Taxpayers likely will spend more than $300,000 in federal disaster-relief money to help repair flood damage at two Spokane golf courses.
The projects include repairing the pump for an artificial waterfall at the county’s Hangman Valley Golf Course, and cleaning and painting bridges at the city’s Creek at Qualchan course.
The courses in the Latah Creek flood plain were damaged in February when deep snow followed by hard rain caused the creek to overflow.
It was the fourth time in its 27-year history that the county course flooded, and the second time its bridges were wiped out. Qualchan opened in 1991.
Mike Senske, owner of Painted Hills Golf Course in the Valley, said taxpayers should pay nothing toward golf course repairs.
“A golf course, whether privately owned or publicly owned, is a luxury, not a necessity,” said Senske, who didn’t apply for government assistance for about $2,000 in flood damage at his course.
County commissioners Steve Hasson and John Roskelley agreed in principle, but said they’ll take the money anyway.
In retrospect, it was foolish of the county to build a golf course in a flood plain, said Commissioner Steve Hasson. However, “we’d be irresponsible not to seek monies that are available.”
Roskelley said he was briefed about FEMA’s relief programs after the floods. The money for golf courses “bothered me then, and it bothers me now.”
Spokane was one of 24 counties in Washington and 10 in Idaho that were designated federal disaster areas in February.
That meant businesses and homeowners could apply for low-interest federal loans.
The designation also made local governments eligible for money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover 75 percent of the cost of repairing “public facilities.” In Washington, half or all of the remaining 25 percent is paid by the state.
FEMA has approved spending $8.3 million in eight Eastern Washington counties, with more requests pending. None of the money has been received by local governments yet.
FEMA officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday, and it was not known whether other golf courses in the region will receive money.
In Spokane, FEMA has promised $190,613 to repair bridges, roads, Upriver Dam, the golf courses and a washed-out portion of the Centennial Trail. The agency is reviewing another $200,000 for Spokane projects recommended by its inspector.
The largest share of the money is for golf courses, mostly for repairing bridges used to take golfers from one fairway to another.
Golfers won’t get off scot-free, said Mike Kingsley, manager of county golf courses.
Profits from the courses will be tapped to pay at least $100,000 of the cost to raise one Hangman bridge so it won’t get wiped out again.
County commissioners in January approved a $1 increase in greens fees to cover increased costs at county courses. That action came after Golf Digest magazine named the courses one of golf’s best bargains.
Roskelley had suggested a $2.50 increase with $1.50 earmarked to improving county parks. Angry golfers successfully fought his proposal, arguing the golf courses are self-sustaining and shouldn’t be used to raise money for county departments that receive taxpayer money.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Golf course flood damage repair costs