DOH Schedules Unwanted Moving Day for Community Gardens

By Paige Browning

Members of two community gardens in Spokane may wonder if it’s worth cleaning out their beds this year.  The gardens cozy up next to well-heads on city water department land, and have been told to move.

This wasn’t a problem until last fall when the state Department of Health conducted a sanitation review, done every five years.  DOH determined the Hillyard Pumphouse and East Central community gardens violate a state code that mandates all well heads have a 100-foot radius around them to prevent contamination.
Hillyard Pumphouse Community Garden next to city well. By Paige Browning.City Hydroelectric Operations Supervisor Mark Cleveland has become the buffer between the state and gardens.
Cleveland: “We’re looking at benefitting 18-20 people at either site, but we’re putting at risk 200,000 people if there was an incident.”

Cleveland cites concerns that contaminants may seep into the well, and that opening city water property to strangers threatens security.

But city council staff member Lori Kinnear, is puzzled by how the gardens pose contamination risks.
Kinnear: “All gardeners signed an MOU stating that they would not use pesticides or herbicides, would abide by organic gardening practices.”

Hillyard Pumphouse Community Garden next to city well site. By Paige Browning.
Kinnear actually created the city community garden program in 2008.  She and council member Amber Waldref are standing up for the gardeners, amid growing problems.

Kinnear: “They’ve been amending that soil, and working with that soil so that it’s nice right now, they don’t want to start over. And the most problematic is where do you put them?  Because on both those sites, you look around, there isn’t another place to just plop a garden.”

Hillyard Gardener Donna Fagan says there may be room next to Regal Elementary School.  But as committee chair for the pumphouse garden, she doesn’t look forward to a move.
Fagan: “My garden is families, and people that live in apartments, but also neighbors.  Mostly to supplement their food, their grocery bills.”

This final season the gardeners must complete a class and sign a new memorandum of understanding to ensure they will grow organically.

Community garden bed awaits spring planting. By Paige Browning.
Community garden bed awaits spring planting. By Paige Browning.
Meanwhile, Cleveland says his department is helping search for new locations, and will help physically move garden beds when the time comes. Cleveland says another element is the joint aquifer board, who has recently taken a strong interest in protecting drinking water and well heads.

Kinnear still hopes to avoid a move because she says the initial notice letter from DOH offered an alternative option if gardeners are committed to preventing contamination.
Right now the gardens face a January 2014 deadline from the DOH to pull up their roots.

Copyright 2013 Spokane Public Radio

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