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Hangman May Be In Deep Water Commission Considers Closing Oft-Flooded Golf Course

Spokane County commissioners say they’ll consider permanently closing Hangman Valley Golf Course rather than repairing damage from the second flood in less than a year.

“If you’ve got an infected finger, how many times can you fix it before the doctor says, ‘Let’s cut that sucker off?”’ asked Commissioner Phil Harris.

But, Harris and his two colleagues said, closing the 28-year-old course is just one of several options they’ll consider - and certainly the most extreme.

“Everything’s on the table,” said Commissioner Kate McCaslin.

The county spent about $150,000 repairing and improving bridges at the golf course after Latah Creek flooded in February. The federal government chipped in another $145,000 for the work.

The creek flooded again on New Year’s Day, and again damaged the bridges.

One wooden bridge sustained only minor damage, but another needs about $120,000 to $150,000 in work, Claude Cox, the county’s risk manager, told commissioners Thursday.

That badly damaged bridge will be moved to high ground this week or next, so it won’t be carried away if the creek floods again before permanent repairs are made.

The water is still too high to get a look at damage to a concrete bridge that was submerged, Cox said.

In addition, some fairways are covered with mud.< Cleaning up that mess will cost about $75,000, Cox estimated.

A bigger problem is the severe erosion to some of the sandy banks where the creek snakes through the course. Contractors worry they will give way at any time, or that the next flood will cause severe damage.

County golf manager Mike Kingsley said he’s already working on a plan for stabilizing the banks using plants and landscaping. Work can’t begin until late spring or early summer, he said.

Kingsley doesn’t yet know how much it will cost to “re-engineer” the banks. If the new plants can grow large before the next flood, they’ll help limit damage by holding back soil that would otherwise wash away, he said.

New Year’s Day was the fifth time the golf course has flooded in its 28 years. Kingsley said it was the most severe flood, by far.

Harris predicted the floods “will just keep happening and happening and happening” because the course is built in a flood plain.

“We have to seriously consider whether we’re going to keep Hangman in our inventory,” he said.

Usually, county golf courses support themselves through greens fees and money golfers spend in the restaurants and pro shops. But disasters force the county to tap into its self-insurance fund.

“I see dollars that could be going into our swimming pools” going to the golf course instead, Harris said.

If golfers want to keep the course open, Harris said, they better start holding fund-raisers to help pay for maintenance.

But Harris said he won’t support an increase in greens fees, which commissioners will consider on Tuesday. A fee increase will only drive away some golfers, he said.

Built in 1969 on donated land, the course cost $500,000 to develop. Golf Digest gave it 3-1/2 out of four stars in a 1995 article about great golf values.

“It would cost us probably $10 million to build the Hangman Valley Golf Course at today’s prices,” said Kingsley. “If we were to sell it, I’m sure it would bring that much.”

It may be impossible to sell the course. The person who donated the land might have stipulated it be used only as a public golf course, said county right-of-way specialist Bert Haight.

If it were sold, the new owner would have to raise greens fees significantly to cover the purchase price and operating costs and still show a profit, said Kingsley, adding that one purpose of public courses is to keep the game affordable.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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