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Washington State News Archive

Below are archived news items for the current month. To view a previous month, choose it from the list below.

"A new network of voters"--Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Your Revolution”, is a Facebook application developed by University of Washington students to mobilize the social networking generation to get out the vote this November. The application allows Facebook users in Washington and Arizona to register to vote online (those are the only two states currently offering online registration). So far they have registered 4,500 new voters. The founders of “Your Revolution” say their next goal is to get online voting registration up and running in all 50 states, since the 18 to 24 demographic responds better when they can do things online. The deadline for online registration in Washington is Saturday, October 4, for the November 4, 2008 election. - 10/01/2008

"New state food stamp rule starts today"--Pasco Tri-City Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The Department of Social and Health Services has broadened eligibility rules for food stamps. Previously a family's income couldn't qualify for food stamps if its income exceeded 130% of the poverty level; now a family can qualify if its income is within 200% of the poverty level. The changes became effective on October 1. The number of people applying for food stamps in the Tri-Cities area has risen lately, mirroring a statewide trend. According to a recent report from the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development more than half the people who get food stamps also use food banks. - 10/01/2008

"Ecology authorizes new water releases from Grand Coulee"--Grand Coulee Star
The Department of Ecology has made it official--more water can be released from the Lake Roosevelt reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam. The water releases are part of the Columbia River Program. The Department send two reports of examination to the Bureau of Reclamation. One of the reports is on water releases to maintain water flow in the Columbia River for fish and irrigation below the Grand Coulee Dam. The other report is on water releases to the Bureau of Reclamation's Columbia Basin Project. Part of this water will be used to replensih the rapidly dropping Odessa Aquifer. An article in the September 30, 2008 issue of the Moses Lake Coumbia Basin Herald, "State studying Odessa aquifer", notes that the Department of Ecology and the Bureau of Reclamation has made a $6 million grant to study options for replenishing the Odessa aquifer. The water level in this aquifer has dropped so low that some wells in the area are 2,400 feet deep. - 10/01/2008

"State’s senators split on bailout"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell voted against the $700 billion bailout bill yesterday, taking the stance that American taxpayers should not have to use their money to shore up Wall Street. However, Washington’s other U.S. senator, Patty Murray, voted for the bill, agreeing that the legislation isn’t perfect but maintaining that the bill was urgently needed. Murray argued that if the bill didn’t get passed, average Americans would be the ones hardest hit by a financial collapse. The bill contains numerous tax breaks, including a sales-tax deduction on federal tax returns that saves Washingtonians millions of dollars annually. - 10/02/2008

"Former claims examiner criticizes Hanford ill worker program"--Pasco Tri-City Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The Department of Ecology, the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency hold annual State of the Site meetings in Washington and Oregon to discuss issues surrounding the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The first meeting this year was held in Kennewick on October 2. Charges were levelled at the meeting that the Department of Labor has been less than fair in settling claims under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program. A former claims examiner said that legitimate claims were denied or their processing was delayed. This program is supposed to give benefits to current and former employees suffering from cancers associated with their jobs at various nuclear sites around the country. This program has paid out almost $300 million to claimants who worked at Hanford and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Other 2008 State of the Site meetings will be held in Seattle, Hood River, and Portland over the next 3 weeks. - 10/03/2008

"State rule clarifies 60-day supply of medical marijuana"--Seattle Times
The Department of Health has finally settled on the amount of medical marijuana patients may be allowed, although many aren’t happy with the result. DOH has declared that patients may have 24 ounces of usable marijuana and 15 plants. The state law on medical marijuana, passed by voters in 1998, only specifies that patients can have a 60-day supply, without specifying the exact amount of marijuana that is legal. Some medical marijuana advocates are disappointed with the health department’s new rule, saying that 24 ounces simply isn’t enough for a 60-day supply. The King County prosecuting attorney has said that his office will treat ill patients very leniently and will not prosecute them for marijuana possession as long as they have a legitimate need. - 10/03/2008

"Lichens may be canaries in the coal mine"--Vancouver Columbian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
As go lichens so goes air quality in the Columbia Gorge. Lichens are used to gauge changes in air quality. The species sensitive to nitrogen and acid rain are not doing well in that region. Sources of pollution include agriculture, a major power plant, and motor vehicles as well as natural causes. - 10/06/2008

"Department of Energy faces huge cost increases"--Pasco Tri-City Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The General Accounting Office released a report criticizing the ability of the Department of Energy's Office of Environmental Managment (OEM) to manage the cleanup of nuclear waste sites. (A summary of the report can be found here.) The report looked at 10 OEM managed cleanup projects that would cost at least a billion dollars over a five year period. Five of the the 10 projects are at Hanford. The report showed a pattern of major delays and cost overruns. - 10/07/2008

"Washington's registered voters surpass record 3.5 million"--Seattle Post-Intelligencer
The Secretary of State’s office says that it has 3,515,000 people on record as registered voters so far, a record for Washington state. Nearly 281,000 are newly registered voters, thanks in part to voter-registration drives among low-income voters and college students. King County now has over one million registered voters, which is almost a third of the state’s total voting population. October 4 was the last day in Washington to register by mail, but citizens can still register in person at their county auditor’s office up to 15 days before the election. The Secretary of State’s Elections and Voting division has online voter’s guides and other voting information. - 10/08/2008

"State threatens to sue FERC over Bradwood Landing decision"--Longview Daily News
It seems that Washington state doesn't like Northern Star Natural Gas' Bradwood Landing project any more than Oregon does. Although the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved the project, Governor Gregoire has sent Northern Star a letter saying that FERC's decision is "premature". Like Governor Kulongoski of Oregon, Governor Gregoire is considering contesting the FERC decision in court. Both Oregon and Washington contend that FERC's approval ignored the need for Northern Star Natural Gas to get permits from state agencies. Washington is also concerned that a building a pipeline from Bradwood Landing through Cowlitz County would trigger eminent domain claims by Northern Star against landowners. - 10/08/2008

"Buckhorn called 'future of mining'"--Spokane Spokesman Review
There's still gold in those hills, but the trick is how to mine it without ruining water quality. Kinross Gold Corporation, owner of the new Buckhorn Mountain Mine near Kettle Falls, reached agreement with the Okanogan Highlands Alliance to spend $5 million on water quality monitoring and mitigation. This plan includes water quality along the access road to the mine. It's well worth it for Kinross since it's estimated the mine could produce a million ounces of gold. The problem of water pollution doesn't end when a mine goes out of operation. Pollution from heavy metals and PCBs from abandoned equipment are well documented. - 10/09/2008

"Pierce County Housing Authority opts to go bankrupt"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Rather than face litigation for allowing a mold problem to continue, the Housing Authority has decided to declare bankruptcy. Eighty-one residents of Eagle’s Watch, an apartment complex in Puyallup, were in the midst of a lawsuit with the Pierce County Housing Authority over their negligence in addressing a mold problem when the commission voted to take this step. Filing for bankruptcy will mean that the residents will not be able to collect damages for health problems they say were caused by the mold. The bankruptcy will also mean that the Housing Authority can continue to provide service for its clients throughout the county, rather than spend time and money battling numerous law suits. The housing authority is a public landlord that provides affordable housing for low-income tenants. - 10/09/2008

"Jefferson County sheriff sets rules for work with Border Patrol"--Port Angeles Peninsula Daily News
Local law enforcement officials on the Olympic Peninsula draw a clear line between their responsibilities and those of the U.S. Border Patrol. The Border Patrol has been increasing its presence along America's northern border as part of the Secure Border Initiative. Part of this initiative is identifying and detaining illegal immigrants. The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, the Port Townsend Police Department, and the Port Angeles Police Department will draw on the Border Patrol when they need help with translating, but they do not enforce federal immigration laws. They do cooperate with the Border Patrol on the multi-agency Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Encforcement Team. - 10/10/2008

"ORV's losses are hunters' gains"--Spokane Spokesman-Review - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Hunting season starts soon, and disabled hunters will gain more access to the Colville National Forest. State regulations on hunting can be found here. At same time, some access roads are closed to off road vehicles (ORVs). Washington state law on ORVs can be found here. - 10/05/2008

"Hidden wells, dirty water Part 2: Where's the accountability?"--Yakima Herald-Republic - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
(Part 1 of this series appared on Oct. 12.) Nitrates in drinking water can cause serious health problems and are found in many Yakima Valley water wells. It is believed one source of the nitrates could be Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) such as large dairy operations and feedlots. Another source can be liquid manure from CAFOs that is sold to farmers and put on fields. It can be very difficult to pinpoint the source of nitrate pollution. One way to check is for nitrate pollution around a CAFO is groundwater monitoring with wells, but that is expensive. The dairy industry opposes mandatory groundwater monitoring due to the costs. The industry persuaded the Department of Ecology, which is responsible for groundwater quality, and the Washington State Department of Agriculture, which inspects CAFOs, not to push for mandatory groundwater montiroing. The result is split authority for overseeing CAFOs while nitrates get in people's drinking water. - 10/13/2008

"Cross-Strait cable almost ready to go"--Peninsula Daily News
A 550-megawatt electricity transmission cable stretching from the Olympic Peninsula to Vancouver Island has received final clearance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The cable will be unique in that it will transmit energy from Canada into the U.S., crossing underneath the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The company that is proposing the cable, Sea Breeze Pacific, says that this underwater transmission line will allow U.S. customers to use Canada’s renewable energy sources such as hydropower and wind power. The company still needs several more permits before it can begin construction, but the green light from the Army Corps of Engineers was the last significant hurdle in making the cable a reality. - 10/13/2008

"Benton-Franklin Health District cutbacks looming"--Pasco Tri-City Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The Benton-Franklin Health District is facing a disastrous budget shortfall. Even after cutting costs it's still $745,000 in the hole. It's not certain that Benton and Franklin Counties can make up the difference. This would force the counties to more than double the money they ccontribute to fund the district. If the district is forced to cut services, it will lose some of its state and federal funding since that funding is based on services offered by the district. Service cuts could be down to the level of the basic required duties of a local health district. Many preventive health programs would fall by the wayside. Nor would the budget cuts leave Benton and Franklin Counties in a good position to respond to a public health emergency. - 10/14/2008

"Port aims to dissuade future protests"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Port commissioners at the Port of Olympia have unanimously voted to prosecute in civil court anyone who blocks port roads or interferes in any way with port business. This vote comes in reaction to a lack of criminal prosecution of protestors who gathered at the port last fall by the municipal court in Olympia, which has dismissed the case of one protester, and has hearings scheduled to decide whether to dismiss cases of three others. A representative of the group Olympia Port Militarization Resistance has said that they will not discourage further protests and claims that the port is the one engaging in illegal action. A lawyer who represents some of the protesters charged with wrong-doing said that the port’s threat to take cases to civil court is called a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, and is not generally viewed well in the legal community. - 10/14/2008

"Area bankers hopeful about federal initiative"--Spokane Spokesman-Review - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
At least bankers in the Inland Northwest are okay with the idea. If the Deparatment of Treasury wants to pump capital into their banks, they'll take it. The plan is part of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. It allows the Treasury Department to buy stock in banks and savings and loans. In turn this will prime the economy by giving the financial institutions money to loan out to businesses and individuals. These banks and savings and loans are overseen by the Department of Financial Institutions in Washington state. - 10/15/2008

"Border Patrol's expanded operation irking Washington farmers"--Bellingham Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The U.S. Border Patrol has implemented road blocks on the Olympic Peninsula and in Whatcom County to check the legal status of farm workers travelling in those areas. The Washington Farm Bureau is not happy with this procedure, which they say discourages immigrants from seeking work on farms in the state. Farm workers are already in low supply, and immigrant labor generally makes up the bulk of workers who harvest the crops raised here. Checkpoints on roads and ferry runs have resulted in the arrests of about 90 people, most of whom were illegal immigrants. State officials have agreed to screen immigrants applying for the federal guest worker program, but have not agreed to use the federal government’s special verification system. - 10/15/2008

"Report: EPA failing to stop sprawl runoff"--Seattle Times
According to a study released by the National Academy of Science, the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations on stormwater runoff have not been effective in curbing water pollution. The report contends that responsibility for containing stormwater runoff should be moved to local governments according to watershed boundaries, thus removing responsibility from state governments. The Department of Ecology in Washington has already been told to rewrite the rules for stormwater permits. Stormwater runoff is a major source of pollution in Puget Sound. Part of the problem with the current laws under the EPA is that they target specific contaminants, rather than runoff as a whole. - 10/16/2008

"State Health Board may require annual school inspections"--Wenatchee World - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The State Board of Health is considering major changes to the rules governing health and safety in schools. The Board of Health put off a final decision on the proposed changes at a public hearing in Yakima. The rule changes would cover construction, maintenance, and mandate annual inspections by the local health districts (whose resources are already stretched thin). The changes would increase construction and administrative costs. Several of the public comments on the proposed rules used phrases like "unfunded mandate". - 10/17/2008

"A sweep for domestic violence suspects"--Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Seattle police hit the streets this week with a list of 270 people wanted for domestic violence misdemeanors. According to the department, there are about 1,000 outstanding domestic violence warrants in Seattle alone, and police responded to about 3,423 reports of domestic violence altogether during 2007. Thirty-two children have died as a result of domestic violence in the state of Washington since 1997, according to the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The Seattle sweep was part of a nationwide crack-down on domestic violence offenders during Domestic Violence Awareness Month. - 10/17/2008

"Leaders seek to end racial gap in Washington schools"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Black students statewide have consistently scored lower on the math section of the WASL than any other racial group, and have lower on-time graduation rates than white and Asian/Pacific Islander students. The state legislature recognized that this was a problem last year, and allocated $150,000 to implement an advisory committee that could help school districts close the achievement gap. One of the committee’s ideas is to create “Millennium Schools” that would serve as demonstration sites for best practices in education. Another idea is to recruit more minority teachers who understand the cultural needs and backgrounds of non-white students. - 10/20/2008

"US drops charges against 5 Guantanamo prisoners"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The prosecutor for the five Guantanamo Bay detainees, Army Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, said that the military was withholding evidence that could have proven the innocence of the prisoners. He asked a Pentagon official to dismiss the charges, which has been done, but the Pentagon can still make other charges at a later date. Representatives for the Pentagon say that the prisoners will not be released while prosecutors look at the evidence more closely. Meanwhile, prosecuting attorney Vandeveld has resigned. The decision about how to handle the five prisoners whose charges have been dismissed will probably be made by the next presidential administration. More information about the detainee program at Guantanamo Bay can be found here. - 10/22/2008

"Dozens of Snohomish County layoff notices go out"--Everett Herald
Seventy-five Snohomish County planning employees have been notified that their jobs will be cut starting in January 2009, and lay-offs are slated for about 200 other county employees. The County Council cites a budget shortfall that may be as much as $20 million in 2009. All county departments have been asked to cut nine percent of their budget. Human Resources for the county will try to find positions for laid-off workers in other departments, but it’s not clear where those positions will come from. The county council will approve the final 2009 budget on November 24, even though they voted in March to switch to a biennial budget. Council members say they need to have more control over the budget right now than a two-year budgeting process would allow. - 10/23/2008

"McNeil Island prison saves waste – and money"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The correctional facility is trying to do its part to be as environmentally friendly as possible and save tax payers money, too. The prison has instituted a number of programs that do just that, such as slowing down the passenger ferries that go to and from the island, recycling its own paper, plastic, cardboard, and metal, composting food waste, and donating prisoners’ worn out shoes to Nike for recycling. Slowing down and reducing the number of ferry runs each day reduces the amount of diesel fuel used, while the recycling and composting programs save waste from being dumped into landfills (which the prison must pay for). The shoe recycling program costs money to ship the shoes, but is better for the planet overall, say prison officials. They estimate total savings from the sustainability programs to reach about $630,000 per year. - 10/24/2008

"State seeks to clear air about car washes"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
The Department of Ecology is trying hard to stop the rumor that you'll be fined or go to jail for washing your car before that rumor becomes an urban legend. Instead the Department is offering suggestions on how to wash your car while minimizing pollution from detergent and road dirt. The rumor got its origin from an article in the Vancouver Columbian about state and county efforts to lower pollution in stormwater. Ecology's guidelines for local governments' stormwater ordinances mention car washing (see page 2), but as the sort of thing that can be solved by educating the public. That detail was missed when the article was picked up by other local news outlets and then went national. - 10/24/2008

"DOE study favors reusing nuclear fuel"--Pasco Tri-City Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Nuclear power is coming back in favor because it doesn't contribute to global warming, but it has one very dangerous byproduct: high level nuclear waste. Unless properly handled, spent nuclear fuel can emit fatal doses of radiation for thousands of years. Nuclear waste is piling up in storage sites around the country--so much that the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository could be filled by 2010. The Department of Energy (DOE) has recommended the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership look into reducing the amount of high level nuclear waste by closing the fuel cycle. The DOE has prepared a progammatic environment impact statement about this proposal and is holding hearings on it around the country, including in Richland on November 17. - 10/27/2008

"State officials allow few spiritual events on campus"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
This week saw the celebration of Christian Heritage at the state capitol, but these religious events are approved on a case-by-case basis and must fall in line with state law. The general administration department on the capitol campus approves all displays, events, and exhibits, which must not make the government be seen to promote or inhibit any religious or spiritual beliefs. Last year, an attorney won a lawsuit to display a Nativity scene at the capitol building which will be displayed again this year, and a group called Freedom From Religion will display signs and placards regarding the winter solstice. Gov. Gregoire proclaimed October 19 – 25 as Christian Heritage week, citing the state constitution’s reference to a Supreme Ruler as the basis for the event. - 10/27/2008

"King County plans to close its offices for 10 days to save money"--Seattle Times
King County executive Ron Sims has announced that the county’s offices will close for an additional ten days next year in order to save money. Employees will not be paid for those ten days, and unionized employees would only receive a one percent cost-of-living increase, as opposed to the 4.9 percent agreed to in their union contracts. The shut-down will only affect nonessential services; police, transit, and wastewater services will remain in operation. Sims says he expects that the unions will approve the furlough, since disapproval would mean more layoffs. Five county council members said they will return the portion of their cost-of-living increase that is over one percent to save the county additional money. - 10/28/2008

"Tribal vote no longer ignored"--Everett Herald
Native Americans were not allowed to vote in many states for years, and Washington barred them from the polls until 1950 (see Washington Constitution, Article VI and amendments). Now some elected officials count on Native American votes to decide tight elections. Maria Cantwell credits tribal leaders for helping her win the 2000 U.S. Senate seat from the incumbent, Slade Gorton. Tribes felt that Gorton’s policies would have limited their sovereignty. Both John McCain and Barack Obama have campaigned on Indian reservations this election season. Washington state has a Native American population of about 120,000, enough to swing an election. - 10/29/2008

"Area transportation construction projects stall in tight economy "--Yakima Herald-Republic
The Washington State Department of Transportation has ever so long a list of road and rail projects to complete at a time of tightening budgets and rising prices. Many of these projects are funded by the gas tax. Revenues from this tax have fallen since people are driving less. At the same time the cost of construction materials has sharply risen. As a result many projects have been delayed or cut back. The Yakima Valley is one region where this is being felt. The Yakima Valley Conference of Governments does its job by actively lobbying for its list of transportation issues. - 10/29/2008

"UW study: Indian Ocean, Pacific Northwest share history of tsunamis"--Seattle Times
Geologists researching in Thailand have found that enormous tsunamis have been a periodical problem for southern Asia, much the same as evidence found for tsunamis here in the northwest. Scientists believe that the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the coasts of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and northern California have produced tsunamis periodically, about every 500-600 years. The same phenomenon seems to be happening in southern Asian fault zones. Geologists have found that three other large tsunamis have struck Thailand in the last 3,000 years, and have been occurring 500-700 years apart. This news has made disaster preparedness all the more important along the northwest coast. A quarter of a million people died in the 2004 tsunami, largely because few people were aware that tsunamis were a threat. - 10/30/2008

"Camas, state tout ‘win-win’ water rights"--Vancouver Columbian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
It's so rare these days to hear a story about water rights where everybody feels like they came out ahead. That's why the the city of Camas and the Department of Ecology are both so pleased about the agreement reached on Camas' water supply. Camas will cease drawing water from nearby streams and instead get its water from wells. More water in streams means better habitat for fish. Since water supplies are limited, stories about water supplies usually read like a zero sum game. A story in the Wenatchee World, "Pateros businesses lament PUD’s plan to lower river", is unfortunately typical. The Douglas County Public Utility District is going to lower the level of the Columbia River by 9 feet while it does maintenance work on the Wells Dam. This does not bode well for the businesses in Pateros that depend on revenue from steelhead fishing. - 10/30/2008

"Alcoa to lay off 29 amid soft metal prices, demand"--Wenatchee World - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
It doesn't take long for the national economic crisis to spread the pain to local economies. Alcoa will be laying off 29 workers at the Wenatchee Works smelter. The layoff are in response to the tumbling price for the aluminum ingots that the smelter produces. The ingots are purchased by manufacturers to produce aluminum products. According to the preliminary figures for durable goods, one of the economic indicators compiled by the Census Bureau, orders for primary metals and fabricated metal products dropped in September while inventories grew. - 10/31/2008

"The Money Squeeze: Seattle residents cut spending sharply"--Seattle Post-Intelligencer - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Want to get spooked this Halloween? Here goes: the gross domestic product figures for the third quarter show that not only is the economy slowing, it’s actually shrinking. Seattle consumers appear to be slightly more pessimistic than the national average, with about 59 percent believing that the economy will continue its downward spiral into 2009. Some say that’s because at the time the survey was performed, several Seattle companies—Washington Mutual and Boeing among them—were experiencing problems. Most economists believe that the nation is headed for a deep recession such as that experienced in the 1980s, but they do not think that the country will fall into another Great Depression. - 10/31/2008

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