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Monthly Archives: March 2020

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    State review of Kalama methanol plant may progress without second study

State review of Kalama methanol plant may progress without second study

March 25th, 2020|

From The Daily News

Signaling a potential “change in attitude,” the state Department of Ecology may back off its demand for second study of the potential climate change impact of the proposed $2 billion Kalama methanol plant, according to area legislators.

“We believe (Ecology) can complete a through and effective evaluation of the project and come to a timely permit decision without resorting to a second” study of the plant’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to a March 12 letter from the legislators to the Cowlitz County commissioners and Port of Kalama. (See copy of the letter attached to this story on TDN.com.)

Ecology indicated a willingness to help modify a county/port greenhouse study that the agency found “insufficient,” according to the letter. In November, Ecology announced it would do its own, a process it said could take a year.

Legislators representing the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th districts met with Ecology during the recent legislative session about its second study requirement. On Tuesday, some of those lawmakers said Ecology has made no commitments, but they are hoping the project will move forward.
Ecology has been committed to doing this environmental review as quickly as possible, said Jeff Zenk, Ecology spokesman.

“We are open to exploring how we might be able to work with Cowlitz County and the applicants to share in the workload of providing the additional analysis that we require for this project,” he said in a statement. “We have had some initial discussions to see if that is feasible.”

State Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, said the March 12 letter asks the county to reach out to Ecology and formally request clarification on what the agency found wrong with the county/port greenhouse gas study. Walsh said he’s optimistic the county and Ecology can remedy the existing study.

Generating a new analysis would involve a “significant amount” of taxpayer money and Ecology staff time, Walsh said.

“Leaving aside local politics, I think that’s not a great use of taxpayer resources,” Walsh said. “NWIW (Northwest Innovation Works) paid for the existing EIS. It seems to me a better bang for the taxpayer’s buck is to remedy the shortcomings Ecology sees in that rather than to start the process all over again, funded by taxpayers.”

Ecology requested $600,000 for the study, but that money was not included in the budget the Legislature approved earlier this month, said state Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview.
Northwest Innovation Works wants to build the methanol plant at the Port of Kalama to convert natural gas to methanol to be shipped to China to make plastic.

The county/port analysis said the plant would result in a reduction of millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions by offsetting coal-based methanol production in China. Environmentalists scoff at that scenario and say it is based on old assumptions.

According to the legislator’s March 12 letter, Ecology officials indicated to lawmakers they would be willing to work with the port and county to address their concerns about the existing study.
Elaine Placido, county community services director, said Tuesday she is “happy to expand the collaborative effort with the port and the Department of Ecology.”

Dan Serres, Columbia River conservation director, said Ecology has been willing to help the county and port correct errors in the analysis, but the agencies have “consistently refused to do the scientifically sound environmental review necessary.”

The county/port analysis misrepresents the purpose and impact of the facility, Serres said, and doesn’t consider the potential burning of the methanol as fuel or the climate changing pollution associated with all aspects of the project. (Northwest Innovation rejects the contention that it will sell the methanol as fuel.)

“We will continue to support the State of Washington in holding this company accountable despite the company’s attempts to mislead the community and regulators,” he said.

Sen. Takko said he’s frustrated that it has taken so long to review the project, which first was proposed in 2014.

“This thing has been handled poorly to take this much time,” he said.

The plant would create about 200 permanent jobs, generate millions in local property and sales taxes and train a new generation of workers, according to Northwest Innovation Works.

“We believe this project represents a defining opportunity for rural economic development in Washington State,” says the March 12 letter, signed by state Reps. Walsh, Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama), Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen), Paul Harris (R-Vancouver), Brandon Vick (R-Vancouver) Larry Hoff (R-Vancouver) and state Sens. Takko and John Braun, R-Centralia.

By Katie Fairbanks

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    Capitol Dispatch: Lawmakers secure funds for Longview police station, Community House

Capitol Dispatch: Lawmakers secure funds for Longview police station, Community House

March 15th, 2020|

From The Daily News

When the 60-day legislative session concluded Thursday night, the supplemental capital budget included money for a number of local projects, including $250,000 for a Longview satellite police station in the Highlands and about $250,000 for Community House on Broadway to purchase a new building and upgrade its kitchen. It also allocated about $55,000 for lead paint remediation at Cathlamet’s Pioneer Center.

All four local Republicans, however, said they were frustrated with the spending in the supplemental operating budget, which adds about $1 billion to the $52 billion two-year budget passed by lawmakers last year.

Sen. John Braun, a Centralia Republican, said the majority party didn’t spend all the money they had, which “showed some good restraint.” The final budget has an ending fund balance of about $800 million.

“They did an admirable job not spending all the money, but that said, they did spend quite a lot. It represents an overall growth 20% from the last budget,” Braun said. “So it’s hard to say it’s all good news.”

In response to the Republicans, Democrat Sen. Dean Takko of Longview said, “They probably would have said that no matter what we spend.”

Local Republicans and Democrats all praised the transportation budget as “bipartisan.” It released almost all of the projects that had been “frozen” after funding uncertainty related to Initiative 976, including Longview’s $1.9 million Beech Street extension, which is expected to open up about 48 acres for development.

All six local lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — said they were pleased that major gun control and carbon emissions measures were knocked down. These measures included an assault weapon ban, high capacity magazine ban, ammunition tax and a low carbon fuel standard.

Coronavirus

The Legislature also approved $200 million from the state’s rainy day fund to combat the new coronavirus. Local lawmakers agreed that was the right amount of money, but Rep. Ed Orcutt of Kalama said he would have liked to fund it with additional tax revenue, rather than emergency funds.

“We are going to have an economic downturn at some point, whether the virus causes it or something else does,” he said. “I’m concerned that we dipped into that when we didn’t really need to.”

Rep. Jim Walsh, an Aberdeen Republican, said Washington’s coronavirus outbreak is an example of what the emergency funds are there for.

Sex education

Discussion of sexual health education legislation dominated the last week of the session. Lawmakers said it spurred the largest response from constituents they had seen in a while.

“I’ve heard from more school districts and people on this bill than any other bill in last 10 years,” said Rep. Richard DeBolt, who has served more than two decades in the Legislature.

DeBolt, Walsh, Orcutt and Braun all said they opposed the legislation primarily because they felt it moved control over curriculum away from local school boards to the state.

“To have this control at the state level doesn’t make any sense to me,” Braun said. “(Teaching this topic) is a parental issue and a school board issue. We shouldn’t step into that as the state.”

Democrats Takko and Rep. Brian Blake of Aberdeen disputed that claim, saying school boards still get to decide the curriculum, as long as it meets state standards of being “scientifically and medically accurate.” Both said there’s been a lot of misinformation about the bill.

Takko said he spoke with local superintendents this week and they told him the new legislation doesn’t differ much from what they are currently doing.

Blake said the bill is intended to reduce teen pregnancies, suicides, bullying, sexually transmitted diseases and child molestation.

The bill passed out of the House 56-40 and out of the Senate 27-21.

A voter referendum to repeal the legislation was submitted on Friday. If it gets enough signatures, it would be on the November ballot.

Other matters
  • Orcutt said he was concerned that legislation regulating facial recognition tools got “watered down” this session and may not adequately protect citizens. He said he expects to revisit the matter during next year’s session.
  • Takko said he was proud of legislation allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote.
  • Braun said he was pleased there was some progress on special education funding and support for developmentally disabled people, although not quite as much as he had hoped.
  • Braun also successfully passed a constitutional amendment authorizing future payroll tax revenue to be invested in stocks and bonds. The matter will come before voters on the general election ballot in November.
  • Blake said he was pleased to secure $24 million for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which gets the agency close to being fully funded.
  • Walsh said it was “a good session for conservatives” because they were able to knock down some major progressive efforts.
  • DeBolt, who announced he won’t run for re-election, said he was pleased to pass a bill during his final legislative session that focused on salmon recovery, flooding and culverts in the Chehalis basin. “We’ve got to make sure that keeps moving,” he said. “The neat thing about Olympia is when you leave, somebody else comes. It’s kind of their job now.”

By Rose Lundy

Sen. Takko secures money for Pacific County drug task force

March 13th, 2020|

From The Longview Daily News

Pacific County will receive $391,000 in state funding to establish a drug task force thanks to a budget proviso by state Sen. Dean Takko, Takko’s office reported Thursday.

“This has been a goal of mine for a long time,” Takko, D-Longview, said in a prepared statement. “The community brought this problem to me, and I’m glad we can provide law enforcement the resources they need to keep our county safe.”

Pacific County had a drug task force from 2006 to 2015, paid for jointly by state, federal and local money. It disbanded in 2015 due to lack of funding.

“This is huge for us,” Pacific County Sheriff Robin Souvenir said in a prepared statement included with Takko’s. “One of the big issues here we have is the drug problem. We don’t have dedicated and sustainable funding. As a rural county, there’s no way we could fund a program on our own.”

E-News: Coronavirus – what the state is doing to help

March 12th, 2020|

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

The Legislature is taking this health crisis extremely seriously. We have now appropriated $200 million to fund our state’s response, including monitoring, testing and support for local health departments.

We have also acted to

  • make sure that people receiving unemployment insurance can continue to do so even if they can’t meet the work search requirement due to quarantine
  • support businesses that rehire employees who had to go on unemployment insurance because of the coronavirus emergency
  • reimburse nursing homes that aid in the coronavirus response
  • allow school employees to maintain health insurance eligibility for the rest of the school year even if they come up short of required work hours because of the coronavirus state of emergency

The federal government has passed an $8.3 billion coronavirus response plan. Of that, $11.2 million came immediately came to Washington state for public health responses. Our congressional leaders are hard at work negotiating a supplemental bill that is intended to include additional Medicaid funding, housing support, and SNAP benefits.

State agencies have announced measures to help people and businesses whose lives are disrupted. The governor’s office has assembled a central list of resources here. Below are some of the most important changes that can help you.

Worker and employer assistance

If an employer temporarily shuts down operations because of coronavirus, workers may be eligible for unemployment benefits and the employer may receive relief of benefit costs.

If workers are exposed to coronavirus and asked to isolate or quarantine by a doctor or health official, they may receive unemployment benefits while they are temporarily away from work. A bill passed recently by the Legislature waives the requirement that people in this situation must be actively searching for work.

Health care coverage 

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange has opened a special enrollment period for health insurance through April 8. You can call 1-855-923-4633 between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Insurance assistance 

The Insurance Commissioner has required all insurance plans to cover coronavirus tests with no cost-sharing and no prior authorization requirement for people who meet the CDC criteria for testing.

He has also required insurance plans to allow enrollees to refill their prescriptions early one time in order to maintain an adequate supply.

School updates

Several school districts around the state have closed, but many still remain open. This is a quickly moving situation, and the latest updates will be reflected on individual school district websites or here. Here are links to the school districts in the 19th Legislative District:

Aberdeen / Adna / Boistfort / Castle Rock / Chehalis / Cosmopolis
Elma / Evaline / Kelso / Longview / Montesano / Napavine
Naselle Grays River Valley / North River / Oakville / Ocean Beach
Ocosta / Pe Ell / Raymond / Rochester / Satsop / South Bend
Wahkiakum / Willapa Valley / Winlock

Protect your health and your loved ones

Remember, if someone you know has a fever and non-acute respiratory distress, they should call their doctor – not go to the clinic or hospital. Symptoms to watch for are fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

The best preparations are to prevent infection with simple yet effective actions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds (singing happy birthday twice).
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with your elbow, sleeve or tissue (not your hands).
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Bump elbows with friends rather than giving hugs or handshakes.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Use hand sanitizers when unable to wash your hands.

If you have symptoms and do not have a doctor to call, you can call the Washington State Department of Health call center at 1-800-525-0127.

Sincerely,

Takko secures funding for US 12-rail separation project

March 12th, 2020|

From The Aberdeen Daily World and The Montesano Vidette

The City of Aberdeen will receive $700,000 for the Highway 12 Rail Separation Project in East Aberdeen, thanks to a provision added to the Legislature’s final transportation budget by Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview.

The money will fund preliminary work for an overpass and roundabout to raise South Chehalis Street above Highway 12 and the Puget Sound & Pacific Railroad, where train traffic regularly causes congestion and backups on Highway 12 near the Gateway Mall at the entrance to Aberdeen.

The number of freight trains traveling along this corridor has significantly increased over the past 15 years and is predicted to continue growing as the Port of Grays Harbor handles cargoes of timber, agricultural products and autos, among other goods.

“This funding is a major milestone for the project, officially moving the project out of the planning stage and into preliminary engineering,” said Kris Koski, Aberdeen City Engineer.

“An added benefit is that this State support will strengthen federal grant applications for additional funding. The City is already planning the next grant application due in May of this year through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) federal grant program, so the timing of this news is perfect. The project is gaining momentum,” he said.

“This funding is crucial because it keeps this project moving and positions us competitively for big federal transportation grants,” said Takko. “Having more freight trains on the tracks is a sign of a strong economy — a good problem to have — but we need the overpass to cut down on traffic jams when those trains come through town.”

Koski said the project’s roots go back to a 2006 regional circulation plan and that planning has been underway since 2017,

“The design concept for the project was identified through a rigorous alternatives analysis completed in 2015. Planning work has been underway since 2017, including geotechnical explorations, traffic modeling, and public outreach. It takes a long time to complete big projects like this, but progress has been steady, and this funding will allow work to go on while we continue to search out funding for the next phase of work,” Koski added.

The City of Aberdeen, Grays Harbor County, and the Port of Grays Harbor together have committed $700,000 to match the state’s appropriation.

A 2019 cost-benefit analysis calculated that this project will return a benefit of $1.72 for every $1.00 invested.

By Thorin Sprandel

Takko secures funding for drug task force in Pacific County

March 12th, 2020|

Pacific County will receive $391,000 in state funding to establish a drug task force to coordinate between local law enforcement agencies in criminal investigations, thanks to a budget proviso added by Sen. Dean Takko (D-Longview).

“This has been a goal of mine for a long time,” said Takko. “The community brought this problem to me, and I’m glad we can provide law enforcement the resources they need to keep our county safe.”

Pacific County had a drug task force from 2006 to 2015, paid for jointly by state, federal, and local money, but it was disbanded in 2015 due to lack of funding.

“This is huge for us,” said Pacific County Sheriff Robin Souvenir. “One of the big issues here we have is the drug problem. We don’t have dedicated and sustainable funding. As a rural county, there’s no way we could fund a program on our own. This will allow us to coordinate with the South Bend Police, the Raymond Police, and the Long Beach Police to take on drug trafficking.”

According to the Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington, the number of drug cases across the state has ticked up in recent years.

There are several federal drug enforcement funding programs that provide grants to local law enforcement, but Pacific County does not qualify for these because there is no active federal border patrol presence. This makes the state funding all the more crucial.

Museum set to receive state funds for roof repairs

March 12th, 2020|

From the Chinook Observer

ILWACO — After getting battered by storms in January, the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum is on the road to relief.

The Washington State Legislature’s supplemental capital budget bill for the 2020 session was approved unanimously and contains $150,000 in state funds earmarked for the repair of the museum’s roof. The bill now awaits Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature.

Betsy Millard, the museum’s executive director, said the 55-year-old building has worn down over time and undergone several patch jobs as museum staff tried to come up with funding for fixes.

Noreen’s pet project

The building was formerly home to the Ilwaco Telephone Utility Company and was constructed in 1965 as a sort of “super-structure” that tied together several buildings. When the company was acquired by Pacific Telecom in the early 1980s and its employees relocated to Vancouver, the building was deeded to the city of Ilwaco. Noreen Robinson, a city councilor during that time, was tasked by the mayor to figure out what to do with the building.

After holding brainstorming sessions with other community members, the group decided to use the building to host a museum. Robinson was able to obtain help from the Smithsonian Institution, which sent her information and recommended she get professional guidance. Robinson hired an intern from the University of Washington’s museum studies program, who instructed the all-volunteer staff on how to manage the museum.

It has gone on to become a model professionally managed facility under Millard, serving as a sort of “mini-Smithsonian” for the memories and heritage of history-rich South Pacific County.

Patched up

The last time the museum had any major work done was 1990. During that remodel, a second roof was added to the original roof. Millard said that the current situation is untenable.

“We’ve patched it, but you can sort of see some of the areas where the water comes,” Millard said. “We’ve had leaks and we’ve had random leaks. We’ve just been patching, patching, patching.”

The situation got worse a couple of years ago, and the museum had two different roof companies come and submit bids of what it would take to make the necessary repairs. Both bids came in around $200,000.

“We were like ‘Oh my God,’” said Millard, who noted the museum is funded solely by grants, donations and fundraisers, not public funds. “We run this place on less than $200,000 a year. That includes all of our salaries, electricity — the whole shooting match.”

The roof problems got worse in January, when torrential rain and severe wind caused substantial flooding throughout the building. It was during an American Legion meeting in the museum’s community meeting room when one of the legion’s members said that the museum needed some help.

Takko comes up with funds

From there, several community members reached out to Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview, to see what could be done at the state level. Takko grew up in Ilwaco, and Millard said that he has deep connections with the museum and other organizations in the city.

“He knows the museum and he knows what an important place it is in the community,” she said.

It didn’t take much time for the museum staff to hear that funds for the repair had been set aside in the capital budget. The $150,000 from the state will cover about 75% of the expected repair costs, with the museum on the hook for about $50,000.

Millard said that the museum’s facility meeting met earlier this month with representatives from the city to discuss other potential fundraising opportunities. The museum will also make an appeal to its supporters for donations, and hopes to be listed in the Pacific Community Foundation Spring Grant Catalog.

By Brandon Cline

 

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    Takko secures $700,000 to cut traffic congestion in Aberdeen

Takko secures $700,000 to cut traffic congestion in Aberdeen

March 11th, 2020|

The City of Aberdeen will receive $700,000 for the US 12 Highway-Rail Separation Project, thanks to a provision added to the Legislature’s final transportation budget by Sen. Dean Takko (D-Longview).

The money will fund preliminary work for an overpass and roundabout to raise South Chehalis Street above US 12 and Puget Sound & Pacific Railroad, where train traffic regularly causes congestion and backups on US 12.

The number of freight trains traveling along this corridor has significantly increased over the past 15 years and is predicted to continue growing in the coming decades.

The Port of Grays Harbor, at the western end of the Puget Sound & Pacific Railroad, is the closest port to Seattle with direct access to the ocean and is crucial for transporting timber, agricultural products, and autos, among other goods.

“This funding is crucial because it keeps this project moving and positions us competitively for big federal transportation grants,” said Takko. “Having more freight trains on the tracks is a sign of a strong economy — a good problem to have — but we need the overpass to cut down on traffic jams when those trains come through town.”

Without this funding, the project would miss a key deadline and the planning process would need to be restarted, setting the work back by months and costing an additional $300,000. The state’s $700,000 will help get the project construction ready by 2023, which will make it more competitive for federal INFRA and BUILD grant programs.

Local support for the project is strong. The City of Aberdeen, Grays Harbor County, and the Port of Grays Harbor together have committed $700,000 to match the state’s appropriation.

A 2019 cost-benefit analysis calculated that this project will return a benefit of $1.72 for every $1.00 invested.

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    Senate passes bill to align timber industry with state carbon goals

Senate passes bill to align timber industry with state carbon goals

March 9th, 2020|

From the Aberdeen Daily World

State agencies would recognize and support efforts by timber companies to reduce carbon emissions through reforestation and other management practices under a House bill passed on a 46-3 vote by the Senate Thursday.

“There’s a longstanding presumption that timber harvesting and environmental protection are mutually exclusive, but the truth is just the opposite,” said Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, the prime sponsor of similar legislation in the Senate. “By aligning timber practices and cycles with the state’s carbon reduction goals, we can boost our rural economies and improve our environmental health at the same time.”

House Bill 2528 recognizes the role of forest products in carbon sequestration and directs the state Department of Commerce to promote markets for the state’s forest products.

Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, told a crowd in Aberdeen before the session started, “Managed forests can have a real value in carbon sequestration.” He and fellow 24th District Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, co-sponsored the bill, which passed the House on Feb. 16 by a 95-0 vote. Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview, of the 19th District co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill.

“The cool thing about this bill is it makes forest products a part of the carbon discussion,” said Van De Wege at the Greater Grays Harbor legislative sendoff in Aberdeen Jan. 10.

Carbon sequestration is the process by which trees and other plants absorb carbon from the air through photosynthesis and store it in trunks, foliage and soils. Recent studies suggest that young forests sequester more carbon than mature forests.

“We can reduce carbon emissions and enable our private timber forest owners to stay competitive at the same time,” Van De Wege said. “Clean air and a robust local timber industry can be, and should be, natural partners.”

Having been amended in the Senate, House Bill 2528 must return to the House for full approval before it can be sent to the governor to be signed into law.

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    Capitol Dispatch: Local lawmakers prepare for final week of session

Capitol Dispatch: Local lawmakers prepare for final week of session

March 8th, 2020|

From The Daily News

With the legislative session scheduled to conclude on Thursday, local lawmakers are hustling to wrap up their priorities.

Sen. John Braun, a Centralia Republican, said his main focus in the final week is the state supplemental budget.

As a member of the minority party, “it’s not likely going to be a budget I will support because the enormous amount of money being spent I don’t think is sustainable … (but) that doesn’t relieve me of the responsibility to make it as good as I can get it,” he said Thursday.

He’s also working on a number of bills that deal with protections and support for developmentally disabled people, including one that would eliminate the waitlist for about 290 people statewide who have been approved for services but aren’t receiving it.

In addition, Braun said he still is working on funding for K-12 education, especially special needs programs.

Rep. Brian Blake, an Aberdeen Democrat, said he wants to fully fund the Department of Fish and Wildlife and provide support for increasing fish hatchery production on the Columbia River and the coast. “Things are looking fairly good at the moment,” Blake said Wednesday.
Sen. Dean Takko, a Longview Democrat, said he hopes to get funding to combat the new coronavirus, which he said he thinks will “get worse before it gets better.”

The House and Senate this week both unanimously approved $100 million in funds for state and local public health officials to respond to the outbreak. The measure will go back to the House for a final vote before going to Gov. Jay Inslee to sign into law.

Takko said he’s also working on funding for a number of small capital projects in places like Cathlamet and Ilwaco. However, Longview’s request for $500,000 to fund a new satellite police station in the Highlands neighborhood is likely too big of a request during the short session, he said.

He’s also trying to pass legislation out of the Senate that would reallocate tourism tax dollars to local cities instead of Cowlitz County. The measure would not impose a new tax. It would allow cities to keep the 2% lodging tax generated in their borders instead of allowing the county to collect it. The measure passed out of the House last month.

Walsh said he opposed a mandate for comprehensive sex education in public schools because he was concerned it would give the state more control over curriculum and textbook decisions. Local school boards should make those calls, he said. Nonetheless, the measure passed out of the House late Wednesday night. The bill now will return to the Senate for a final vote.

He added on Thursday that he is concerned about a vote that could come to the floor of the House which would abolish the death penalty. Walsh said his position is “nuanced,” but ultimately he’s heard from prosecutors that the death penalty is a useful tool when negotiating sentences for people who committed “heinous” crimes. Therefore, we would vote against abolishing the death penalty.

By Rose Lundy