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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Skating ribbon to close for up to three weeks after ammonia leak

The ice is gone from Riverfront Park’s skating ribbon attraction, and it may not be back for up to three weeks.

The Spokane Parks Department said the $10 million feature would be closed until a replacement part can arrive from Toronto. The ribbon has been closed since Saturday night after workers discovered an ammonia leak. The chemical is used in the ice-making process and leaked from a custom-made part used to feed one of the ribbon’s compressors.

“I can share with you that I’m disappointed, along with citizens,” Leroy Eadie, director of the parks department, said during a news conference outside City Hall on Monday afternoon. “Obviously we want this ice ribbon up. We had about eight weeks of great skating.”

There are no plans for programming on the ribbon while the city waits for the replacement part, Eadie said. Park planners had hinted that roller skating, or farmers markets, could be held on the concrete path during warmer weather months.

The equipment was under warranty and should be replaced without any additional cost to the city, Eadie said.

The city may extend the skating season as a result of the outage. Ice skating was scheduled to end March 4, according to promotional materials heralding the opening of the ribbon in December.

“We’re going to re-evaluate that, in light of this situation,” Eadie said. “We won’t open this facility for three or four days, and then close it.”

Eadie said the attraction had already met its forecast revenue this year, on the back of a strong first few weeks of attendance.

“This is not going to affect our 2018 budget at this time,” Eadie said.

The ammonia leak was first detected last week by workers who noticed the smell, Eadie said. A contractor was called in to repair the leak, but workers later triggered an alarm the city set at 10 parts per million, which is below the 50 parts per million safety standard established by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“It really errs on the side of being conservative, and we’re not going to take any chances,” Eadie said.

Saturday’s evacuation of the ice was another setback in what has been a rocky start for the attraction, despite healthy attendance numbers.

In early January, the Parks Department turned off the fire pits that surrounded the ribbon based on concerns about hands getting too close to the gas-powered flames. And in late January, a 63-year-old woman struck her head on the ice and later died of her injuries.

Ammonia is one of several refrigerants that have been used at ice skating rinks across the country. The Ice Palace, Spokane’s former ice skating rink housed in the U.S. Pavilion, did not use ammonia, Eadie said, but a substance called glycol.

Ammonia can be toxic in certain concentrations; a leak at a rink in British Columbia killed three maintenance workers in October.

Eadie said there were no reports of exposure or injuries in Spokane, and there are systems in place to prevent excess ammonia from being released into the air.

“We weren’t in a position to lose a bunch of ammonia,” Eadie said.

The city is investigating the cause of cracks in the faulty part, which couldn’t be repaired through welding, he said.