Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for June, 2012

Cuba smackdown of rights testifier to U.S. Senate backfires

by June 30th, 2012

Earlier this month in Cuba, peaceful political dissident Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, or “Antunez,” was jailed, beaten and pepper sprayed. This took place just three days after he testified to a U.S. Senate subcommittee about the Cuban government’s repression of citizens’ free speech rights. Though for thousands of Cuban citizens such harassment has long been common, acts of repression in Cuba burgeoned last year, according to the Cuba section of a recent global human rights report from the U.S. Department of State. In 2011, The Cuban Commission on Human Rights and Reconciliation counted a total of 4,123 short-term detentions, a 99 percent increase over 2010, according to the State Department report. This year’s pace is even higher, with documented political arrests in Cuba at more than 2,400 since January; 1,158 in March alone, according to testimony of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) at the subcommittee hearing earlier this month.

Gas Works Park environmental clean-up work continues

by June 29th, 2012

The next tweak in fixing Seattle Gas Works Park’s contamination problem will likely occur next fall when a half-acre tarp will be buried in the site’s northeast corner. This will be the latest measure to ensure more pollution, in this case toxic and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, won’t ooze from the park into Seattle’s Lake Union. Ultimately, all this effort will lead to cleaning up underwater sediment contaminated by old wastes from the park. In the first half of the 20th century, gas companies operated on the north shore of today’s 20-acre park site a plant that converted coal and oil into gas. The byproducts of that plant were used for a tar refinery at the same location.

A public comment period ended Friday on the latest fix-it measure, meaning the Washington Department of Ecology will review comments and plans for the next few months. John Keeling, the state’s manager for this project, speculated a contract will be signed by next fall to lay out a half-acre geofabric sheet – a plastic-like material commonly used in landscaping that will stop rainwater from seeping through – and to cover that tarp under a foot-thick layer of soil.

That measure is to prevent soil contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs – toxic and carcinogenic – from eroding into Lake Union. Here is a more detailed breakdown of the contaminants beneath park’s surface. This project will also modify the site’s drainage.

In 2000 and 2001, the state supervised putting a tarp-like covering under two feet of topsoil over much of the park to combat the rainwater that carries pollutants in the soil to the lake. The new project will tackle a spot where the extra work will slow down the seeping contaminants some more.

Public Data Ferret’s Environment archive

Meanwhile, state experts found high levels of pollutants from Gas Works Park already extending roughly 200 yards off Lake Union’s northern shore. A study is underway to determine the extent of the contamination in the lake’s sediment. The state expects actual work to begin on the new Gas Works Park soil project by October, Keeling said. A cost estimate is till up in the air.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

Gas station pollution fix-it work from Seattle to Bellingham

by June 28th, 2012

Last year, Washington state and a Dutch corporation signed a contract to take care of leaking underground gasoline storage tanks at 40 former and current gas stations in King, Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties. The work is tentatively expected to be completed by 2018. Washington’s Department of Ecology yesterday released an interactive map of the 40 sites. It allows users to drill down into details for each site including extent and type of pollutants released into the environment, clean-up project status, project documents, and name and address of site. (See our screen captures and navigation tips, below). Overall, the state has roughly 2,700 leaking underground storage tanks of all kinds.

Arcadis – a 124-year-old international engineering, consulting and design corporation based in Amsterdam with an American headquarters in a Denver suburb – is in charge of removing the tanks and contaminated soil for the gas station sites, which are owned by at least four corporations. Arcadis declined to comment on the individual contracts, their costs and names of its clients, citing confidentiality clauses in its contracts. However, the interactive map shows most of the sites belong to ARCO, with few owned by BP, the AM/PM convenience store chain and ConocoPhillips. Bundling numerous gas stations into one project makes the work more efficient for the clients and Washington to deal with, said Arcadis spokeswoman Debra Havins and ecology department spokesman Larry Altose

Arcadis will perform the cleanup of those sites under a voluntary state program in which the Ecology Department provides some technical assistance. The individual deadlines are more like guidelines and not etched in stone, Altose said. Havin said Arcadis is aiming to finish all the projects by 2018.

The Department of Ecology’s project map site provides a gateway into further information on each site. See our navigation tips below.


In the upper left-hand corner of the map’s start page, click on a county, for instance, Snohomish. That will take you to a section of the map for that county, where you can click on individual purple squares.

When clicked upon, each purple square goes to a project landing page for the associated pollution clean-up site, such as Arco 5377.

There, you can:

1) click on the “Facility Site ID number” in the upper right hand corner of the page for an aerial map view and the name and address of the site.

2) On the right side of the landing page you can also click on “View Electronic Documents” for any environmental reports on the site, and/or;

3) Click on “ISIS Site Summary Report.” That takes you to a new page which provides name and address of the site, owner’s name, project status, and at bottom under “Affected Media and Contaminants,” the names and relative degree of penetration of the chemical pollutants released to earth, water and air from the site’s leaking underground gas tanks.

Public Data Ferret’s Data Visualization+Environment archive

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

Snoqualmie dam project OK was fair, appeals court says

by June 27th, 2012

Despite strong community opposition tied to related downstream flooding risks, Puget Sound Energy is now even more firmly in the clear to further widen the Snoqualmie River, lower a dam and keep operating its Snoqualmie Falls hydro-electric power plant, according to a ruling issued Tuesday by the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth District. The decision Tuesday affirms an earlier ruling in the Seattle-based U.S. District Court by Judge John Coughenour.

State Dept.: Russia badly mistreats LGBTs, and the disabled

by June 26th, 2012

Russia is no walk in the park, according to the recently released survey of global human rights conditions in 2011 by the U.S. Department of State. The report’s Russia section details problematic prison conditions, police corruption, the lack of safeguards to protect witnesses, interference with court cases from the government and military, extra-legal electronic surveillance of government critics, bias in state-controlled media and violence against independent journalists. That’s not all, however. The State Department report – drawn from a careful analysis of news from non-governmental organizations, media and other sources determined to be credible – also maintains that gays and lesbians and persons with disabilities suffer significant discrimination and harassment in Russia.

U.S. wildfire risk zones and current incidents: mapped

by June 26th, 2012

Washington state isn’t currently included in the areas predicted to be at greatest risk for wildfires this summer, according to The National Wildland Significant Fire Potential Outlook for July through September that is updated monthly online by the National Interagency Coordination Center (NICC) in Boise, Idaho. But ten other states are, all in the western U.S. The current report includes a map showing where the greatest risk of significant wildland fires exists this summer, shown below.

From National Wildland Significant Fire Potential Outlook, National Interagency Coordination Center, June, 2012

Significant wildland fire potential is highest in southeast Oregon, southwest Idaho, northern Nevada, coastal southwest California, a large swath of Arizona, western New Mexico, western Colorado, eastern Utah, southwestern Wyoming, and the northwest portion of the island of Hawaii. The NICC defines “significant fire potential” as the likelihood that a wildland fire will develop and will require firefighting personnel and resources from outside the immediate area.

A map of current active large wildfires is provided online and updated daily by the U.S. Forest Service. (HatTip to reader Clyde Phillips, of Caldwell, Idaho). Users can click on map points for detailed information on any fire shown. Today, the map shows 38 large wildland fie incidents.

The NICC report also includes a map issued last week showing where U.S. drought conditions are expected to persist or intensify, and where they’re projected to improve. A portion of Washington state falls into the first category. The map is shown below.

From National Wildland Significant Fire Potential Outlook, National Interagency Coordination Center, June 21, 2012

A summer climate outlook map from the office of the Washington State Climatologist shows the projected likelihood of temperatures rising above historical norms in dozens of different locales.

Editor’s note: The National Interagency Coordination Center is made up of the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service, Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the National Association of State Foresters.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

WA teacher helped students game standardized tests

by June 24th, 2012

A Washington state elementary school teacher in the Colville district with 26 years of experience resigned her job as disciplinary actions unfolded following charges she provided “unauthorized assistance” to students in her fifth-grade classroom for three straight years during state-mandated achievement tests. The narrative emerges from an agreed order recently posted online by the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in which Sherral M. Kaiser, 52, formerly of Fort Colville Elementary School in Colville, Wash., agrees to the temporary suspension of her teaching certificate for unprofessional conduct.

Teacher’s testing improprieties were only reported to the state after three years
According to the findings of fact in the agreed order signed by Kaiser and top state education officials May 30, 2012, the Colville School District did not notify OSPI until June 14, 2010 that Kaiser for three straight school years, from 2007-08 into 2009-10, had provided “unauthorized assistance to students in her 5th grade classroom” during state-mandated Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) and then Measurement of Student Progress (MSP) achievement tests, and instructed classroom assistants to do likewise, despite Kaiser “having been previously trained in the proper testing procedures.”

The agreed order further reveals that it was only after Kaiser in late May of 2010 engaged in minor misappropriation of Colville district funds of less $40 – by using for personal purposes a returned item credit voucher from a Walmart store where she bought classroom materials on the district’s account – that the district placed her on (paid) administrative leave, and reported her testing improprieties to the state. A pending criminal case in Stevens County court related to her $37.36 misappropriation from the district was dropped as part of a settlement agreement which included her resignation effective August 31, 2011. Though on leave from June 1, 2010 until then, Kaiser was paid total salary and benefits of $79,936 for the 2010-2011 school year according to public records accessed via a Kitsap Sun database.

New report: still 100K fewer jobs in WA now than in 2007

by June 21st, 2012

Washington has had three recessions since 1990, but the current recession’s recovery has been glacially slow compared to the last two. Roughly 150,000 jobs slower, based on each economic recovery after 50 months. The slight recession in 1990 ended after a few months, and Washington’s employment grew by almost 200,00 extra jobs by the 50-month point. Washington’s recession in 2001 lost about 60,000 jobs, all regained at the 40-month point. Ultimately, Washington had 50,000 more jobs at the 50-month point than it did when that recession began. The 2007 recession has proved much more persistent, as a state report released yesterday again confirmed. Washington had lost almost 200,000 jobs after 30 months, and was still 100,000 jobs in the red at the 50-month mark in May 2012. This was part of the picture painted Wednesday in an Olympia briefing by the Washington Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, which consists of Republican and Democrat legislative budget leaders, the state budget director, the state treasureer and a support staff of economists. The council released a meeting information packet including data on post-recession jobs recoveries in Washington, and their latest quarterly revenue predictions.

From 6/20/12 meeting packet, WA Economic and Revenue Review Forecast Council

The council’s June report mirrors a similar February report that predicted a very slow economic recovery and an accompanying slow growth in future state government revenue for Washington.