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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.

"Two Makah whalers sent to prison"--Peninsula Daily News
Andy Noel and Wayne Johnson, two of the five men accused of participating in an illegal whale hunt in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, will have to serve time in a federal prison. The two were found guilty of illegal hunting under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The judge in the case, Judge J. Kelly Arnold, says he gave Noel and Johnson harsher sentences because they were clearly the leaders of the hunt. The other three whalers were placed on two years’ probation. While the Makah tribe cites whale hunting as a treaty right under the Treaty of Neah Bay, the federal government has halted further whaling until the environmental impacts of the hunts can be studied. - 07/01/2008

"GAO: More information needed on viability of Hanford tanks"--Pasco Tri-City Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has it doubts about the cleanup of 56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous wastes stored in 177 single shell and double shell underground tanks at Hanford. In a report (summary here) issued on June 30, it criticized the Department of Energy for not knowing what is in the witches' brew of wastes in the tanks, the slow pace of emptying the tanks (less than 2 tanks a year) and already being 19 years behind schedule. In a related story, "New contractor takes over Hanford tank farms", the firm CH2M Hill has taken over as the lead contractor in the waste tank cleanup. - 07/01/2008

"State hangs 800 traps across county for gypsy moths"--Bellingham Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
European and Asian gypsy moths can cause devastation to a state’s environment if a reproducing population takes hold. That’s why the state department of agriculture is covering the state in 23,000 moth traps this month, hoping to eradicate any moths that may have been transported here unknowingly. The moths feed on trees and other vegetation, and since they have few natural predators in the U.S., an infestation can mean millions of dollars in damages. Washington has not had an infestation, although there are many moths trapped in the state each year. - 07/02/2008

"Eyman anti-traffic measure likely to make ballot"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Another election, another Tim Eyman-sponsered initiative. I-985 targets traffic congestion, a real problem especially along the I-5 corridor in from Everett to Seattle to Tacoma to Vancouver. (Incidentally, the majority of voters in Washington live along the I-5 corridor.) I-985 calls for the high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to be open to all traffic during off-peak hours; money raised by tolls on a highway project only go to pay for that project; synchronized traffic lights; more roadside response teams to keep roadways clear, and more money directed from the state's general fund to transportation projects. Critics say the initiative is an example of micromanaging a complex situation. I-985 appears to have enough signatures so that it waill easily qualify for the ballot by the initiative filing deadline of July 3. - 07/02/2008

"Sonics are Oklahoma City-bound"--Seattle Post-Intelligencer
It’s official: the city of Seattle has settled its lawsuit with Sonics owner Clay Bennet, and the NBA team will move to Oklahoma City for the 2008-09 season. In exchange for breaking the team’s contract two years early, Bennett will have to pay the city $45 million. Mayor Greg Nickels is hopeful that the legislature will approve funding for a new arena to replace Key Arena so that the city can entice another NBA team to settle there. If the legislature approves funding and a new team does not move in, Bennett will owe the city an additional $30 million. It remains to be seen whether state politicians will support public funding for a sports arena. - 07/03/2008

"Bar revenues rebounding despite smoking ban"--Yakima Herald-Republic
In 2005 Washington voters passed Initiative 901 that outlawed smoking in "public places and workplaces" such as bars and taverns. In fact, smoking is prohibited with 25 feet of entrances and exits. The goal of the intiative was to reduce exposure to secondhand smoke. Bars and taverns, as predicted, saw an initial drop in revenues after the initiative went into effect, but according to the Department of Revenue their revenues have recently shown a better growth rate than before the ban on smoking. The Spokane Spokesman-Review has an article, "Smoking out the loopholes: Bar, club owners fight ban", on how some businesses are still trying every way possible to get around the law. - 07/07/2008

"Medical procedures rated by state’s expert comparison shoppers"--Seattle Times
A panel of 11 medical experts decides which medical procedures will or will not be covered by the state’s Uniform Medical Plan, Medicaid, and worker’s comp. The group is part of the state’s Health Technology Assessment program, which reviews medical literature and studies in order to judge whether certain treatments, particularly new or controversial ones, will be eligible for coverage by state agencies. The group adheres to a policy of evidence-based medicine, so they study the cost-benefit analysis of medical treatments in order to insure that the state gets the best results for its money. So far the group has rejected “virtual” colonoscopies, upright MRIs, and discographies for lower-back pain. State officials are hoping that the independent panel will eliminate politics from the equation of insurance coverage. - 07/07/2008

"Cigarette accord goes up in smoke: Non-Indian customers face higher cigarette prices after state drops compact with Yakamas"--Yakima Herald-Republic
Since the Yakama Reservation was created by a treaty between the United States and the Yakama Nation, the Yakamas retain certain sovereign rights on the reservation. This legal framework makes of cigarettes sold on the reservation to non-tribal members a tricky issue for Washington state. The state and the Yakama Nation were working a compact setting tax rates for tobacco sales. The state pulled out of the proposed compact after having problems enforcing it. Some of the Yakamas wonder if a recent court decision means they don't need to pay any taxes on tobacco sales. - 07/08/2008

"EPA raises concerns about bridge"--Vancouver Columbian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The current bridge over the Columbia River between Vancouver and Portland is the site of major traffic congestion. A proposed solution involves building a new bridge and expanding the use of mass transit. Some issues have been raised by the Environmental Protection Agency's response to the project's draft environmental impact statement. EPA is concerned that some of the pilings for the proposed bridge would penetrate into the Troutdale Aquifer, the major source of drinking water for the Vancouver area. The EPA also raised concerns about the project worsening air quality near the freeway corridor and encouraging urban sprawl around Vancouver. - 07/09/2008

"Defense secretary sizes up troops, Strykers in first visit to Fort Lewis"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Defense secretary Robert Gates toured Fort Lewis and met with soldiers and their families in Tacoma over the past two days. Gates and his wife spent Independence Day at their home near Mount Vernon, Washington. The secretary only met with reporters briefly and did not speak to questions about possible deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan or timetables for withdrawal from either area. Members of the Stryker brigade showed Gates their armored vehicles and new wearable communication systems, which they enthusiastically supported and told Gates they wanted more of. - 07/09/2008

"Keeping the viaduct off the road to oblivion"--Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Art Skolnik, a land use consultant and former state historic preservation officer, is trying to get the Alaskan Way Viaduct on the National Register of Historic Places. He’s asking the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation to consider this option in order to keep the viaduct from being torn down. Seattle City Council members and Gov. Gregoire have not been in favor of retrofitting the viaduct, which is Skolnik’s plan for the double-decker bridge. Previous attempts to have the Alaskan Way Viaduct placed on the national register have foundered, and city officials say they do not want the outmoded bridge to be an eyesore on the waterfront any longer. - 07/10/2008

"High fuel bills sink airline: ExpressJet offered service from Spokane"--Spokane Spokesman-Review - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Spokane International Airport will lose one of the airlines serving it. ExpressJet is ceasing operations at the start of September due to high fuel costs. Losing an airline hurts the airport's finances in a couple of ways. The airport is not supported by taxes although it is co-owned by the City of Spokane and Spokane County. Its income comes from a variety of sources including fees paid by airlines and a $3 Passenger Facility Fee paid by each passenger flying out of the airport or making connections there. Passengers may also end up paying more because losing an airline can reduce competition among airlines still using the airport. - 07/10/2008

"$12 million refuge project will create salmon habitat"--Olympia Olympian - Please
Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The estuary-restoration project in the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge will restore 762 acres of saltwater habitat for South Sound chinook salmon. Work on a new dike in the refuge will start next week and will replace the Brown Farm Dike, which will allow tides to flow in and out of the park. Officials are hoping that the land will return to the natural habitat for salmon and other wildlife that it used to be before it was diked a century ago. The project will also restore up to 21 miles of tidal channels. The Nisqually Tribe and Ducks Unlimited are partnering with the state and federal governments to oversee the estuary restoration. - 07/11/2008

"Fire slows; some streets reopen"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Fire season is here with a vengeance. The Dishman Hills fire in the Spokane Valley has burned over 1,200 acres and destroyed several homes. (See Dishman Hills fire photo gallery here.) This fire reached the wildland-urban interface where the "leaves meet the eaves". A Department of Natural Resources map shows that wildland urban interface areas are scattered throughout Washington state. North Central Washington is having more more than its share of fires. According to articles in the Wenatchee World, the"Badger Mountain fire grew to more than 8,000 acres overnight" (see Badger Mountain fire photo galleries here and here) while "Cool weather helps Tonasket fires" that have burned more than 1,300 acres. The National Weather Service tracks weather-related fire conditions in the state. Governor Gregoire has issued a State of Emergency proclamation about the fires in Eastern and North Central Washington. - 07/11/2008

"Tiny fruit fly big problem: Cherry pest causes shipper to lose Calif. shipments"--Wenatchee World - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
2008 has not been kind to Washington's cherry crop. First bad weather cut the crop by over 40% of its expected size. Now the discovery of the western cherry fruit fly in a shipment of cherries has led to California banning shipments from one Washington company. The cherry fruit flies' larva infest the center of the fruit like the maggots they are and ruin the fruit. Most states and countries have active inspection programs to control the spread of agricultural pests like the cherry fruit fly. Infestations of the cherry fruit fly can be controlled by careful use of insecticides. - 07/14/2008

"Native paddlers pull devices to monitor water quality"--Bellingham Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Every summer, members of coastal Salish tribes canoe through the waters of the Puget Sound in order to gather together to celebrate shared heritage. This year, those canoes will also help gather valuable data about the Salish’s ancestral waters. About 100 canoes will be equipped with devices hooked to paddles that will gather information about temperature, salinity, oxygen levels, and pH of the Puget Sound, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Strait of Georgia. The tribes are partnering with the U.S. Geological Survey, which is providing the $20,000 devices. The data will be posted daily on a USGS website. Slow-moving canoes provide a perfect avenue for gathering data, and allow a greater swathe of water to be tested. - 07/14/2008

"Ocean could be place to store fossil fuel mess"--Seattle Times
Researchers have proposed an interesting solution to the problem of greenhouse gases: sequester them at the bottom of the ocean floor. A new report says that the volcanic rocks on the ocean floor could trap carbon dioxide with enough force that leaks would be virtually impossible. The gases would be liquefied then injected into the basalt. The Juan de Fuca plate in the Pacific Ocean has been singled out as a possible storage place. Although the plate is active in spots, scientists say it could be stored in a less active area 100 miles off the coast. Over time, the stored carbon dioxide would condense into calcium carbonate, a fairly harmless solid. Whether or not this solution is viable on an industrial scale has not yet been determined. - 07/15/2008

"Corporation must help clean up ex-uranium mine"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
The Midnite Mine is an open pit, uranium mine on the Spokane Reservation. It's no longer in operation. It's also a Superfund site. In addition to the danger from heavy metals, the Midnite Mine poses dangers from its radioactive wastes. Cleaning up abandoned mines can be a complex process that often end up in court. The Eastern Washington District Court of the 9th Circuit of Appeals ruled that Newmont Mining Corporation, a part owner of the Midnite Mine, must pay for part of the cleanup. Cleanup costs could be around $152,000,000. - 07/16/2008

"Report charges abuse of immigrant detainees at Tacoma center"--Seattle Times
A report released by Seattle University’s School of Law and immigrant advocacy group OneAmerica claims that the immigration detention center in Tacoma denies detainees their civil and human rights. The report details abuses such as not allowing detainees on long flights to use the restrooms, physically harassing detainees, and making detainees wait up to two hours to see their lawyers. Researchers interviewed 41 detainees and four attorneys for the information included in the report, although they kept all identities anonymous. The U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement office has called the report a “work of fiction,” and has said that it is fully compliant with detention center standards. - 07/16/2008

"Raids result in 24 drug arrests"--Spokane Spokesman-Review
Local and federal law enforcement offciers in the Spokane Gang Enforcement Team arrested 24 people in Spokane as part of a statewide raid on gang members and associates. They were arrested on gun and drug charges. Drug trafficking is a common business for street gangs. The drugs included methamphetamine which is seen as the greatest drug threat in the Pacific region. Washington's gang laws were made tougher this year by House Bill 2712. - 07/17/2008

"West Nile virus reported in Mid-Columbia"--Pasco Tri-City Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
West Nile virus has been found in mosquitos near the Benton - Yakima County line. The disease is spread by mosquitoes and flares up in summer. Most people infected with West Nile virus never realize it, but sometimes it turns into a serious illness that leads to permanent neurological damage. It can be fatal to horses and birds. The Washington Department of Health has webpage on West Nile virus that has several useful links including clinical information and factsheets in several languages. At least Washington state mosquitoes don't spread malaria like some mosquitoes in other parts of the world. - 07/18/2008

"Everett’s study on Paine field air service changes no minds"--Everett Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The Everett City Council released the report it commissioned discussing the pros and cons of allowing commercial passenger flights at Paine Field. The study showed that the air field is only operating at 45 to 50 percent capacity, and demonstrated that the economic benefits of passenger service would outweigh the drawbacks. The city council may pass a resolution supporting passenger service, but ultimately the decision lies with the county. The city of Mukilteo is opposed to the idea of commercial flights and has hired its own consultants to poll the community and bring attention to the issue. - 07/18/2008

"Biologists capture suspected wolves in Okanogan County"--Wenatchee World - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Wolves are back in Washington. In June a gray wolf was a victim of road kill in Stevens County. An early July howling survey done by the Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) indicated the presence of mature and juvenile wolves in Okanogan County. Since then the WDFW caught two wolves, also in Okanogan County, and placed radio collars on them. The wolves were then released. One of them was a nursing mother. Genetic tests are being done on hair samples from them to make sure they're not wolf-dog hybrids. If they are pure bred wolves, then Washington has a wolf pack. - 07/19/2008

"Scientists study impact of glacier melt on rivers"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
When glaciers melt, tons of rock and sediment can be let loose, causing slides and river flooding. Such was the case on Mount Rainer in 2001 and 2006. This summer scientists hope to study glacial melt on Mount Rainier more closely in order to ascertain whether climate change is adding to the risk of debris flow, and if so, whether that in turn will increase the risk of flooding for area rivers such as the Nisqually. Debris flows are common on volcanoes like Mount Rainier and Mount Hood, but if climate change is increasing their likelihood then researchers are hoping to figure out what to expect from them. No matter what the cause, the sediment unloosed by these flows will change the face of the land. - 07/21/2008

"Planners back height increase"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The Olympia Planning Commission has approved a controversial height increase for the isthmus between Capital Lake and Budd Inlet, which would allow developers to build five and seven story buildings on the strip of land. The commission approved the plan with a 7-3 vote, citing studies that say Olympia must draw people downtown with urban waterfront housing. Opponents of the height increase say that allowing tall buildings on the isthmus will block the water views for everyone in the community who doesn’t live in the proposed mixed-use buildings. The commission’s vote was a recommendation to the city council, which will hold a public hearing in the fall and then make their final decision regarding height increases. - 07/22/2008

"Ethanol plant construction at a standstill, but plans remain"--Longview Daily News
Ethanol, meet reality. Seen as the biofuel of choice, the number of ethanol producers has grown rapidly. Nonetheless, the delays faced by U.S. Ethanol's proposed plant at the Mint Farm Industrial Park, run by the City of Longview, show some of the issues facing ethanol. Construction hasn't started on the plant although it was supposed to start over a year and a half ago. America's agricultural output was seen as the raw material for ethanol, but in the meanwhile crop prices have risen sharply. Biofuels have been blamed for higher food prices. A possible substitute for using agricultural crops is cellulosic ethanol based on grasses and wood waste. The current economic situation isn't helping with financing either. - 07/22/2008

""King of Spam" dethroned with 47-month sentence in Seattle court"--Seattle Times
A 28-year-old Seattle man, nicknamed the “King of Spam,” was sentenced to almost 4 years in prison for flouting the federal CAN-SPAM act and flooding email accounts with unwanted spam. Prosecutors sought to make an example of the defendant, although the judge in the case ultimately sentenced him with less than half of the prison time prosecutors requested. He will be fined $700,000, which was his approximate profit from the spamming enterprise. Mr. Soloway pleaded guilty to violating the CAN-SPAM law, as well as committing mail fraud and tax evasion. - 07/23/2008

"Nonnative fish harming Columbia ecosystem, report says"--Vancouver Columbian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Consider the lowly shad. The Department of Fish and Wildlife's webpage on shad fishing calls it the Rodney Dangerfield of fish, but great fun to catch. According to a new report issued by the Independent Scientific Advisory Board (ISAB), catching shad is a very good idea since it's the kind of non-native fish that are a threat to native salmon. Non-native fish endanger salmon by eating young salmon, competing with salmon for food supplies, and disrupting salmon migration patterns. The IASB was formed by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries to provide unbiased outside advice and recommendations about fish and wildlife. - 07/23/2008

"Ammunition prices squeeze law enforcement budgets"--Bellingham Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
World demand for metals has caused ammunition prices to increase dramatically, in some cases doubling previous costs. This situation has police departments scrambling to fix their budgets and rethink training procedures in order to pay for ammunition needed by officers. China’s demand for building materials, as well as ongoing wars that eat up ammunition, are both to blame for the global shortage of metal. To cut costs, police departments are looking into buying nonlethal bullets or even using video simulators for training. - 07/24/2008

"VA shuts nursing facility: A consultant hired by the Department of Veterans Affairs found problems with care at the facility"--Walla Walla Union-Bulletin - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is getting bad press in Eastern Washington this week for its care of veterans of past and current wars. The VA decided to close the nursing home operation at its Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Medical Center in Walla Walla and gave 10 patients two days to move out. A companion article in the Union Bulletin, "Nursing home decision reached Wednesday", gives more details about the closing. An article in the Tri-City Herald, "Walla Walla VA patients on the move after forced closure", describes the effect of the move on the elderly patients and their families. Meanwhile the Spokane Spokesman-Review ran an article, "VA medical inspectors question veteran's father", about the VA's follow up to the suicide of veteran who was being treated at the Spokane VA Medical Center. The Spokesman Review had an in-depth article, "Lives lost at home", on July 21 about suicide among VA patients. This article prompted a speech on the subject by Senator Patty Murray on the Senate floor. The Government Accountability Office has done studies on post-deployment healthcare for members of the armed forces and the upgrading of existing VA facilities. - 07/25/2008

"PDC launches new tool on Web"--Olympia Olympian - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The Public Disclosure Commission has announced a new feature on its website that will allow the public to easily compare campaign finances for a number of state races and initiatives. The new tools are under the “Search the Database” tab on the PDC website. One can see expenditure and contribution comparisons for candidates, political committees, statewide ballot initiatives, party committees, and caucus committees. An Advanced Search feature lets one sift through data by specific location or specific district, by specific donors, by date, or by type of committee. Even more new features will be added to the database in the coming weeks. - 07/25/2008

"Despite fish kill, Wapato Lake looks better"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Last Friday a company hired by Metro Parks Tacoma treated Wapato Lake for algae, which was caused by high phosphorus levels and was making the lake toxic for people and animals. Despite assurances that the treatment would pose no harm to either people or wildlife, dead fish littered the shores on Saturday morning. However, officials are saying that they consider the treatment a success because the lake already appears clearer and the phosphorus has sunk to the bottom of the lake after combining with an aluminum compound. Wapato Lake was one of the state’s unhealthiest lakes, according to Metro Parks officials, because of large amounts of fertilizers contained in stormwater runoff. - 07/28/2008

"World War II camp preservation proves difficult"--Pasco Tri-City Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
And Idaho farmer has something that might help the National Park Service make a powerful display: one of the original barracks from the Minidoka Relocation Center. Japanese Americans who lived on the West Coast were seen as a security threat in World War II. Minidoka was a camp in Idaho that Japanese Americans from Washington were sent to under Executive Order No. 9066. The relocation of Japanese Americans is now seen as a terrible mistake. The National Park Service is turning Minidoka into a national monument in remembrance of the interned Japanese Americans. - 07/28/2008

"City council approves bag fee, foam ban"--Seattle Times
Starting in January of 2009, shoppers in Seattle will have to pay a 20 cent fee for each disposable paper or plastic bag they use at grocery stores and convenience stores. The fee comes as part of an effort to discourage the use of bags that create a large amount of trash. One reusable tote bag will be issued to each household in Seattle, and officials are working on a program to distribute more bags to low-income families. The city council passed the fee with a 6-1 vote, with one member worrying that this fee coming right in the middle of an economic slowdown would be too hard on consumers. Other U.S. cities have banned plastic bags outright, but Seattle is the first to charge a fee for the bags. - 07/29/2008

"Japanese trade officials visit state's businesses"--Pasco Tri-City Herald - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Wasington's economy is tied into the global economy, and Japan is a major customer of, and investor in Washington businesses. It's more than just airliners and software from Western Washington. Central and Eastern Washington also offer a range of products and opportunities. The Japan-America Society of Washington and the Central Washington Japanese American Citizens Alliance sponsored a business tour east of the Cascades for interested parties. State offices such as the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Community, Trade and Development also encourage foreign business ties. - 07/30/2008

"Growth weaker than hoped; economy shrinks in Q4"--Tacoma News Tribune - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
The Commerce Department reported that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) only grew by an average rate of 1.9 percent this quarter, which is up from last quarter but not as good as the 2.4 percent rate for which economists were hoping. Consumer spending rose at a rate of 1.5 percent, which is the highest it’s been since the third quarter of 2007. Spending was likely influenced by the billions of dollars the government mailed to consumers in the past few months in an effort to stimulate the economy. The building and housing industries continued their slumps, and inflation rose to a rate of 4.2 percent this quarter. A large amount of recent layoffs and unemployment claims also haunt the economy, and fears of recession are mounting. - 07/31/2008

"Avista profits jump 72 percent: Gains driven by increase in rates, long winter, spring"--Spokane Spokesman-Review - Please Ask a Librarian for a copy of this article.
Avista, a major supplier of electricity and natural gas in Eastern Washington and Idaho, had hot 72% profits during the first six months of this year. The profits were fueled by increased consumer heating bills during this year's cold weather. Electrical and natural gas bills may not go done even as the weather gets warmer. Avista has applied to the Utilities and Transportation Commission for higher natural gas and electricity rates. Avista argues that higher rates are justified by the higher cost it pays for natural gas and expenses for maintenance of hydroelectric projects. Public hearings on the request will be held in Spokane and Pullman on September 18. - 07/31/2008

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