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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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City parks issued permission to cut trees for golf course, but officials say not for road cut across South Hill bluff

UPDATED: Fri., April 14, 2017

The contractor who bulldozed the road through city parkland along High Drive Bluff provided documents Friday that his attorney says show he obtained a permit on Jan. 20 from the city of Spokane for tree removal as part of the project to build a three-hole golf course near The Creek at Qualchan.

Also on Friday, the Washington Department of Ecology said it appears the portions of the road were built in violation of shoreline setback rules. Those rules prohibit “roads, utility corridors and parking areas that can be feasibly located outside of the ‘natural’ designated shorelines.”

The developments are the latest twist in an evolving controversy about the marring of one of the city’s more popular hiking and mountain biking areas.

The contractor’s attorney says the documents contradict earlier statements by city Parks Director Leroy Eadie, who on Thursday said the city had not given Adam Swedberg authority to bulldoze the road, which largely follows an easement owned by Avista Utilities and ends at the small golf course site.

Swedberg’s attorney, Bob Dunn, lashed out at officials from both the city and Avista for public statements indicating they were in the dark about how the road was built following outcry from users of the trails along the pristine hillsides and amid ponderosa pine trees.

Dunn provided several pages of documents, emails and the city permit he said show the city and Avista signed off on the project. The notes include several site visits from Avista officials and indicate that the city arborist was marking trees for removal as late as Wednesday.

“You authorize this guy to proceed. You get caught with your pants down and now you are trying to find someone to throw under the bus,” Dunn said of officials at Avista and the City of Spokane.

“Leroy Eadie says we’ll get to the bottom of this and whoever caused this damage will pay for it,” Dunn continued.

“I suggest you … go 10 feet to the next office and find out from your own people who gave the green light to this project.”

Parks spokeswoman Fianna Dickson issued a statement saying the city did issue a permit, but only for the golf course – not the road.

“The permit is one piece and it’s only for tree removal,” Dickson said. “It doesn’t include the contract to do the work. And there was no permitting, that we can find, that is at all related to that road.”

That tree-removal permit was issued Jan. 20 by Spokane Urban Forester Angel Spell, who did not immediately return a message left for comment. However, the fine print of the contract only mentions the 6-acre golf course site and not the mile-long road cut through the forest to access it.

When asked about the contract language, Dunn said his client is not an attorney. Coupled with all of the conversations, emails and site visits, the contractor believes all parties were fully aware and approved the road.

Swedberg “was relying on the city to issue the permit for the project they know was going to take place,” Dunn said. “There isn’t any question that the city and Avista knew there was going to be road building. Now they are using that same stone to kill the contractor.”

A newly cut road winds along the foot of the South Hill Bluff on Thursday, April 13, 2017. The road was constructed without the proper permits. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
A newly cut road winds along the foot of the South Hill Bluff on Thursday, April 13, 2017. The road was constructed without the proper permits. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Swedberg kept a diary of his work and contacts. On April 10, he wrote about how he called City Arborist Jeff Perry to come out to the site to mark trees for removal as part of his contract.

“We talked about the placement of the road and the trees it was effecting (sic),” the notes, provided by Dunn, show.

While they walked the route, crews who are paid to locate underground utilities arrived. As a result of marking off the underground cable, Swedberg noted that he had to change the route of the road.

“I called Jeff to let him know the problem and he said he was good with it.”

Asked why Perry didn’t inform others at the city about the impending road construction, Dickson said: “We are still doing a lot of fact-finding on our end.”

The documents also show several contacts between Swedberg and Avista engineers and officials, including walking the route of the road at least three times, Dunn said.

Swedberg began talking with Avista about its easement as early as November. In a letter dated Dec. 20, Avista engineer Lamont Miles wrote a letter to First Tee of the Inland Northwest, the nonprofit organization seeking to build the golf course, about their intended use.

“Avista has no objection, and consents, to your proposed use of the Corridor” as long as First Tee agreed to release the company from liability for any damage outside of the easement, Miles wrote. “In the meantime, we look forward to assisting what will undoubtedly be a beneficial project for the Spokane community.”

Josh DiLuciano, director of electrical engineering for Avista, acknowledged Friday that his company has been talking for months with First Tee and Steve Prugh, board member of First Tee.

“Avista recognizes that we had our forester on-site and engineer on-site. But this was not Avista’s contract so Avista could not issue any permits to do that work,” he said.

DiLuciano promised to work with city parks officials to immediately begin restoring the site. Dickson said crews will develop plans to keep anyone from using the road and to put measures in place to stop erosion.

In the meantime, Avista is going forward with plans this fall to replace the aging poles and install higher-capacity power lines along that same area of Latah Creek. While the road, as built, would have given Avista access for that project, DiLuciano said, “At this time, we are revising how we would access that.”

Any Avista plan to build new access roads would be done with the necessary permits, conversations with stakeholders and public hearings, he said.

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