A Tuesday meeting to update residents on the proposed Saltese Flats wetlands restoration project was jam-packed and at times hostile, forcing county Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn to ask people to be respectful.
Much of the crowd’s ire was centered on the second phase of the county’s plan, which would involve piping in reclaimed wastewater to dump on the flats located east of Barker Road and south of the Spokane Valley city limits.
Resident Carolyn Pickett said reclaimed water has chemicals that make it unsafe and dumping it on the Saltese Flats would contaminate the aquifer.
“Miss Pickett, that’s your opinion,” said Spokane County water reclamation manager David Moss. “This is class A reclaimed water.”
Piping in treated wastewater is being considered because the county has been sued to stop it from dumping it into the Spokane River, O’Quinn said.
“None of us want to pipe the water out here,” she said. “We have to have a contingency plan.”
The county has yet to install any pipe and would have to follow strict state regulations if it were to begin piping in the wastewater, said Spokane County water resources specialist Ben Brattabo.
Several people expressed concerns that the county is redoing a Saltese Flats flood plain study that may add more properties to the 100-year-flood plain map. Brattabo said the problem is that the current map does not match the topography. “It doesn’t match reality,” he said.
The county’s study is designed to set the current conditions and the county’s project cannot impact current water levels, he said. “Our wetland restoration project is not allowed to make flooding on the Saltese Flats, upstream or downstream, worse than it already is,” Brattabo said.
A berm stretches from east to west on the southern edge of the flats. A creek drains into a bypass ditch on the west side, and the water eventually ends up in Shelley Lake, which is located inside the Spokane Valley city limits. The lake has no outlet. “There’s really good water control on the flats,” Brattabo said.
Phase one of the county’s wetlands restoration plan involves redirecting the water that already flows into the flats off the Mica Peak watershed. The creek would be connected to new stream channels so it can flow over the flats. A berm would be created around the new wetlands that would include a raised trail for pedestrians and cyclists. Several water control structures, including a spillway, would be built, Brattabo said.
“We’re adding several so we have lots of options on how to move water around,” he said.
Spokane Valley City Councilman Dean Grafos said he was worried about how the new flood plain borders would affect property owners inside the city limits. “I question the wisdom of why you would design a wetland before talking to property owners,” he said.
“The elephant in the room is what’s going to happen at Shelley Lake,” Brattabo said. “We’re likely going to come up with a different flood area. The one we have now is flawed.”
Several people expressed concern about having to buy flood insurance if the county moves forward with its plans. “Flood insurance is somewhat complicated,” said Brattabo. “I’m not going to try to discuss it here tonight.”
Shelley Lake resident Marta Reiner said the lake is typically full in the spring and wouldn’t have room for additional water. “You cannot be dumping water there 365 days a year,” she said. “Why isn’t it just dumped in the arid times?”
“That may be what we do,” Brattato said.
The county’s flood plain study is currently being reviewed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will hold public hearings on the project. Those hearings have not yet been scheduled.
Information on the wetlands project is available at www.spokanecounty.org/ salteseflats.