The owner of about 50 acres of forested land along High Drive Bluff is suing a contractor blamed for digging out dozens of trees and scraping a mile-long road into the forested South Hill bluff below Bernard Street.
The lawsuit alleges Swedberg Contracting Corp., owned by Adam Swedberg, “intentionally and without permission, bulldozed an approximately one-mile road” on private property owned by Randall Bracher, owner of Bracher Properties LLC of Ketchum, Idaho. Bracher is seeking damages to be determined at trial.
The lawsuit is the latest in a controversy involving city Parks, Avista Utilities and First Tee of the Inland Northwest, a nonprofit organization seeking to build a three-hole golf course along the bluff. The road was bulldozed in the popular hiking and biking destination two weeks ago.
The property owner’s attorney said Bracher was never informed that First Tee was planning to build a par-3 golf course adjacent to his property – a plan that was nearly finalized between the golf organization and the city’s parks department. Nor was he informed that an access road would be bulldozed through his property.
“On April 13 the family was shocked and saddened to learn from media reports and Friends of the Bluff about the trespass and property damage that occurred,” wrote Bracher’s attorney, Stacy Bjordahl, in an email to The Spokesman-Review. “Randall Bracher inspected the property on April 15 and confirmed that approximately 1,300 linear feet of the road has been bulldozed with substantial damage to trees and the property itself.”
Documents and emails provided by Swedberg’s attorney show the contractor was aware that a proposed road, which mostly follows an Avista Utilities easement and ends at the small golf course site, would cross over private land.
In an email sent to Steve Prugh, a board member of First Tee, on Feb. 21, Swedberg asked if Prugh had permission to go through private property to cut trees and bulldoze the ground.
“Also, did Avista get permission to go (through) those private grounds/cut trees of their ground to open up the right of way?” he asked.
In Prugh’s response, he wrote that he would “check right away.”
In another email sent about a month later, Swedberg sent Prugh a link to a web page of the Spokane County Assessor’s parcel map highlighting the two chunks of property sandwiched by city parkland, with instructions on how to contact the owner.
Swedberg’s attorney, Bob Dunn, said the contractor never made the attempt to contact Bracher directly, since that responsibility usually falls on those requesting the contract – in this case, First Tee and Avista Utilities, which were both splitting the cost of the road.
“He wouldn’t have done that,” Dunn said. “He was relying on the people who hired him to do that.”
Prugh did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Greg Hesler, senior legal counselor for Avista Utilities, said the company wouldn’t speculate on an email they were not aware of between Swedberg and Prugh.
As to why Swedberg mentioned Avista in an email with First Tee about getting a permission to build a road: “I truly can’t talk to where Swedberg is coming to on that.”
Avista has staunchly maintained they did not hire Swedberg to build a road.
The day before bulldozing on the bluff was halted by Parks Director Leroy Eadie, the Parks Board Lands Committee rejected a tentative lease agreement with Bracher that would have continued to allow the public unbridled access to the private property.
The need for a lease agreement with the city was a response to fire and trash that was left on the Bracher’s property by squatter camps in 2014.
Rather than build fencing around their property and close off access to hiking and biking trails, the family sought payment from the city to keep it open under their supervision – something that has already happened for many years, Bjordahl wrote.
“After months of negotiations in which the family made every effort to accommodate the City’s requests, we believed a tentative lease agreement had been reached between Parks Director Leroy Eadie and the family in February,” Bjordahl wrote. “However, unbeknownst to us, Leroy had not obtained the support of the Parks Board Lands Committee and we learned on April 11 that the Committee rejected our tentative agreement. Thus, no lease was established to ensure continued public access.”
Fianna Dickson, spokeswoman for city Parks, said the agreement was rejected because the amount the family was asking for was too high.
“But Parks is interested in leasing the land,” she said.
Bjordahl wrote that throughout the monthslong negotiations, Eadie never mentioned any proposed golf course that would be located near their property.
Ryan Yahne, an attorney representing Bracher, said the reason the contractor is the only party mentioned in the lawsuit – despite the contractor’s claims that Avista and First Tee were aware of road building – is because it’s the most at-fault party they’ve identified.
Whether more parties could be the defendants in future lawsuits would have to wait until they have more information in the future, he said.
“Right now what we know is that we have a claim against the contractor for bulldozing this road over my client’s private property without their permission,” he said. “As for some of the responsibility that may be shared by other entities, I guess we’ll see what happens.”
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