April 4, 2013 in Washington Voices

Gardens evicted over water safety

Community plots near wellheads told to move
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Two community gardens located on Spokane Water Department property will have to move by the end of the year.

The Hillyard Garden – also known as the Pump House Garden – located on East Hoffman Avenue and Crestline Street, and the East Central Community Garden, located on East Hartson Avenue, have both been asked to pull up roots and move.

The Washington State Department of Health inspects the water system in Spokane every five years, and it was during the most recent inspection that the gardens were evicted.

They have until Jan. 1 to find a new location.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense because the Spokane Water Department approached us to have the garden here,” said Donna Fagan, chairwoman of the Hillyard Steering Committee. “And we got a grant from the Spokane Regional Health District to get started.”

The Hillyard Garden has been in place for three years, and it’s organic, Fagan added.

The East Central Community Garden is on its fifth season, and its inception was also partly funded by the Spokane Regional Health District via a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Washington state law requires that the city has complete control over what is going on within 100 feet from the wellhead,” Dorothy Tibbetts, manager of the Eastern Drinking Water Operations office, said. “We were not consulted when the gardens were put in.”

The Drinking Water Operations office reports to the Washington state Department of Health.

Marlene Feist, spokeswoman for Spokane’s Water Department, said it’s true the state Health Department wasn’t contacted.

“In hindsight these locations perhaps weren’t the best,” Feist said. “We remain supportive of the community gardens, but in this case drinking water safety trumps the gardens.”

Feist said there is no way the city can claim to have complete control over the required 100-foot sanitary zone around a wellhead when there’s a garden there. Though community gardens are organic, it’s difficult to monitor exactly what is put on the soil.

“There are also security issues,” Feist said. “Ordinarily, nobody is hanging out around our wellheads, but when you have a garden there you don’t know who’s there.”

Fagan is unsure where the Hillyard Garden may move. She said she is investigating property at nearby Regal Elementary School, after a deal with Living Hope Church fell through because the garden couldn’t get a 10-year contract there.

Staff at East Central Community Center did not return calls about the East Central Community Garden.

Feist said the Water Department will help the gardens relocate.

“We will help them identify a new site and help them move,” Feist said. “And we will reimburse them for any capital improvements they’ve made.”

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