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City, Avista, and golf organization apologize for misunderstanding that led to bulldozed mile-long road on South Hill bluff

UPDATED: Wed., April 12, 2017

A mistake has led to the bulldozing of dozens of trees and the scraping of a milelong road into the South Hill bluff below Bernard Street this week.

Concerned residents and vigilant users of the bluff’s popular trail network noticed a large bulldozer carving a road Monday and Tuesday sounded the alarm.

“We didn’t know anything about it,” said Jim Wilson, the president of Friends of the Bluff, a nonprofit that oversees High Drive Bluff Park in Spokane. “It looks to me like it’s in excess of a thousand yards of road already.”

The bulldozer wasn’t supposed to be there. And the road it built was never approved by the city.

On Wednesday, the City of Spokane, Avista and The First Tee of the Inland Northwest issued a joint statement apologizing for a “misunderstanding” regarding the removal of trees and the building of an access road to where First Tee is planning to build a par-3 golf course near the The Creek at Qualchan golf course.

The problem originated from discussions between Avista and First Tee about using an existing Avista utility transmission corridor that runs north along the creek as an alternative access road to the proposed site, said Leroy Eadie, the director of Spokane Parks and Recreation.

But he said construction of a new road was never discussed with parks and recreation staff, and the agreement between First Tee and the city hadn’t even been finalized.

“We’re still piecing this together,” he said.

Mary Tyrie, a spokeswoman and communications manager for Avista, said the two companies had a verbal agreement to share the cost of the road since it was mutually beneficial.

But, she said there was a misunderstanding regarding the authorization of this construction, which was carried out by Swedberg Logging, a local contractor.

“We have been working on trying to better understand where that misunderstanding happened,” she said. “But we did not hire that contractor.”

First Tee did not return calls seeking comment. Swedberg Logging was not immediately available for comment.

First Tee, which is the Spokane chapter of The Inland Northwest Golf Foundation, a nonprofit that provides golf classes to people aged seven to 17, was working on an agreement with the city to build a 6-acre, par-3 golf course on park land, Eadie said.

As part of that agreement, which would not cost the city any money, Eadie said, parks and recreation issued First Tee a tree removal permit “for the golf course only” and did not include the building of a road.

The road work was done “outside the scope of the potential agreement,” the statement said.

According to Eadie, the contractor was planning to continue road-building Wednesday, but was told to stop both “in writing and verbally” Wednesday morning after parks staff received concerned messages from residents.

Eadie said the bulldozer also went over parts of a 55-acre lot of private property on the bluff owned by Randall Bracher.

Wilson, the Friends of the Bluff president, wants to know who’s at fault. He believes the city always intended for the road to be included in the agreement.

But he’s wondering why city officials didn’t tell anyone.

“Maybe not this week, but it was fully envisioned,” he said. “Why wasn’t there any public participation or following state law on this? The damage essentially is done.”

He said he hopes there’s some accountability moving forward.

“Will this be put back to its native state? A number of large trees have been knocked down. Hundreds of trees have been taken out,” he said. “It’s really disappointing that this has happened.”

Outdoors editor Rich Landers contributed to this report.

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