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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Two-year stormwater tank project will extend Riverfront Park, close road

The good news is an artful, landscaped and multilevel plaza will extend Spokane’s Riverfront Park to the Monroe Street Bridge, the Spokane River will be much cleaner and the 3-mile Gorge Loop Trail will be nearly complete.

The bad news is Spokane Falls Boulevard will be closed for nearly two years while the city builds a massive, 2.2-million-gallon stormwater tank next to the downtown library.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Marlene Feist, the city utilities spokeswoman, said of the $32 million project, which will break ground early next year. “That’s a really big tank. And it’s deep. We’d like to be done and out of there by the holiday season of 2018.”

Last week, Mayor David Condon unveiled an early concept for the unnamed plaza just north of the downtown library, calling it “a challenging project, to say the least.”

Besides being the largest stormwater tank the city will build and bury, the work that will be done above ground is expansive. The existing sidewalk will be replaced with a wide promenade with overlooks, landscaping, places for vendors and food trucks, and shaded seating. A trailhead near City Hall will connect to a path running west along the river, part of a 3-mile loop through Peaceful Valley, across the river at the Sandifur Bridge and then connecting with the Centennial Trail in Kendall Yards.

The pavement of Spokane Falls Boulevard might be replaced with decorative colored concrete, which would visually extend the plaza south toward the library. The intersection at Spokane Falls Boulevard and Lincoln Street will be raised to slow traffic and increase safety for people on the plaza.

Most people will only see the plaza, but the bulk of the work is below ground. The plaza will only account for 10 percent of the project’s cost.

The point of the project is what lies below, and it has city officials most excited. For years, the city has been floating and shifting plans for what will be the largest tank it builds in the work to stop pollutants from going into the river, as mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Much of Spokane’s wastewater system is made up of combined sewers that handle both stormwater and sanitary sewage. When it rains, the system is overwhelmed and overflow is piped untreated into the river. The tanks are designed to capture that overflow and send it to the treatment plant.

Years ago, the city committed to a plan to bury large tanks along the river and divert the stormwater overflow into them. At first, the city was planning to buy a parking lot on Main Avenue behind the old Masonic Temple for $2 million and bury one huge tank there.

In 2013, the plan changed, and a 4-million-gallon tank was proposed in Peaceful Valley’s Glover Field. But the plan was thrown out for a number of reasons, including protests from the Spokane Tribe.

City officials began to look elsewhere, including at 16 potential sites around downtown, for the large tank. The solution they landed on: Split the huge tank and build two smaller, if still big, tanks in separate locations.

The massive project calls for a 1.9-million-gallon tank to be buried near First Avenue and Adams Street, the location of a vacant lot that once was home to a downtown fire station. The second tank will be built near the library, in one of the most conspicuous spots downtown.

“It’s like a football field, the whole thing. It’s a big thing,” said Feist, at a loss to describe the project’s size. “Because we have to excavate down so far, it will really feel like an enormous hole.”

The tank itself will be 340 feet long, 45 feet wide and 20 feet deep. The pipe that will feed the tank is 20 feet below ground, and it collects stormwater from nearly all of downtown and some of the South Hill.

To get an idea of how much stormwater this tank will be responsible for, Feist points to the three-day rainstorm in December. During that storm, 4.2 million gallons of stormwater were captured by the city’s existing tanks. Another 10 million gallons went untreated into the river. Of that, about 7 million gallons came from the downtown basins.

“If we had put in the tanks we have planned and they had been operating at full capacity, we wouldn’t have had an overflow,” Feist said.

Leroy Eadie, the city’s parks director, said the amount of work being done in and around Riverfront Park will be challenging. This year, the city will begin the first significant work at the park as part of the bond voters passed in 2014. Additionally, the parks department will replace the Post Street Bridge after the Spokane Falls Boulevard work is complete, and build a stormwater tank on the parks-owned Bosch lot on the north bank of the river near the bridge.

“One of our challenges in and around the park is staging areas,” Eadie said, referring to the amount of construction equipment needed for the work and the limited amount of space to store it.

Unlike the south-bank plaza, the Bosch lot will likely maintain its parking, as well as be a trailhead for the Centennial and Gorge Loop trails.

“What we’d like to do in either case, whether as a surface lot or structure, is incorporate trail amenities,” Eadie said, mentioning restrooms and secure parking.

Andrew Chanse, the library director, said he supports the project, as long as it maintains the library’s views of the falls.

“From the library’s perspective, we wanted to make sure that the view was respected and retained,” Chanse said, adding that he wasn’t overly concerned with the noise and activity construction will bring. “More and more, we’re becoming an active place for the community and you can’t expect quiet all the time here.”