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Rock Creek restoration planned

Sat., Feb. 9, 2008

If the town of Rockford is going to qualify for a big state ecology grant to replace its aging water reservoir, it’s going to have to do some work to restore the habitat and stream flows along Rock Creek, which runs through this southeast Spokane County burg.

A new 210,000-gallon water reservoir is estimated to cost $800,000, a pretty substantial price tag for a town of about 400 residents.

When the state Department of Ecology asked the town to come up with money to pay for its share of the stream bank restoration, businesses there donated $11,000.

The state’s grant program requires that the project benefit stream flows, habitat or both.

A community information meeting on the restoration project is set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Town Hall.

As many as 4,000 trees, shrubs and grasses would be planted along the stream from the horse arena and ball fields beginning at the south end of town and running along the east bank of the creek to Emma Street. The work would be done in two phases with the first phase occurring near the arena. The second phase would be along the town’s flood protection dike.

The project calls for establishing new walking trails and a parklike trail head at Emma Street.

Rockford is getting help from the state Department of Ecology, which controls the grant money, and the Spokane County Conservation District, which is providing staff support. The town has also hired private experts for engineering and landscape architecture.

“I like the idea that Rockford is really stepping up to the plate,” said Rick Noll, scientist at the conservation district.

Work could start as early as next month.

Dave Burdick, contracts and grants coordinator for DOE, said at a meeting in Rockford last week that to get the grant, the town needs to show that it is helping increase flows or improving habitat.

Because the town’s water supply is pumped from ground water, it wasn’t clear that building a new leak-free reservoir would enhance stream flows, although conservation district officials said conserving ground water should have a benefit to the stream indirectly by reducing groundwater withdrawals that are needed now to make up for leaks.

The restoration project has been quickly embraced because by spending a smaller amount of money for trees, grasses and shrubs, the town can qualify for a water reservoir grant that would be costly to businesses and residents if it were financed solely through the town’s water rates.

“I’m very pleased with the progress,” Burdick said.

Randy Noble, the town’s engineering consultant from Thomas, Dean & Hoskins Inc., of Spokane, described the town’s fundraising success as “phenomenal.”

Town officials said they are hoping to get support for the restoration from private landowners along the creek. Easements may be sought for access across private parcels, said Paul Sifford, public works operator in Rockford.

Proposed native plantings include red-twig dogwood, coyote willow, thin leaf alder, Douglas hawthorn, chokecherry, Ponderosa pine, black cottonwood, beaked sedge, Nebraska sedge, quaking aspen, common snowberry and woods rose.

The town’s reservoir is on a hill at the northeast corner of town.

The project is part of a broader effort to improve habitat and stream flows in the Latah Creek watershed, which flows from North Idaho across south Spokane County and into the Spokane River at Spokane.

Mayor Gary Wagner said residents in the past have said that they would like to have a natural area and walking path along the creek.

Noll said, “We have to show that in an urban environment we can do this and give residents a place to go.”

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