While business leaders fight to keep Spokane off a national list of cities with the worst carbon monoxide problems, a Spokane neighborhood wants to be on the list.
Logan area activists have asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to add Spokane to its short list of “serious” violators - joining smoggy Los Angeles and newly proposed Denver.
The 27 people who made the request include neighborhood business owners, a retired state senator and a Gonzaga University professor.
Their June 25 letter to the EPA is a statement of no confidence in Spokane’s city planners, who are blamed for routing more cars and strip developments into the neighborhood near Gonzaga University.
The letter also is a slap at the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce’s lobbying campaign against the EPA designation, which downtown business leaders call a stigma and a threat to downtown development.
“We are hoping that the EPA will push the city to clean up our air,” said Jeanette Harras, a business owner and leader in the Logan Neighborhood Association.
It’s time for Spokane’s neighborhoods to join in the clean-air debate, Harras said.
“You can say a viable downtown’s important, but you can’t have it without viable nearby neighborhoods,” she said.
Spokane’s top air-quality official is sympathetic but says the Logan letter won’t get the residents what they’re hoping for.
“There’s no way a reclassification to ‘serious’ will help the Logan neighborhood,” said Eric Skelton, Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority director.
Whether Spokane is labeled “serious” or not, it must do the same things to clean up the air, he said.
Only a long-term plan to reduce traffic congestion, use more oxygenated gas, test polluting cars and encourage less single-occupancy car travel downtown will help, Skelton said.
While traffic in the area has increased, the neighborhood’s air quality has actually improved, SCAPCA figures show.
Carbon monoxide levels measured along Hamilton Street have gone down significantly over the past decade. But there are warning signs.
Three of the city’s dozen most congested intersections are located within the neighborhood. And Logan is again nudging close to harmful levels of carbon monoxide, a gas that harms the body by interfering with oxygen uptake.
In February, the carbon monoxide monitor on North Hamilton hit 9 parts per million - close to the 9.5 ppm safety limit.
The Clean Air Act allows only one violation per year for the entire city. The EPA is proposing Spokane for a “serious” designation because a downtown monitor exceeded the standard four times in 1995.
Neighborhood frustration over traffic and air quality has been building in recent years.
Although it eased traffic congestion, the city’s new Division-Ruby couplet has actually furthered the neighborhood’s deterioration, said Lucy Reiner, a longtime resident who signed the letter to EPA.
“Businesses are encroaching even further. They are destroying our neighborhood, what’s left of it. The neighbors are very concerned,” Reiner said.
While some traffic along Hamilton has switched to North Division, Hamilton is still congested. Some 36,800 vehicles a day drive through the Hamilton-Mission intersection.
The traffic comes from a freeway off-ramp, a state auto emissions testing center, thousands of university students - and residential county development far north on Nevada, including a huge new apartment cluster.
The final straw for the neighbors that prompted the letter to EPA came earlier this year.
It’s a controversial city proposal to develop a central maintenance facility to service all city vehicles, from garbage trucks to police cars.
The complex would be located on city-owned land now occupied by the water department, stretching from Hamilton to Perry along North Foothill Drive.
The plan brought angry neighbors to a hearing in late June - including a feisty retired state lawmaker who added her name to the EPA letter.
For 48 years, former Sen. Margaret Hurley has lived in a trim brick house on the corner of Boone and Cincinnati. She sent her four children to the neighborhood’s Catholic schools and launched her Democratic political career there.
Now, Gonzaga University has encroached to her fence line on the west, and the steady hum of traffic on nearby Hamilton can be heard from her porch.
The EPA’s clout is needed to prevent further deterioration of air quality in Spokane’s core neighborhoods, Hurley said.
“Spokane isn’t making a serious effort to comply with the Clean Air Act. There are many innovative things other cities are doing, but Spokane just wrings its hands,” Hurley said.
The city’s vehicle facility is being “rubber stamped” despite neighborhood opposition, she said.
The city is aware of significant neighborhood opposition, said project engineer Dick Raymond. But it owns the property and would have to buy more land to relocate, he said.
It’s likely that Logan neighbors’ frustrations will continue.
“Until congestion goes up even more, people are going to continue to drive through that neighborhood. That’s the awful part,” said Ron Edgar, SCAPCA’s chief technical specialist.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Hamilton Street’s carbon monoxide