December 9, 2010 in Outdoors, Sports

Landers: Valley’s new Barker Bridge erodes soil, high hopes

By The Spokesman-Review
 

What do you get nowadays for a $10 million bridge plus the $1 million cost overrun?

In the case of the Barker Road Bridge, the public got a new transportation route across the Spokane River.

We also got erosion that unleashed into the river around 500 cubic yards of soil contaminated with heavy metals.

This may be the project that keeps on giving, since the erosion issue apparently was handled by simply rolling boulders down the slope without a plan or analysis of the stabilization.

What the public did not get from the Barker Bridge project is just as significant.

The City of Spokane Valley apparently has kissed off all the paddling, fishing and river advocacy groups and representatives from State Parks and other agencies that met several times at the bridge before, during and after construction to make sure the project enhanced the existing river access site.

Instead of being enhanced, the formerly rough access to the water has been further degraded into an unpleasant drop-off.

Angler dreams for an access that might accommodate a drift boat were dashed.

A paddler needs courage to launch even a canoe there now.

City officials apparently have a different concept of river access than people who use the river.

River advocates who are trying to develop and promote the Spokane River as a water trail embrace river access in terms of public safety and shoreline restoration.

City officials seem to define access to be whatever is expedient.

“I believe the disconnect was caused by a change in the definition of ‘access,’ ” Spokane Valley engineer Steve Worley said.

“At the beginning of the bridge project, ‘access’ meant to maintain enough space between the new bridge and the east Barker Road right-of-way line so rafters, kayakers and canoeists could continue to access the river at this location for put-in and take-out purposes.

“By the end of the bridge project, the definition of ‘access’ was changing to include vehicle and boat trailer access. The inclusion of vehicle and boat trailer access at this location didn’t come up until the end of the bridge project and was being led by Andy Dunau of the Spokane River Forum.”

Dunau agrees there’s been what he calls a “mega perception problem.”

“I thought we were working toward something you could promote and be proud of,” he said. “…In- stead of an access lane that could be used by a variety of boats and emergency vehicles, they have a marginally useful informal access that could very well degrade over time. That’s not in the pubic interest.”

Spokane Riverkeeper Bart Mihailovich met recently with Spokane Valley city attorney Cary Driskell and sent a letter to Worley listing these and other concerns with the Barker Bridge project. He received discouraging replies from both officials.

“They basically lied to the community if they’re now saying they didn’t intend an access there,” he said.

Equally disturbing, “They said the city is taking a wait-and-see approach to the erosion issue, hoping the problem will fix itself.”

Also concerned is Jeff Lawlor, the Washington Fish and Wildlife department biologist who’s worked to keep Spokane Valley in compliance with provisions of its stream hydraulics permit.

“They pretty much consider the project closed,” he said, noting the city paid $15,000 in mitigation for the erosion but never really fixed the problem as required under the original permit.

“The city said it was the contractor’s fault, but the permit went to the city,” Lawlor said.

The Corps of Engineers and the Washington Department of Ecology are supposed to be overseeing the erosion issues and spread of soils laden with heavy metals from Silver Valley mining.

But those two agencies appear to be doing nothing.

“The bank erosion dramatically altered the site,” Lawlor said, noting the problem stemmed from the platform built for demolition of the old bridge. “I was very upset about it. The city or (engineering firm) CH2M Hill should have figured it out and dealt with the problem beforehand.

Lawlor said state agencies are always under pressure to avoid delaying public projects and increasing costs. “We didn’t delay this project one day,” he said. “We focused on our issues of fish habitat. But a lot has been overlooked.”

This is a pattern with Spokane Valley and its treatment of the Spokane River. Another example was the rush to get permits that eventually allowed illegal boat docks to be built near Plantes Ferry Park.

The river and river users aren’t the only ones who got shortchanged in the sloppy way the Barker Bridge project was managed. City officials have missed an opportunity to help define Spokane Valley as a place that looks forward and serves its people.

Property at the end of the bridge was for sale when the project was initiated. A little forethought along with $11 million worth of heavy equipment operations on site could have groomed something excellent for the future.

Instead, we simply got a bridge.

River health and public access to a spectacular river in our midst are qualities that attract quality residents as well as tourists.

These are values that would indicate a really nice place to live.

Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or e-mail richl@spokesman.com

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