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Landers: Barker Bridge deserves better accountability

Something’s stirring around the new Barker Road Bridge, and it’s not just the heavy-metal-laced soil that eroded away by the tons during the construction.

Last week’s column pointed out that local recreation groups and agencies invested considerable involvement in the project from the planning stage through construction. They tried to assure that the Barker Bridge site remains – as it has for around six decades – a key access point just above the river’s best series of rapids.

Apparently none of the city managers uses the river for anything more than a toilet, so involvement by the citizens who cherish the stream is critical.

Despite this effort, the City of Spokane Valley spent $11 million on a project that fouled the river and could ultimately close off the access to paddlers, anglers and other river users.

I don’t judge that to be cost effective and neither will future generations.

The column stirred up undercurrents in the ongoing river access issue.

Organized fly fishers are wary of any new developed access that might make drift boats viable in the upper river. An access suitable for trailers would promote guided fishing, which is virtually unregulated in Washington.

The fragile trout population couldn’t handle that sort of pressure, they say.

The Spokane River is better suited to lighter pressure self-regulated by limited access. Wade fishing and anglers who launch small rafts and pontoons that can be carried to the water are a better fit for the struggling fishery, they argue.

And a kayaker told me I was too hard on his fair city. He said he wasn’t concerned about Spokane Valley’s lack of foresight because “all I need is a cow trail to get my boat down to the river.”

Indeed, it was kayaker Terry Miller of the Spokane Canoe & Kayak Club who was paddling the river a couple of years ago, as he does 50-60 times a year, when he noticed the survey stakes indicating where the new bridge would be built.

He sounded the alarm to save the “cow trail” paddlers already had. After demonstrations and lobbying by rafting and paddling groups, city leaders were persuaded and engineers realigned the plans by 30 feet.

The people who are disappointed that there isn’t an access road and ramp of some sort suitable for launching a drift boat were even later to get to the table on this project.

Spokane Valley engineer Steve Worley is correct in saying that a major access is a concept that evolved after the project began.

But the contractors and city officials who signed off on this project – and who now say they’re walking away from it – can’t be let off the hook.

Miller, who calls Barker Road “the most important access on the river,” said he’s glad to have any sort of access there. He said he’ll try to raise the money to fix the erosion issues, if the city will let him.

It’s good to hear that several river user groups are talking again about the Barker access, what they have and what they might not have down the road.

That’s the only good news I’ve heard since the project was completed.

The city officials who conceived and signed off on Barker Bridge will likely be retired in 20 years or so when increased traffic demands on the bridge may very well take over the lane river users have been left for parking and access.

Those officials should step up with a plan to assure there will always be river access at one of the most important sites on the river.

They need to be held accountable now.

And a “River access” sign should be installed to remind the next city officials.

Contact Rich Landers at 459-5508 or e-mail

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