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Thu., April 13, 2017, 8:14 a.m.

South Hill bluff fiasco reveals disconnect between city parks, citizens

A road is being bulldozed into the South Hill Bluff in the week of April 11, 2017. (Courtesy of Derek Sarfino)
A road is being bulldozed into the South Hill Bluff in the week of April 11, 2017. (Courtesy of Derek Sarfino)

PARKS -- Spokane city parks officials just don't get it. God gives them a great natural asset virtually free and they abuse it.

Two stories in The Spokesman-Review today illustrate an important point for the future:

The South Hill bluff and its user-made trail system is the best possible use of the steep erodible slope between High Drive and Hangman Creek.  It raises property values and accommodates hundreds of walkers, naturalists, mountain bikers, runners and families who melt into the landscape with the wild creatures.  And it's all free.

The developed parks serve their purpose, but they cost tons of money. 

People are willing to pay for a great parks system, but when God gives us a gift, we don't want the city to trash it. 

Allowing a bulldozer to plow a mile-long road, leaving a permanent scar in a beloved natural area with no public input or oversight, is absolutely unacceptable.

Officials from City Parks, Avista and First Tee yesterday put off a full-day of requests from The Spokesman-Review for information about this debacle until 5:30 p.m.  Then they issued a joint release that apologizes, sort of.

It's posted below for you to see and ponder and digest.  They don't get it.  More questions need to be answered. Assurances need to be made. Attitude needs changing.

April 10 and 11, a contractor built a road and removed trees on Parks conservation land along the bluff on the south hill (below Bernard and north along the bank of Latah Creek), adjacent to and across an Avista utility easement corridor, and on private property.

There was an apparent misunderstanding regarding the authorization of construction of the access road and tree removal. The City did not receive or authorize a permit request for this work, which would involve property designated as conservation land.

The contractor has been told in writing and verbally to stop all work. The City of Spokane’s risk management department is assessing the damage.

Spokane Parks and Recreation, Avista and The First Tee of the Inland Northwest are committed to learning all the facts and to communicate that information with the public.

We’re also committed to learning from errors that lead to this unplanned damage to Park conservation property to ensure they don’t happen again, and to working with stakeholders to follow all appropriate processes to ensure restoration, mitigation and communication internally and with the community take place.

Related Project – The First Tee of the Inland Northwest Youth Golf Course

Parks and Recreation and The First Tee of the Inland Northwest, a private non-profit, are considering an agreement to build a par 3 youth golf course adjacent to The Creek at Qualchan golf course.

Parks issued a tree removal permit to The First Tee of the Inland Northwest for the 6-acre par 3 youth golf course only. The agreement does not contemplate a building of the road along the bluff or tree removal on the road. The road work done was outside the scope of the potential agreement.

Avista entered into a verbal agreement with The First Tee of the Inland Northwest to cost share an access road that could benefit both parties. Avista anticipates needing access to their utility corridor along the bluff Parks property through their easement in the fall of 2017 to replace power poles. The First Tee of the Inland Northwest anticipated using the access road instead of accessing the construction site through Qualchan golf course.

City Legal is investigating utility easements across all Parks property in this area.

Here's the latest poop on the subject unearthed by two reporters who worked all day to get to the bottom of this:

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Outdoors blog

Rich Landers writes and photographs stories and columns for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including Outdoors feature sections on Sunday and Thursday.