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Off limits? Proposal would restrict access to damaged areas along Spokane River

The Spokane City Council is considering a proposal that would allow the city to close public areas around the Spokane River and Latah Creek.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
The Spokane City Council is considering a proposal that would allow the city to close public areas around the Spokane River and Latah Creek. (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

Aiming to protect and rehabilitate the Spokane River and its tributaries, the Spokane City Council is mulling a proposal to restrict access to some sections of public land near the shoreline.

The new legislation would enable the City Council to cut off lands it determines are in need of rehabilitation.

To start, the council would close two 50-foot-wide sections of land along the Spokane River – the south bank between the Greene Street Bridge and Mission Avenue Bridge along East South Riverton Avenue, and both banks from the Sandifer Bridge to the Monroe Street Bridge in Peaceful Valley.

The law also would apply to land near Latah Creek controlled by the Park Board.

“All of this coincides with trying to get Latah back to water instead of mud,” said Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, the legislation’s sponsor.

The restriction would not be permanent and eventually lapse, depending on the time frame decided on by the council. Violating the restriction would be a misdemeanor, in line with the penalties of second-degree trespassing.

“It would be a temporary measure – and then once you allow the foliage and the river to be restored, you would open up those areas again,” Assistant City Attorney Mary Muramatsu explained to council members this week.

The closures would not include designated trails and walkways.

The city’s Park Department helped identify the initial areas for closure.

Near Riverton Avenue, “we’ve seen a lot of removal of actually native landscaping, and now invasive nonnative plant material has now taken over in a lot of those areas,” said Parks and Recreation Director Garrett Jones.

As the law is currently written, the restrictions could not be enforced by park rangers, who only have the authority to enforce civil infractions.

As a criminal matter, City Council members wondered if citing a person for being on restricted land would violate the precedent set by Martin v. Boise. In that case, a federal court ruled that people who are homeless could not be criminally prosecuted for activities like public camping if the city does not offer alternative shelter.

But city attorneys believe the city is on solid ground with the proposed ordinance, which would restrict access to some – but not all – public lands.

Kinnear expects enforcement to be reliant on complaints filed by citizens or from activity witnessed by park rangers, who can alert police to a violation.

The legislation is tentatively slated for a vote on March 14.

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