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Saltese Flats wetlands project underway for wildlife, water

November 15, 2018

Spokane County has started construction on the Saltese Flats wetland restoration project that will provide educational and recreational opportunities for residents.

The restoration project, located west of the Saltese Uplands Conservation Area, will include multiuse trails, a bird habitat, viewing areas and a interpretive center with an auditorium, classrooms and meeting areas.

The county awarded a bid to Spokane Valley-based N.A. Degerstrom, Inc. for more than $790,000 to construct phase one of the project, which began last month and includes installation of six water control structures, said Ben Brattebo, water reclamation engineer for Spokane County.

Next year, the county will begin grading the site to create additional wetland areas, install interpretive signs and construct trails and bridges to cross streams.

Visitors will be able to access the wetlands from Henry Road and a proposed visitor’s center located to the west.

Restored wetlands in the area will restore a diverse wildlife habitat area, provide a community resource for public access and education and delay water runoff to recharge the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer to increase flow in the Spokane River during late summer months, according to the county.

Restoration of the Saltese Flats natural wetland system has been in Spokane County’s plans for close to a decade.

The county purchased three parcels of land in 2010 on the Saltese Flats, totaling 600 acres. It was initially interested in purchasing the land and restoring the wetlands to use as an alternate site to pump reclaimed wastewater from the Spokane County Regional Water Reclamation Facility.

That option will not be included in the project, but could be considered at a later date, Brattebo said.

The county previously encountered roadblocks with the project because the 100-year flood plain topographic map was incorrect, so it’s working with FEMA to update the flood maps to ensure the wetland restoration project won’t impact natural flooding that’s expected to occur once per century.

Bud Morrison, who operates a cattle ranch in the Saltese Flats, sold more than 300 acres to the county for the restoration project with an agreement to build an interpretive center in honor of his mother, Doris – a former school teacher.

The Doris Morrison Interpretive Center was proposed to be built in conjunction with plans for a third Central Valley High School near 16th Avenue and Henry Road. Spokane County was to pay the Central Valley School District $900,000 toward construction of the interpretive center and 25 percent of annual maintenance costs.

The school district announced in July that it’s choosing to build the proposed $95 million high school at the former Spokane Gun Club site instead of at Saltese Flats.

But, the county is still committed to building the interpretive center, Brattebo said.

“Where it gets built is not certain. We met with the Central Valley School District and may potentially put a small part of it on the former high school site,” he said. “We would like to partner with Central Valley because it’s a nice cooperation with the school district and the county. The interpretive center is a separate matter from the high school now, so it’s still tentative whether or not they will participate, but we’re hopeful.”

The interpretive center will include an exhibit area to provide views of Saltese Flats and showcase history of the Morrison family, who homesteaded the land in the 1800s.

Morrison’s grandfather, Peter, drained Saltese Lake in 1894 and used the soil from the lake bed to grow hay. Morrison and crews of hired laborers spent years digging canals to drain the lake. The main drainage canal, Saltese Creek, still exists and flows into Shelley Lake.

Construction of the wetland restoration project is expected to be completed in late 2019, Brattebo said.

“I’m pleased we finally started building,” he said. “It’s taken a long time to get here.”

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