As the city begins construction of combined sewage overflow tanks to keep untreated wastewater out of the Spokane River, some residents oppose how the project is being carried out and its effect on neighborhoods.
The construction of the 1 million-gallon concrete tank near Ray Street and 21st Avenue has caught the attention of Carrie Anderson, an activist who refers to herself as the Tree Lady. Construction required the removal of about 100 trees, including several ponderosa pines.
“The city is saying the ponderosas are just bull pines and they are just garbage and they can just be cut down,” Anderson said of the trees removed at Ray. She wants the city to replant the equivalent number of ponderosa pines in a park or on a public golf course.
The individual tank projects call for landscaping and for saving as many old trees as possible, said city utilities communication manager Marlene Feist.
“You cannot plant a ponderosa pine on top of the finished tank; the tree is too heavy for that,” Feist said. “We will be planting other, smaller and more appropriate trees at the Ray site when the tank is done.”
The Ray Street tank, as well as others planned for Underhill Park, Peaceful Valley and near the closed Playfair Race Course, are designed to hold excess water during a storm, then gradually release it into the wastewater treatment system once the storm has passed and the plant can process the water without overflowing. The city estimates about 54 million gallons of combined sewage and stormwater, and an additional 1 billion gallons of untreated stormwater, run into the Spokane River every year.
Anderson, who does not live near the Ray Street tank and has not been to any of the public hearings regarding the tanks, said she is solely concerned about the preservation of ponderosa pines.
“And I am not opposed to the tanks,” Anderson added. “But I want the city to respect the ponderosas.”
Feist said it would be up to urban forester Angel Spell to determine if ponderosas can be added to a park or a golf course.
“They are certainly not street trees and they can’t go under power lines,” Feist said.
The tank that’s going in at Underhill Park is also drawing criticism.
After a recent meeting of city staff, representatives for contractors and neighbors at the Underhill Park construction site, neighbor Sam Mace said she felt contractors were making light of her concerns about protecting 100-year-old trees in the park and ensuring access to her house during construction.
“I support CSOs to keep sewage out of the Spokane River, and I appreciate the city responding to neighbors’ concerns and changing the plans to protect more trees and the park,” Mace wrote in an email. “But this project is going to disrupt our lives. We need assurances that the city will monitor the contractors closely and that every effort will be made to protect the 100-year-old trees.” Mace, the Inland Northwest director of Save Our Wild Salmon, added that she is worried the project will not go smoothly and that property access and noise impact will not be mitigated.
Feist said access to homes is one of the city’s major concerns.
“Regardless of what a contractor says at a meeting we will always make sure people have access to their homes,” Feist said.
Bart Mihailovich, who heads the Spokane Riverkeeper, a Center for Justice program that aims to protect and restore the Spokane River, said in theory, putting in the tanks is great for the river.
“It looks like a win-win all the way around,” Mihailovich said, “but we haven’t taken an official stand on the entire project because we haven’t seen the final plan yet.”
Mihailovich said he likes the city’s comprehensive approach to solving the stormwater problem, but that he would like to see the city try more pilot projects like stormwater gardens, swales, green roofs and permeable paving. Implemented correctly, green solutions can reduce the amount of stormwater from block to block, but not eliminate the overflow problem Spokane has had for decades.
“I don’t think you can completely avoid putting in the tanks,” Mihailovich said, “but why not try some more green pilot projects right now? It seems like a great time to do that.”