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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.

“State declares Tesoro blast was preventable”--Seattle Times
The Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) assessed a record $2.39 million fine against Tesoro Corporation for the April 2nd explosion at the company’s Anacortes refinery that killed seven workers. L&I cited Tesoro for 44 workplace violations and announced that the explosion was entirely preventable. Violations ranged from willful disregard of safety regulations to failing to inspect and maintain decaying 40-year-old equipment. Tesoro has 15 days to appeal. L&I is the first of several agencies investigating the explosion to release their findings. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s review is not expected until early next year and the Environmental Protection Agency is also investigating. - 10/05/2010

“Vit plant review finds strong safety culture, areas in need”--Tri-City Herald
A review by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Health, Safety and Security has found that while Bechtel National has created the framework for a strong safety culture at the Hanford Tank Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant (WTP), or Hanford Vitrification Plant, improvements can be made. Recommendations include an assessment of current processes for identifying and resolving nuclear safety issues and the establishment of a process to identify the actions needed to ensure safety programs are not degraded by changes in project priorities. A formal company policy, training for management, and improvements in processes needed to provide feedback to professional staff were also suggested. The review was requested by the DOE’s Office of Environmental Management, the office responsible for environmental cleanup at Hanford. - 10/07/2010

"9th Circuit upholds Wash. ban on voting by inmates"--Seattle Times
A federal appeals court has upheld Washington state’s ban on voting by prison inmates, a reversal of a January ruling in favor of inmates being allowed to vote. In order to challenge the voting ban under the U.S. Voting Rights Act, judges declared that inmates would have to demonstrate intentional discrimination in the state’s criminal justice system, not just disparity in the racial make-up of the prison population. Washington’s ban on inmate voting dates back to 1866 and the law was changed last year when the Legislature passed a bill that allows convicted felons to register to vote once they are no longer on parole or probation. Previously, felons could not regain their voting rights until all court-ordered fines and restitution had been paid. - 10/07/2010

"In reversal, Port of Olympia posts profit of $2.58 million"--The Olympian
The Port of Olympia earned a profit of $2.58 million in 2009 according to a financial report released by the State Auditor’s Office. The profit is due, in part, to increased activity at the marine terminal and revenue from property taxes and grant funding. Weyerhaeuser’s log-export operation helped boost marine terminal revenue, as more ships visited the port to take logs to Japan. The audit reported no “findings,” but the port did receive a “management letter” about the importance of retaining records. A management letter calls attention to something that could become a finding in the future. - 10/08/2010

"Transmission lines key to BPA wind power plans"--Vancouver Columbian
The Bonneville Power Administration, owners of three-quarters of the high-voltage transmission system for wind energy in the Northwest, predicts that its system will meet its limit by 2016. To alleviate the problem, BPA is building, or has plans to build, four separate 500-kV transmission lines in Washington to handle the load. Two of the new lines are quite controversial, and the one that has produced the most opposition is the Clark-Cowlitz line connecting Castle Rock to Troutdale, OR. The formerly named I-5 Corridor Reinforcement Project has triggered thousands of letters protesting one proposed route for the line, as citizens are concerned about how the high-voltage power lines will affect their property values and their health. The BPA has proposed an alternative, eastern route through the state and industrial timberlands, but that option is not without its own opposition. The second controversial line, the proposed Big Eddy-Knight transmission line in Klickitat County, has triggered a reaction from the Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR), which is concerned that the lines will interfere with its own wind development leases in the area. The DNR has also warned that the project could threaten the Columbia Hills Natural Area Preserve, which protects three rare plant species, and harm state-managed aquatic lands. In addition to concerns raised over the two controversial lines, BPA is grappling with issues related to too much and too little wind hitting the turbines, which necessitates the use of backup power or directing turbine owners to curtail output. - 10/11/2010

"Grant could pay for 4 buses"--The Olympian
Intercity Transit has been awarded a $2 million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation that may be used to purchase up to four new hybrid buses. The grant is a piece of the $776 million “State of Good Repair” grant that is being distributed to transit systems in 45 states and it is a matching grant, which means the federal government will pick up 83 percent of expenses and Intercity Transit is responsible for the rest. Hybrid buses run on diesel and electricity, are quieter, and don’t produce the heavy diesel smell associated with traditional buses. Fuel efficiency for the 6 hybrid buses Intercity Transit added to its fleet in August has not yet been measured, but King County Metro has found that its hybrid buses are between 25 percent and 35 percent more fuel efficient than other buses. Intercity Transit could decide to replace 4 of its aging buses with something other than hybrid buses, but for now they are in favor of the hybrids. - 10/11/2010

"Lummi Islanders face higher costs for ferry; mediation with tribe looms"--Bellingham Herald
The Whatcom County Council begins deliberations today on 2011 fares for the Lummi Island Ferry. The discussion will center on a memo from Public Works Director Frank Abart that suggests that the ferry will need considerably more money to reach legally required levels of support from fares, which are supposed to cover 55 percent of costs. According to the memo, the estimated $1 million in fares from 2010 would need to increase $500,000 to cover the costs of a new dock lease with the Lummi Nation and replenish the ferry’s financial operating reserve. The county has offered a $200,000 annual payment to the Lummi Nation for a new ferry lease, but tribal officials want more, and both sides are preparing to enter mediation. The October 15 deadline for reaching an agreement has been indefinitely extended by the Lummi Nation. Abart’s memo offers suggestions for raising the $500,000, including varying combinations of per-trip surcharges and reductions or eliminations of fare discounts for bulk purchases, in addition to other reduced-fair options. - 10/12/2010

"Seniors face second year without Social Security increase"--Everett Herald
For only the second time since automatic increases for inflation were adopted by Congress in 1975, recipients of Social Security face not getting a cost-of living raise in their benefits. The other year without a cost-of-living raise was last year, which makes this the second year in a row without a raise. The board of trustees that oversees Social Security expects to make the decision official Friday, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases inflation estimates for September. Recipients of Social Security received a one-time bonus payment of $250 in the spring of 2009 as part of the government’s economic recovery package and President Obama lobbied for another one when it became clear that there would not be a cost-of-living raise in benefits last year. Congress took up the issue, but it was voted down. AARP plans to ask Congress for some type of relief, but a plan has not yet been worked out. According to AARP Washington, more than 1 million people in Washington state received Social Security benefits in 2009. - 10/12/2010

"Feds expand habitat protection for threatened bull trout"--Yakima Herald-Republic
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released a final rule that greatly expands protections to Yakima River Basin areas that are considered critical to restoring the threatened bull trout. The rule includes the entire and Naches Rivers, more tributaries, and the federally operated reservoirs that feed those rivers. Privately owned lands won’t be affected by the new rules unless work being done in a stream requires a federal permit or is funded with federal dollars. Logging, mining, dam construction, and livestock grazing have warmed and muddied the waters bull trout live in and have cut off migration routes. This has led to a 60 percent decline in bull trout numbers. The new rules make it more difficult for agencies to approve logging, mining, and livestock grazing on certain portions of federal land. - 10/12/2010

"Tri-Cities big on carpooling"--Tri-City Herald
According to research done by Sightline Institute, the Tri-Cities has the highest percentage of carpoolers in the Northwest. Eugene, OR ranks highest for cycling to work, Bellingham for walking, and Seattle for use of public transportation. The report is based on data compiled from the American Community Survey done by the U.S. Census Bureau. Last year, 15.5 percent of Tri-Citians carpooled to work, a slight increase over the 15.1 percent who carpooled between 2006 and 2008. Ben Franklin Transit reports that interest in vanpooling is increasing and it has added 30 new and 19 used vans to its fleet of 319 vehicles to help meet the demand. Vans currently deliver workers to a number of Hanford sites, Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell, and Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. Ridership usually costs between $65 and $75 per month. - 10/13/2010

"500,000 adults in Washington could lose prescription-drug coverage"--Seattle Times
Unless the Legislature can come up with $40 million before February 1st, 500,000 Washington adults will lose prescription drug benefits through the state’s Medicaid program. The benefits face elimination due to an across the board 6.3 percent cut in state services that was ordered by Gov. Gregoire in September to help cover a $1.4 billion budget shortfall. Federal law requires states to maintain many Medicaid benefits, but prescription coverage is not one of them. In order to meet the governor’s order, the Dept. of Social and Health Services says it has to eliminate every optional service that it currently offers. Other states have cut coverage, but Washington would be the only state to eliminate the prescription drug benefit, according to Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America. - 10/13/2010

"Washington state joins in probe of questionable foreclosure practices"--Everett Herald
State Attorney General Rob McKenna and director of the state Department of Financial Institutions, Scott Jarvis, have announced that Washington has joined 48 other states in banding together to investigate foreclosures. Dubious practices, including the signing of documents without confirming their accuracy and backdating documents to make it appear that a mortgage loan was passed from one company to another, prompted Attorney General McKenna to send letters to 52 foreclosure trustees calling on them to suspend any questionable foreclosures in Washington state. State law requires foreclosure trustees to ensure that foreclosures are done properly. - 10/13/2010

"Clemmons case prompts new federal rules for out-of-state felons"--Seattle Times
After a months-long campaign by Gov. Gregoire and the WA Dept. of Corrections, corrections officials from all 50 states have approved new regulations to more quickly send violent offenders back to their home states if they reoffend. The new rules include a one-strike policy for offenders who commit new violent or sex crimes, requiring they be sent back to their home state; a requirement that out-of-state warrants be entered in the National Crime Information Center database, alerting law enforcement nationwide; and a requirement that a more comprehensive criminal history be shipped to the receiving state before an offender is allowed to move. The changes to the Interstate Compact on Adult Offender Supervision go into effect next March. Other changes, including a streamlined system for alerting corrections officers when an offender on their caseload is released from jail, are already in effect. In addition, a constitutional amendment giving judges more authority to deny bail for offenders is on the November ballot. - 10/14/2010

"County gets grant to help young drug abusers"--Vancouver Columbian
Clark County has been awarded a $300,000 grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) to establish a family-centered treatment and recovery program. The grant is renewable up to 3 years, which means the county could receive up to $900,000. Bradley Finegood, coordinator of Clark County Superior Court’s therapeutic courts, says “This grant allows us to not only treat juvenile offenders, but treat the family and provide some ancillary support services.” The grant will also help fill in for some funding lost due to state budget cuts. The program is voluntary and juvenile offenders and their families will get to choose between it and the traditional route through the criminal justice system. The family-based program starts with 12 sessions that follow a treatment manual, followed by a continuing-care program delivered primarily through home visits. - 10/15/2010

"Hop growers looking for change in organic rules"--Yakima Herald Republic
A small handful of Yakima Valley organic hop growers are petitioning the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to require brewers to use organic hops in beer labeled as organic. Three years ago, the USDA decided to allow hops grown with chemical fertilizers and pesticides to be used in beer labeled as organic because organic hop production in the U.S. wasn’t big enough to keep up with demand. As a result, many organic brewers buy conventionally grown, less expensive hops, making it harder for growers of organic hops to sell their crops. The petition will be considered when the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board meets next week. Organic growers hope that if the petition is successful, they will be able to sell their hops more quickly, and at a price that reflects the higher cost of growing hops organically. - 10/16/2010

"Schools eye Common Core"--The Olympian
Washington, along with 47 other states, 2 U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia, is considering adoption of the Common Core State Standards, a set of learning goals for students. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn provisionally adopted the learning standards in July, but formal adoption won’t occur until the 2011 Legislature has a chance to review them. The standards would be the same in each state that adopts them and they would define what students need to know and do in math and language arts at each grade level. The hope is that adoption of a common set of standards will prepare all kids for college and the workforce, plus students moving from state to state would not face as much of a disruption in their education. More than 84 percent of Washington’s current language arts standards align to some degree with the Common Core Standards, while about 85 percent of current math standards do the same. The WA Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is conducting five meetings around the state to discuss the possible adoption of the standards. - 10/18/2010

"Report favors tearing down K East reactor"--Tri-City Herald
A new report from the Department of Energy (DOE) is recommending that the K East Reactor at Hanford be torn down. An engineering and cost analysis compared options for the reactor, including tearing it down immediately, cocooning it and tearing it down after twenty years, or the traditional plan of cocooning it and hauling it away in one piece in 75 years. Concern about soil contamination beside and likely beneath the reactor that cannot be removed while the reactor stands was a major factor in the recommendation to tear the reactor down immediately, as it is located 400 yards from the Columbia River. Dismantling the reactor will not only allow contaminated soil that threatens the river to be cleaned up more quickly, it is also the least expensive option. Public comment is being accepted by DOE, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the WA Dept. of Ecology for 30 days before DOE makes a final decision regarding the reactor. - 10/19/2010

"Police tell state lawmakers they want to reduce deadly confrontations"--Seattle Times
State lawmakers and law enforcement leaders met during a work session of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee to discuss concerns about a string of fatal shootings by police officers. The session was convened by committee chair, Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, to explore the need to expand officer training and examine how police agencies determine if force was warranted. Department training programs were outlined and there was discussion about the growing trend among police agencies to ask other departments to investigate the use of lethal force, or to use a team approach involving multiple agencies. Suggestions made include mandatory multiculturalism training for police, mandatory time off to reduce stress, and community dinners with police. The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs also announced that it is working to secure a federal grant to allow researchers at Washington State University to review confrontations between police and citizens in the past five years to develop a list of common denominators. - 10/18/2010

"Levee certification agreement will save local diking districts millions"--Longview Daily News
A new agreement will allow diking districts in Longview, North Kelso, and South Kelso to partner with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on required federal levee certifications. The partnership with a federal agency means that the diking districts can hire the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to certify the levees at a considerably lower price than what a private firm would charge, saving taxpayers close to $3 million. Had the districts not partnered with a federal agency that agreed to cover 5 percent of the certification cost, they could not have hired the Corps of Engineers because the agency would have been in competition with private companies, not working in cooperation with another government agency. HUD agreed to the partnership because certifying the levees protects its investments in the area. - 10/18/2010

"Whatcom County tribes, two groups receive more than $2.6 million to help salmon"--Bellingham Herald
More than $2.6 million in grants is being awarded to Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board. Recipients in Whatcom County include the Lummi Nation, Nooksack Indian Tribe, Whatcom Land Trust, Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, and Whatcom County government, while projects include logjam design and placement, land purchases, riverbank planting, and river restoration. - 10/19/2010

"Ferry Fare Increase of 2.5 Percent Proposed for Jan. 1"--Bremerton Kitsap Sun
The Washington State Transportation Commission is proposing a 2.5 percent increase in ferry fares starting New Year’s Day. The fare increase was scheduled to take effect on October 1st, but commissioners put it on hold until its members and lawmakers could review reports from the state Auditor’s Office and the Passenger Vehicle Association. The proposal is open to public comment through November 15th and there will be a public hearing in Seattle on the same day. The Legislature put a freeze on fares from May 2007 to October 2009 while lawmakers studied how to fund the ferries, but now, for budgeting purposes, lawmakers assume that there will be a 2.5 percent inflationary increase every October 1st. - 10/20/2010

"Plan to end homelessness updated by Clallam County"--Port Angeles Peninsula Daily News
have approved an updated version of the county’s 10-year plan to end homelessness. The original version was adopted in December 2005 and the goal remains to end homelessness by 2015. More than 75 percent of the goals in the original plan have been reached, and the new plan reflects the progress that has already been made, addresses a new funding environment, contains less technical language, and meets certain grant deadlines. The new plan also uses a January 2006 point-in-time count as a baseline to measure the county’s progress. The plan guides the Clallam County Homelessness Task Force, which makes recommendations to county commissioners on best practices for ending homelessness. - 10/21/2010

"Port Townsend Paper biomass project given green light by Ecology"--Port Angeles Peninsula Daily News
After thoroughly evaluating both the project and the public’s feedback to it, the Department of Ecology has approved Port Townsend Paper Corporation’s plan to install a steam turbine and upgrade its power boiler. After the upgrade, the boiler will run primarily on wood waste known as biomass or hog fuel. The project will include an extensive upgrade to air pollution control equipment, produce renewable electricity, reduce fossil fuel burning by 1.8 million gallons per year and create 30 full-time jobs and the equivalent of 35 additional jobs during construction. - 10/26/2010

"Audit rips Lynnwood for spending millions in reserves"--Seattle Times
A state audit has found that City of Lynwood officials blew through a $6.1 million general-fund balance in 2008 to end with a negative $115,733 balance in 2009, exhausted the city’s $2 million reserve fund, and borrowed $3 million from the city’s utility fund to pay for daily operating expenses, concluding that the city is “at risk of not being able to meet all of its financial obligations.” Spending down reserves violates a city policy that requires a minimum of $4 million be left in the general fund each year. The city has adopted new utility taxes on water, electricity, gas and sewers, instituted a hiring freeze and transferred other city funds to make up a projected $5.5 million gap this year. A $22 million gap is projected for the 2011-2010 biennium and it is not yet known if the city will approve additional taxes, furlough employees, negotiate wage concessions, or cut staff to fill it. The mayor’s final budget proposal will be released on Monday. - 10/25/2010

"Gregoire announces steps to help small businesses"--Seattle Times
Gov. Gregoire has signed an executive order that is aimed at helping small businesses recover from the recession and simplifying the way they deal with government. The order directs state officials to review ways to reduce state costs and streamline or eliminate regulatory procedures for the 95 percent of Washington employers who have fewer than 50 employees. The departments of Labor and Industries, Revenue, and Employment Security will be reviewing current practices, in addition to tax rates and structures, to cut state-imposed costs, and reports to Gov. Gregoire are due Jan. 5. Meanwhile, the Commerce Department will be working with business owners to develop a plan for the $20 million in federal funds available to the state for small businesses. - 10/26/2010

"Tacoma church named to state register"--Tacoma News Tribune
Central Lutheran Church in Tacoma's Stadium District has been added to the Washington Heritage Register, a state list of significant buildings. Constructed in 1957, Central Lutheran is the first post-World War II church listed on the Washington Heritage Register, according to the preservation group Historic Tacoma. The church was also added to Tacoma's Register of Historic Places earlier this year. - 10/26/2010

"Mukilteo could lose state ferry terminal to Everett, Edmonds"--Everett Herald
Washington State Ferries has drawn up nine alternatives for the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal, including relocating the terminal to Everett, Edmonds, or several other locations, or doing nothing. The terminal is one of the state’s busiest, but an antiquated traffic design has contributed to numerous accidents and clogged streets, plus safety is an issue because the terminal has perched on the same wood pilings since 1952. The state has recognized the need for upgrades to the terminal since 1972, but so far there has been no follow through. Experts who have analyzed the options say the site with the fewest drawbacks is the former Air Force tank farm east of the current dock, but a potentially major obstacle is the fact that American Indian artifacts have been found there. A public meeting regarding the options will be held tonight in Everett. - 10/28/2010

"Auditor: County followed law in using tax money"--Yakima Herald-Republic
State auditors have concluded that Yakima County followed state law in how it used tax money to fund sheriff's operations. The tax money in question was generated by a three-tenths of a cent raise in sales tax that was approved by county voters in 2004 to fight crime. Auditors investigated the issue after the deputies’ union filed a complaint in 2008, arguing that the county's use of the tax amounted to what is called supplanting, or the improper replacement of general funding, which is a violation of state law. How the tax money has been used has become a major issue in the race for Yakima County Sheriff. - 10/27/2010

"Draft EIS released for Odessa study"--Moses Lake Columbia Basin Herald
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the state Department of Ecology have released a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Odessa Subarea Special Study. The plan is to replace groundwater with surface water from the Columbia River and the EIS provides details about nine unfunded water delivery options to areas of the Columbia Basin receiving groundwater from deep wells. Four of the options entail versions of a full groundwater replacement, while four other options involve a partial groundwater replacement. The costs of the options range from $841.6 million to $3.3 billion. The release of the EIS starts a 60 day comment period, which ends on December 31st, and there will be two public hearings held in Moses Lake and Coulee Dam in November. Discussion regarding the draft EIS started Tuesday at the Columbia Basin Development League’s annual conference. - 10/28/2010

"Teen pregnancy remains high in Mid-Columbia"--Tri-City Herald
According to 2009 data released by the WA Dept. of Health, teen pregnancy rates are declining statewide, but a handful of rural counties in the Mid-Columbia continued to be among those with the highest rates last year, with some seeing an uptick in numbers. Adams, Yakima, Franklin, and Grant Counties ranked first through fourth in teen pregnancies, and both Adams and Franklin Counties saw their teen pregnancy rates rise from 2008 to 2009. Yakima County held relatively steady and Benton and Walla Walla Counties saw their rates decline. State health officials say that some of the factors in the declining rates could include safe sex practices, abstinence and increased availability and acceptability of contraceptives. - 10/29/2010

"Stimulus powers PUD program"--Everett Herald
Snohomish County Public Utility District plans to use about $2.2 million in federal economic stimulus money to add energy-conservation features to 3,000 homes and 100 businesses in the Everett area by the end of 2011. Matching funds from the PUD itself, plus money received by the City of Everett and Snohomish County that they have offered to contribute, brings the total available to about $4.9 million dollars. Projects include adding energy-efficient windows, new fixtures and bulbs, reduced-flow shower heads and faucets, programmable thermostats, and more. Previous conservation efforts had focused on single-family homes, but now apartments will be able to benefit too. - 10/31/2010

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