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Raceway questions remain

Sun., June 29, 2008, midnight

Perhaps the biggest question surrounding the future of Spokane Raceway Park was settled this week when a judge approved the results of an April auction.

Spokane County will pay $4.3 million for 315 acres of the raceway, which includes an oval track, drag strip and road race course.

Still, enough questions pertaining to the site remain that county commissioners say holding a 2008 racing season is uncertain.

Commissioners said this week that the biggest obstacle to starting racing this year is a possible appeal of Superior Court Judge Robert Austin’s ruling.

“This has taken so many twists and turns,” said County Commission Chairwoman Bonnie Mager, who opposed bidding on the raceway. “I’m not for selecting an operator until we know how this is going to go forward.”

Commissioner Todd Mielke said the county has a month to close the sale of the site. Once that happens, he said the county could hold the volunteer cleanup that originally had been scheduled for this weekend.

“By that time, we should have a good idea if we’re going to see an appeal,” Mielke said.

If it’s clear that the legal process will continue into late August, Mielke said, the 2008 racing season likely would be cancelled.

“We need to make sure the process runs its course before making any hasty decision,” Mielke said.

Last week, a five-member county committee recommended that Stateline Speedway be given a contract to operate the raceway in 2008 and 2009, but commissioners say they may skip selecting a short-term operator if the raceway doesn’t open this year and ask for new bids on a longer contract.

If a 2008 season is held, Mager said, the operations contract should go to Stateline.

“I really have faith that the committee did their due diligence, and I’m ready to accept their recommendation,” Mager said.

Mielke has raised questions about Stateline, noting that the Idaho raceway doesn’t have a drag strip while the committee’s No. 2 choice, Pacific Raceways in Kent, Wash., does. Mielke said Friday that he still is studying the four groups that bid to operate the raceway.

Mager said one of her priorities is to push for the completion of a comprehensive environmental study of the raceway. Earlier tests found trichloroethylene, a solvent listed by the federal government as a likely human carcinogen, in a well there, and a preliminary environmental report warned of possible lead contamination in the soil. One million dollars was set aside from the auction to pay for groundwater cleanup.

“I don’t think (buying) it was a prudent step, but if we do end up owning it we have to do whatever it takes to make it work for the county,” Mager said.

She said she remains open to offers to buy the raceway from the county. Earlier this month, she encouraged Chewelah resident Don Morse, who bid against the county in the April auction, to make a proposal for the raceway.

Mielke and County Commissioner Mark Richard argued that it was inappropriate for commissioners to consider selling the land before owning it. Now that the county appears only a few weeks away from getting the keys to the site, Mielke said he remains opposed to selling the land.

He said the county would have to sell it to the highest bidder – who may not want to maintain the raceway. He added that selling the land would mean an end to plans to build a law enforcement training center and a regional park.

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