Collaboration in Civic Spheres

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.

In which Ferret bites into the Knight News Challenge: Data

by June 21st, 2012

Public Data Ferret‘s parent 501c3 Public Eye Northwest is pursuing plenty of other fundraising strategies, as we must. But we can never overlook the Knight News Challenge. The theme for Round Two 2012 is….Data. Please review our proposal and consider adding a supportive comment and a “Like”.

Knight will divide up to $5 million between winners, typically five or six per round. In the current grant competition, they’re looking for projects which demonstrate:

“new ways of collecting, understanding, visualizing and helping the public use the large amounts of information generated each day.”

An excerpt from our application:

How will your project make data more useful?
Public Data Ferret curates and translates unstructured government data – recent, high-news value documents hidden on the Deep Web – into Plain English, originally reported articles archived by jurisdiction and topic. The data mountain is curated, simplified and distributed. Through outreach, internships and visualizations we mainstream the primacy of data and objectivity.

How is your project different from what already exists?
The originally reported content is government sourced, always with direct links, bias- and jargon-free, and in topic and place archives so users can connect the dots.

Why will it work?
It will work because as the online information exa-flood grows, the need for authentic, reliable, curated knowledge intensifies. Users of search and participants in online social and face-to-face networks increasingly hunger for objective data about public affairs and public policy, rather than more opinion and snark, and know that data lives not only in data sets but in public documents as well. Liberating, processing and daylighting that unstructured data matters immensely. As legacy media decline, new actors must revitalize news and information ecosystems, often as trained volunteers.


How would you use News Challenge funds?
To fund for three years the work of three bureau chiefs/chief evangelists – one in Washington State, one in Oregon, and one in Idaho. They would each build and expand an infrastructure like the one we’ve begun in WA, working with colleges and a wide range of community stakeholders.

How would you sustain the project after the funding expires?
We would leverage more funds and volunteers through teaching and programmatic partnerships with public university and community college sponsors in each state, as well as legacy media, business interests and major community-based foundations. Fee-for-service revenue strategies will also be developed.

Requested amount:

WSDOT survey: If there’s more freight delay, you will pay

by June 19th, 2012

If traffic congestion on Washington’s interstate and state highways were to grow by a far-from-impossible 20 percent, 56 percent of freight-dependent businesses would pass the added costs on to consumers, more than a third would reroute or eat the costs, and one in ten would either shut down or relocate. The projected impact on freight-dependent businesses would result in a net one-time loss to Washington of 27,250 jobs, and a $3.3 billion decline in direct, indirect and induced economic output. All that is according to a new survey of more than 1,000 Washington freight-dependent employers, done for the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) by Washington State University’s Social and Economic Sciences Research Center and WSU’s Freight Policy Transportation Institute. A central piece of how the state defines traffic congestion is that it occurs when average speeds on interstates and state highways fall below 45 miles per hour.

Whether highway congestion in Washington would actually rise by one-fifth at any point in coming years is hard to say, but as the economy recovers, the odds grow stronger. Gov. Chris Gregoire’s “Connecting Washington” task force report issued in January 2012 does forecast tripling of freight volume in the state by 2035, plus 28 percent population growth in the next decade, and 60 billion vehicle miles traveled in Washington by 2020 – up from 57.2 billion in 2010. The bulk of traffic congestion statewide occurs in Central Puget Sound and the theoretical drops in employment and economic output from a congestion spike would be greatest there as well, according to the new survey report from WSDOT and WSU. But that report emphasizes that many freight-dependent employers elsewhere in the state have a big stake in Puget Sound roadways snarls because they depend on the ports of Seattle and Tacoma for shipping of goods to their final destination.