OLYMPIA — A state board in charge of money for recreational projects rejected a plea from supporters of a whitewater park in the Spokane River and refused Thursday to extend a $500,000 grant. The project will probably take longer than supporters estimate, and the city should return when more prep work has been done, board members said.
In a 6-1 vote, the Recreation and Conservation Funding Board agreed with a staff decision in April not to extend the expiring grant. Board members rejected arguments that doing so would kill the momentum for the project; instead they said the project should complete an environmental impact statement and obtain needed permits, then return to the board to ask for the grant to be awarded a second time.
Spokane City Parks Director Leroy Eadie said after the vote that the next step will be to “go back and regroup” and try to find the $75,000 to $80,000 needed for the EIS. It might be possible to pay for that study with another grant obtained by Friends of the Falls: “This is a little bump in the road. This project's had a lot of bumps in the road."
The project received $530,000 in June 2007, but has only spent $30,000 in that period. “No one understood the magnitude of the permitting process … for a recreation project in the stream,” said Eadie, who wasn’t involved in the project at that point.
The project is scheduled to hire a consultant to prepare an EIS this summer, submit that environmental document for permits in the fall or winter, start construction next summer and be open in the fall of 2012.
But board members said that's a very optimistic agenda, because an EIS itself can take a year or more for a project that involves work inside a river. The proposed park would need to make some changes to the stream bed near the south bank of the river to create a wave, and that work can only be done in the summer when the river levels are low.
If the environmental study takes longer than expected or the project generates more opposition than anticipated, it might not be done until early 2012, which would delay the issuing of permits.
“We could easily find ourselves…into the summer of 2013,” Eadie acknowledged when board members questioned his timeline.
Or longer, said Board member Harriet Spanel. “The cost is probably higher than anticipated. I have some serious concerns about going ahead at this time.”
Other projects that have lost their grants under similar circumstances have been able to reapply and receive money when they iron out problems, board members said. The city and Friends of the Falls can do that in a year or two.
“I like the enthusiasm. I like the vision,” said Steve Saunders, a board member. “I don't believe the timeline is realistic.”