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Bridge Funding In Jeopardy Forest Service Sets Dec. 31 Deadline For Planning Of Centennial Trail Project

Spokane will lose $440,000 earmarked for a Centennial Trail bridge unless plans that haven’t jelled in six years come together in the next 82 days.

The U.S. Forest Service says it will take back its money unless trail organizers can say by Dec. 31 where they’ll build the bridge, when they’ll build it and how they’ll raise additional money that will be needed.

At the urging of then-Congressman Tom Foley, the Forest Service offered the grant in 1991 for construction of a wooden foot bridge across the Spokane River. The construction deadline of Dec. 31, 1993, has been extended twice, and Foley no longer is in office.

“It’s amazing that (the money) is still available to us,” said Taylor Bressler, operations manager for the Spokane city parks department.

Building the bridge at the spot preferred by trail advocates would cost about $1.3 million, engineers estimate.

That doesn’t include the cost of engineering, architectural work and taxes. Nor does it include building the asphalt trail to the bridge, which would add about $2.4 million.

There’s no ready source for that money, although the nonprofit group Friends of the Centennial Trail plans fund-raisers. The state Parks and Recreation Commission, which holds the grant money, already has said it can’t contribute.

But a bigger problem than money is landowner approval.

Cemetery board members opposed plans to wind the trail along the edge of Riverside Memorial Park, on the east river bank. The bridge would have linked the cemetery to the city’s West Central neighborhood, on the west bank.

Now, trail boosters hope for a bridge from West Central to the Sisters of the Holy Names convent.

According to letters to the state parks commission, the convent has been sued by trespassers injured on their wooded property. The nuns aren’t sure they want a trail that will bring more outsiders.

Nuns considering the project could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

Although trail planners are anxious for a decision, no one is pressuring the nuns, said Nancy Gunn Harsha, executive director of the Friends group.

“We want it to be on their terms. We want to be good neighbors,” said Gunn Harsha. “We want them to invite us in.”

The Parks and Recreation Commission has the ultimate decision over the bridge’s location, once landowner approval is granted.

But commission decisions about the trail are heavily influenced by the Centennial Trail Coordinating Council, which includes city, county and state parks officials, as well as Friends members.

Four state and local parks officials on the council said during a meeting Thursday that if the nuns reject the trail or don’t make a decision soon, they’ll recommend building a trail across old bridge abutments in High Bridge Park, west of downtown.

A bridge there would not improve the Centennial Trail, they acknowledged.

But it would provide a future link between the Centennial Trail and the Fish Lake Trail, an abandoned railroad line from the Hangman Valley to Pasco.

The rail line is being converted to trail.

A span at High Bridge would cost slightly less than $1 million, engineers estimate. But it would get little use unless another $5 million were spent connecting it to the trails.

State lawmakers might provide some money for High Bridge because the Fish Lake Trail links to the crossstate John Wayne Trail, said Riverside State Park Ranger Gary Herron.

“Then it becomes a statewide project,” he said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map: Proposed Centennial Trail bridge