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Saturday, June 6, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane City Council members call for restoration of damaged conservation land

UPDATED: Mon., April 17, 2017

John Little and his dog, Zorra, run last week along the road cut through the wooded South Bluff area without permits. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
John Little and his dog, Zorra, run last week along the road cut through the wooded South Bluff area without permits. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Avista Corp. announced Monday that it is taking the lead on restoration of an illegally logged road on a city-owned natural area below High Drive.

The city of Spokane and a non-profit that provides golf programs for youth will also be involved, officials said.

Josh DiLuciano, director of electrical engineering with Avista, said the initial remediation will begin with erosion control, likely with installation of a silt barrier along the shoreline of Latah Creek.

At the same time, the company is not going to use the mile-long road logged and built early last week to upgrade and existing transmission line through the undeveloped natural area, he said.

“We do not plan on using that road,” DiLuciano said Monday.

Avista plans to reach out to neighbors and user groups both for restoration and for upgrading the transmission line, a two-year project that started in 2016.

Two Spokane City Council members who represent the South Side of Spokane on Monday called for restoration as soon as possible.

Restoration planning began on Monday at a meeting at City Hall attended by council members, parks staff and Avista representatives.

Last week, a logging contractor cut a mile-long road and logged about scores of trees on the lower portion of the High Drive Bluff, a popular area because of its network of trails among stands of native pine. The road is mostly on park land, but also on private parcels.

“The first step is to restore the area, then find out what went wrong and who is responsible,” said Councilwoman Lori Kinnear.

She said that because the road grading cut into the ground, it damaged the roots of trees left standing. Now they are a hazard to the public and will likely have to be removed, she said.

Kinnear and Councilman Breann Beggs issued a joint news release on Monday.

Beggs said that state law allows for triple damages for timber trespass.

An attorney who worked on a timber trespass case, Beggs said he is confident the city will be able to recover full damages from wrongdoers.

Beggs said “there is still no indication” that the logging contractor had necessary permits.

Those include a shoreline permit and grading permit, among others, city officials said.

State Department of Ecology staff last week said that the road building and logging are violations of shoreline law, which requires such work to be done outside the 200-foot-wide shoreline buffer.

The road was apparently built to provide construction access to a three-hole youth course planned by a non-profit, The First Tee, next to the Qualchan links.

Bob Dunn, attorney for the logging and roadbuilding contractor said last week that the city issued a timber permit to the operator.

However, that permit specified tree cutting only for about six acres at the site of the planned three-hole youth golf course and not for the road, city officials said.

Dunn argued that the city’s arborist and Avista staff were working with the contractor on what trees to remove along the road, which was intended to connect with the youth course and provide access for the Avista project.

However, Parks Director LeRoy Eadie said last week he would not have allowed the road that was built.

He said that parks officials would likely have allowed construction access from the Qualchan driveway, and that another access road from the northwest was not needed.

The Spokane Park Board last week deferred consideration of the First Tee proposal for youth golf.

Eadie and DiLuciano appeared before the City Council Monday night to give council members and update. Park Board members were there but did not speak.

Eadie said it is not unusual to give out a tree permit in advance. The permit was issued to Steve Prugh and First Tee. Prugh is a board member of the organization, he said.

Dunn argued that the permit at Qualchan and involvement of city and Avista staff was essentially giving the contractor premission.

The contractor was identified as Swedberg construction. Dunn was not available to comment on Monday’s developments.

Eadie said about 30 to 45 trees with diameters of six inches and greater were cut. He also said there were just a few root-damaged trees that will have to be cut down, too.

Logs from the operation were left at the site.

Eadie said that when it comes to building a road and logging, “We work with approved permits.”

A city arborist giving advice on what trees to cut on the road “was not a permit. That is not approval,” Eadie said.

The permit that was granted was to the First Tee organization for the six-acre youth site only, Eadie said.

City officials said they will attend the Comstock Neighborhood Council meeting on Wednesday to discuss the subject and then touch base with the Friends of the Bluff organization as well as other users.

The Comstock meeting will be at Sacajawea Middle School at 6 p.m.

Other groups that will be consulted are the Lands Council and Riverkeeper.

Eadie said he hopes to educate trail users with signs asking them to stay off the road scar so it can revegetate. Most trail use occurs on the upper slope of the bluff. Fewer people drop down to the Latah Valley to use trails there. Eadie said he doesn’t want the scar to become a permanent trail, but crossing it should not be a problem.

High Drive is about 500 feet above Latah Creek.

Barriers, likely large boulders, will be placed at the road access points to block vehicles.

Kinnear and Beggs both said they are looking for more answers into what went wrong.

Kinnear said that she is also working to draft and update of the city’s tree ordinance.

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