The froth of excitement surrounding a possible white-water park near downtown Spokane hid the painstaking process it takes to turn such a dream into a reality. Now the project is at low ebb because the state has taken back a vital $530,000 grant, citing a lack of progress.
However, this exciting venture is still worth pursuing, so we hope the state agency in charge of disbursing such grants will take into consideration the complications that have arisen and give the city another extension.
First, the state should know that City Hall administration, the City Council and the Park Board remain supportive. Friends of the Falls, the nonprofit group that developed the concept of bringing kayakers, tourists and onlookers to the Spokane River Gorge, has maintained its enthusiasm and has raised nearly all the private funds needed for construction (provided the state grant is returned).
Second, the state needs to consider that its own regulatory agencies haven’t been quite sure how to deal with a white-water park and its impacts because it is the first of its kind in the state.
Third, the stakeholders were tossed a significant curveball two years ago when an issue arose over how a park would affect the spawning of native redband trout. Anglers had raised general concerns about the effects on fishing, and project designers met with them, the Spokane Tribe and regulators to redesign the project to make it more fish-friendly. But no survey of spawning habitat had been conducted.
So then-City Planning Director Leroy Eadie, acting as the lead official under the State Environmental Policy Act, determined that the city didn’t have enough information to dismiss the concern and called for a study. Shortly thereafter, Eadie was named the director of the Parks Board, which is the entity that would have to agree to and oversee an environmental impact study before a shoreline permit could be issued. Some members wanted to appeal Eadie’s SEPA ruling, but ultimately the board agreed to a study.
Eadie also needed time to gauge whether political support still existed in the wake of the trout issue. He eventually secured those assurances.
An ongoing Avista survey of spawning beds helped cement support for the city’s impact study because it found many spawning beds, including in and around the whitewater park site, near Sandifur Bridge. It is possible that the park’s impact could be mitigated at Sandifur Bridge. Barring that, the site could be changed. That’s what the city’s study would determine.
Because of all of this, little of the state’s grant money had been spent, and the city requested and was given a six-month extension. Now it needs another one to conduct the study.
We understand the concern of the state Recreation and Conservation Funding Board. Not much has happened in four years. But we hope that at the June 23 appeals hearing, the state board will consider the complications that have arisen and return the grant.
In rewarding the money in the first place, the state board acknowledged the project’s worthiness. That value remains, and the city and Friends of the Falls are eager to demonstrate it.
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