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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Board wants Riverfront Park designated a brownfield to help with cleanup costs

1971 photo of the area along Spokane Falls Boulevard that is now Riverfront Park. The area contained rail tracks and warehouses before it was transformed for Expo ’74, and then into Riverfront Park. (Photo Archive / SR)
1971 photo of the area along Spokane Falls Boulevard that is now Riverfront Park. The area contained rail tracks and warehouses before it was transformed for Expo ’74, and then into Riverfront Park. (Photo Archive / SR)

In order to clean up soil contaminated from years of railroad traffic and industrial waste, the city will consider naming Riverfront Park a brownfield site as it undergoes a massive, multiyear redesign.

The city hopes to receive at least $500,000 through a relatively new state program to clean up the pollution, uncovered in the early stages of work.

If its application is successful, the cleanup money wouldn’t have to come out of a $64.3 million bond measure approved by voters in 2014. That would leave more to go toward planned amenities, including a playground on the north bank of the Spokane River, which have already been revised because of unforeseen costs to repair the park’s bridges.

“Nobody likes to hear that, but the fact is, most of the dirt we’re dealing with in Riverfront Park is considered dirt that needs to be treated or stored properly,” said Ted McGregor, chairman of the city’s subcommittee overseeing the park’s redesign, at a meeting Tuesday morning. “We knew that was going to be there. We budgeted for some of that, but we found the scope was going to be a little larger.”

If the City Council approves the resolution, it will make the 100-acre park Spokane’s second “brownfield redevelopment opportunity zone,” following the designation of Hillyard last year. The Legislature created the program as part of a revision of toxic waste cleanup laws in 2014.

The only other Washington city to take advantage of the program is Bellingham, which earlier this year created a zone around 237 acres of waterfront property. The project calls for mixed residential and commercial development where a pulp and tissue mill once operated.

Spokane will make the case that Riverfront Park, already a tourist destination and host to several downtown festivals, should be eligible for state money because the current redevelopment is the first major investment in the park since Expo ’74. Under state law, a brownfield site must have been previously developed, be currently underutilized and have the potential to release hazardous materials during new construction work.

It will be up to the state program to consider whether Riverfront Park meets those criteria.

Teri Stripes, the city planner overseeing redevelopment in Hillyard under the brownfields program, said recent excavations in preparation for the new “ice ribbon” skating feature at the corner of Post Street and Spokane Falls Boulevard revealed arsenic, cadmium and lead. The discovery will require cleanup that likely will extend to other portions of the park.

Mounting expenses on other projects in the park, plus the level of pollution found at nearby sites such as Kendall Yards, prompted the city to explore the brownfield designation as a way to offset environmental costs, Stripes said.

“When you have certain contaminations, as you’re digging, those need to be mitigated according to the state’s Department of Ecology,” Stripes said.

Brook Beeler, a spokeswoman for the Ecology Department, said the term brownfield can apply to many different types of properties, not just the chemical plants, factories and heavy industrial buildings the term connotes.

“From our perspective, as a big definition, it’s a place in an urban environment that’s prime for redevelopment,” Beeler said. “You’re cleaning up the site, then converting it.”

The Washington Legislature established the brownfields trust fund in 2014, but has not yet allotted any funding to it, Stripes said. That should change in 2017, but it’s unclear how much money will be allocated in the budget process.

The City Council will be asked to support the resolution naming Riverfront Park a brownfield site at an upcoming meeting. City Councilwoman Candace Mumm, the liaison on the Park Board, said Tuesday she hadn’t heard about the brownfield proposal but supported the city looking into it.

“I think that’s something we should explore,” she said. “It may qualify, and we need to explore any economic opportunity we have to improve the beauty of the park.”

The Riverfront Park subcommittee, made up of members McGregor, Ross Kelley, Samuel Selinger, Susan Traver and Greta Gilman, unanimously voted in favor of the brownfield resolution Tuesday.

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