Voices

River access disputed

Ecology rule draws ire of property owners

The Washington State Department of Ecology’s requirement that property owners allow public access to the river was the hot topic Tuesday during the special Millwood City Council meeting.

The requirement is part of the state-mandated update of the city’s Shoreline Management Program. Council members were briefed on the shoreline plan in advance of a public hearing planned for December.

“Part of it is a matter of principle,” said Doug Krapas, Inland Empire Paper Co.’s environmental manager. “If you just take it to its basics … ‘When should a government entity have the ability to come in and procure or take your land?’ ”

City assistant planner Ray Oligher, who manages the project, said the city, a citizen advisory committee and the city’s Planning Commission collaborated on drafting the shoreline plan over a 14-month process.

Discussion ensued over terminology required by Ecology in regard to public access into all new private and public developments. The document outlines four exceptions: single-family residence; individual multi-family structure containing four units or fewer; residential subdivisions of four parcels or fewer; demonstrated safety, security issues or impact to the shoreline.

Oligher stated a draft submitted to Ecology earlier this year with the wording “New private shoreline development is encouraged to provide public access” was returned asking for “encouraged” to be changed to “required.”

The paper company, a participant in the advisory committe, voiced opposition to the access requirement several times during the drafting of the plan.

A letter directed to Mayor Dan Mork from Kevin Rasler, Inland Empire Paper’s president and general manager, was distributed to council members for the meeting.

“We are in agreement that public access should be provided on publicly owned property,” Rasler wrote. “However, to require a private property owner to provide public access is a violation of constitutional property rights that IEP is not willing to accept.”

Noting the concerns expressed in the letter, Councilman Kevin Freeman asked if the city had reached out to the company.

In response, Krapas, who was in the audience, was asked to comment on the issue.

“There is nothing in the RCW, which is the statute developed for this, that requires (public access to private land),” Krapas said. “It’s specifically public access on public property. To allow the Department of Ecology to take it to that level, and implement such restrictions on a private land owner, is unacceptable to us.”

City planner Tom Richardson recommended the council take public comment during the hearing but wait to decide. The council has until March to adopt an ordinance.

The council also heard a presentation from Spokane Transit Authority CEO Susan Meyer and Karl Otterstrom, director of planning, outlining STA’s plans.

Meyer said a higher demand for public transportation will come from an estimated 100,000-person population increase over the next 20 years. In preparation, STA is working on a three-phase planning process outlining the agency’s goals for the next 10 to 15 years.

Otterstrom highlighted six corridors STA plans to evaluate: Coeur d’Alene to Spokane Airport; Cheney to downtown Spokane; North Division; Liberty Lake to downtown Spokane via Spokane Valley; Five Mile to Moran Prairie; and a Central City Line.

Meyer said STA has been able to maintain service without incurring debt. However, she anticipates the increased demand will require additional funding to maintain service and implement the proposed corridor routes.

Increasing the sales tax to provide additional funding requires voter approval. Meyer said STA will decide next fall, upon completing a specific implementation plan, whether to ask voters to increase funding in spring 2014.



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