The future of a proposed white-water park in the Spokane River just downstream from downtown is in danger after state officials decided to pull a grant that was supposed to pay for nearly half the project.
Spokane park leaders have appealed the decision and hope to persuade the state Recreation and Conservation Funding Board to reverse the decision at a hearing on June 23.
“It’s all kind of in jeopardy,” said Tim Sanger, president of the board of Friends of the Falls, the nonprofit group that has led the effort to create the white-water park.
The project won the $530,000 grant in 2007. It was supposed to be used within four years, but plans for the project stalled in 2009 when then-City Planning Director Leroy Eadie ruled that concerns about the park’s effects on native redband trout were serious enough to require a study of the project’s environmental impact before a shoreline permit could be issued.
Eadie, who later was named park director, said those working on the park didn’t agree to pursue an environmental study until late last year. At the time, the city won a six-month extension for using the grant – until June 30. He said the city was about to award an $80,000 contract to begin work on the study when state officials warned this spring that the grant would get no further extensions because of the long delay.
If the state board agrees to a new extension, Eadie said he’ll move forward on the environmental study, which could provide recommendations to avoid harming spawning areas of native trout.
A study on redband trout in the Spokane River, released recently by Avista, indicated that there is a sizable spawning area near the proposed white-water park, said Rick Eichsteadt, the attorney for Spokane Riverkeeper, a nonprofit group that supports clean-up efforts and conservation.
Eichsteadt said the group believes the environmental study is needed but probably wouldn’t have a problem with a white-water park if recommendations to protect habitat are followed.
Sanger said Friends of the Falls is hopeful that the park could be constructed in ways that could improve the fish habitat.
“We’re really not interested in harming existing fish habitat,” Sanger said.
If the funding board’s decision is reversed, Eadie said the project would need a shoreline permit from the state Department of Ecology, hydraulic permit from the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and an aquatics land lease from the Department of Natural Resources. The earliest construction could start is next summer.
Susan Zemek, spokeswoman for the Recreation and Conservation Office, said if the decision stands, the grant will be allocated to another project.
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