspectors walked "every foot of the dyke" looking for deficiencies and also admitted that they have been "a lot more aggressive" in recent years regarding enforcement.
The relationship between the city and the Corps is voluntary, but if the city doesn't follow its demands, the city fears the Corps will pull the funding that is slated to be used for $160,000 worth of levee repairs this summer. The Corps currently covers 80 percent of the cost, so it would cost the city $128,000 to protect Tremain's tree house.
It’s not clear what action the council may take on Tuesday. Sims told the Bonner County paper the city wants to remain in compliance with the levee maintenance program overseen by the federal government. “Over the last decade, we’ve received about a million dollars in dike work from the Corps so it’s pretty important to us,” said Sims. “We want to stay in the program.”
Albright does not have a listed phone number and could not be reached for comment on Thursday. “I still feel like this is just an action of big government,” he said in one of the published media accounts.
Note: Photo courtesy of the city of Bonners Ferry. Mitch Coffman contributed to the content of this story.