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Posts published in May 2013

On the road: St. Maries

st maries
Main street in St. Maries

And our run across Idaho gets underway in St. Maries, where Chris Carlson and I talk to a bunch of people form the area and sell some books at the Paperhouse.

Weather is good and we're off to a nice start. I'm noticing a bunch of scattered new development around Benewah County, mainly on the Coeur d'Alene Reservation on the west side (increasing spinoffs from the casino there) but also in St. Maries. This is the kind of area often said to be dying on the vine; but sure doesn't look like it on the ground.

First take: Fast food strike


This is a little different, or at least something we haven't seen for a while: Low wage, hard-pressed workers going on strike. In this case, fast food workers in - and this part at least would be less surprising - Seattle. It's the first strike of this sort anywhere in the region, though some other major metros in the east are involved. This is a real backflip through time. In recent decades, strikes most often hit the news when they involve well established and long-unionized work forces, people who are solidly established and simply are trying to keep what often are alread-significant benefits. This new strike involves people desperately trying to find a way to make a living, and hews closer to the ancestral days of American unions. Watch where this goes.

A friend at the factory

rainey BARRETT


Bear with me a minute. This takes some background.

From our little burg-in-the-Oregon woods going South on I-5 to the California border, it’s about 125 miles. Within the last half dozen years, four multi-lane bridges along the way have been replaced/rebuilt and smaller ones in the communities on both sides of I-5 improved.

Now, North on I-5 to Corvallis, it’s about 100 miles. From here to there in that same time period, there have been four new multi-lane I-5 bridges built and another half dozen overhauled or strengthened. Bridges and two-lanes in smaller communities on both sides of I-5 have had similar attention.

Between the Pacific and Eugene, there’s a rail line used by commercial shippers. Several years ago, a major tunnel was declared unsafe and traffic stopped. Those shippers – mainly regional timber guys – hollered. Loudly. Sending things the long way around by truck was prohibitively expensive. In short order, the feds, state and some shippers came up with the big bucks and things were put in first class order.

Hold onto all that as we introduce you to our representative in Congress from the Fifth District – Pete DeFazio. He’s one of the older heads – a Democrat in a heavily Republican District. He relies on the more liberal Lane County voters to hold off Republicans in all the other counties that vote against him every two years. All of ‘em.

Would it surprise you to know Pete’s the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit? Or that he’s been on the Subcommittee on Railroads for many years?

Now, tie all that together. Highways, bridges and railroads. If you didn’t live in the Fifth Congressional District, you’d call all that “pork.” Strictly speaking, you’d be right. Good old federal bacon brought home by a ranking member of Congress. Taxpayer largess. Yep, pork.

But, also strictly speaking, all that federal help in our little corner of the Oregon forest is exactly what the federal government of this nation has been charged to do since 1776. Help us do the big jobs that need doing that we can’t do for ourselves. National defense. National monetary system. National transportation systems. Yes, highways, bridges and tunnels, too.

When the folks on the right loudly complain about “pork,” what they’re really saying is government dollars spent in their backyards are wise expenditures on badly needed projects. But, when it’s someone else’s backyard getting the attention – well, now – that’s “PORK.” (more…)

First take: Quiet watchdog


QUIET WATCHDOG Washington's Public Disclosure Commission has had a fairly good reputation, at least in some quarters, for watchdogging reporting and ethics issues in state government. But is that reputation inflated? The Associated Press has a powerful piece out about the agency's deficiencies. Oddities in reports by lobbyists and campaigns, oddities that go unchallenged, are becoming increasingly commonplace, the article suggests. And "The Associated Press found cases in which lobbyists failed to properly complete basic forms, failed to disclose details of their expenses or regularly filed reports past their deadlines. Some lobbyists indicated they didn't know the rules until reporters started asking questions." Not to say, though it should be, that the population of reporters doing the asking is shrinking, rapidly.

In the briefings

bridge conference
Press confernce at the Skagit bridge. (photo/Washington Department of Transportation)

Collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River near Mount Vernon was the hot topic last week and into this one – even occurring as it did near the end of the week. I-5 is the major throughway for most people in Washington and not only that, the major west coast throughway. A break in its run anywhere is a critical matter.

And it matters not only for that but also for the proposed Columbia Crossing project to the south, over the Columbia River between Portland and Vancouver. Its fate hangs in the balance as the special session of the legislature hits its heart and decision time approaches.

Breaching case

carlson CHRIS


An edited excerpt from Chris Carlson's new book, Medimont Reflections, about the idea of breaching Snake River dams - and the effect on Lewiston.

Ed Chaney has been correct all along. So has my Columbia classmate, Pat Ford. From their first appearances before the Northwest Power Planning Council in 1981, through all the intervening years in interviews, articles, lawsuits, and speeches, each has consistently said that the best science says and will always say that the only real solution to restoring native salmon and steelhead runs to their former state, as required by the Northwest Power Planning Act, is to breach the four lower Snake River dams.

Supporters of the status quo and of leaving the dams in place like to point out that in terms of sheer numbers of the various runs of returning salmon and steelhead, the count is up and still rising. This is of course due to the large amount of supplementing the runs with hatchery-raised fingerlings and smolts.

Chaney points out that one should only examine the numbers of wild fish, which continue to steadily decline.

Chaney and Ford believe the law as reflected by and through the Northwest Power Planning Act and the Endangered Species law requires the restoration of the wild runs of salmon and steelhead. They insist these runs represent a distinct and separate gene pool that is declining.

On the face of it, their contention the dams continue to damage and facilitate decline appears incontestable. Courts appear also to agree with them as they have successfully petitioned to have most of the so-called “Bi-ops” developed by the Corps, the Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the NOAA and Bonneville Power Administration invalidated.

Breaching the dams is therefore the only measure not tried yet to restore and enhance the runs. What seals the deal, however, are the economic arguments for breaching the dams.

There are 31 federal dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers which produce 60 percent of the region’s hydroelectricity. The power produced by the four lower Snake dams is about 1 percent of the overall production. BPA of course sells and distributes this power.

Due to the several laws guiding BPA’s management of this “federal base system,” the agency also funds and manages a fishery enhancement program whose goal is, as the law requires, protecting, mitigating and enhancing the runs.

In March, I asked the agency’s public communications office to provide me with an estimate of how much money they have expended to meet the law’s requirement for the 11-year period of 2002 through 2012.

The total number is a staggering $7.35 billion, or an average of $677 million a year, with little, if any, progress being made in enhancing and protecting the wild runs.

Subtract the breaching costs from that figure and cease funding all of the fruitless efforts underway and the region’s ratepayers would be billions ahead shortly.

The next unsound economical entity is the Port of Lewiston itself. Sold by its boosters that it was going to be the catalyst of an economic rebirth for Lewiston, it has been nothing of the sort. Boosters of the port sold Nez Perce County voters a bill of goods, saying that a local option sales tax would be short-lived and retired.

Fifty years later the tax is still on the books. Face it — the Port of Lewiston is a heavily subsidized operation that will never pay for itself. The citizens of Lewiston and Nez Perce County would be far better off shutting it down and supporting dam breaching as their preferred path back to real prosperity. (more…)

Circumnavigating Idaho


We'll be circumnavigating Idaho in the next week.

All of which requires explanation.

The travelers will be Chris Carlson, author of the new book Medimont Reflections, and Randy Stapilus, publisher of that book and co-author (with Martin Peterson) of the book Idaho 100. We'll be traveling around Idaho, stopping and speaking here and there, with copies the book available (provided those last longer than the trip does).

"Circumnavigation" here is more or less a term of art, since you can't recall travel in anything resembling a circle if you're travelling "around" Idaho - there's almost no way to avoid retracing your path when it comes to the long, high Panhandle in the north. The best you can do, which is what we will, is department Idaho north of Salmon, run up through western Montana, then rejoin Idaho on the east side of the Silver Valley.

We'll start with an event Friday noon at the Paper House store in St. Maries, which is near Carlson's home turf at Medimont (some miles to the north). From there we go to Coeur d'Alene, to the Hastings store there.

The next day, we head south to Moscow and Lewiston for events there. Sunday, it's a run down U.S. 95, stopping for a gathering at White Bird, to Boise. We have some activities planned in Boise on Monday and Tuesday. Tuesday evening, we head to the Wood River Valley for a talk at Ketchum.

Wednesday, we're at Twin Falls, speaking to the Rotary Club there. Thursday, we're at Pocatello, doing the same along with a panel discussion (actually, this one's Wednesday night) that we're told is scheduled to include House Speaker Scott Bedke. Later, we head north to Salmon.

From there, it's back to the Panhandle, and the circle is tied.

So goes the plan. More details, and we expect quite a few reports from the road, in the days ahead.

First Take: Carrell


CARRELL'S PASSING Washington state Senator Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, who died earlier today of cancer complications, was one of the veterans of the legislature - a House member from his election in 1994, and a senator most of the years since. He was quick to call himself a conservative, but that did not mean intransigent ideologue. He had great interest in education and mental health, some did highly useful legislative work in those areas and in dealing with juvenile runaways. It was cooperative and bipartisan work, too, of a sort seen less often in the case of so many legislators in recent years. A fellow Republican, Senator Mark Schoesler, was quoted, “He was a proud, conservative Republican who certainly worked well with Democrats in the those subject areas. It is a trait we need more of here, and we’ve lost someone with it.”

The public interest in safety

carlson CHRIS


One of the guiding principles for legislators and other elected officials is often summed up by the phrase “the greatest good for the greatest number.”

Elected officials are lobbied by a variety of special interests who seek advantage for their respective enterprise by seeing a law or regulation passed that will give them a competitive advantage although it is sold to lawmakers as increasing efficiency or a new and better way to generate tax revenue.

Lawmakers listen, deliberate and then say yeah or nay with the guiding thought of what is the greatest good for the greatest number.

Another guiding principle is the need for laws to protect the lives of people.

The first law of the social contract is that people band together to protect life, especially the weak, young, elderly, and disabled from the strong, the greedy, the selfish who exploit weakness wherever it is seen.

For Idahoans these two guiding principles should be kept in mind as the public is asked to comment in hearings before the Idaho Transportation Board on regulations needed for the implementation of a new law passed by the Legislature at the behest of Idaho Forest Group, Potlatch and Clearwater Paper to allow on north Idaho roads the weight of trucks to be increased from a limit of 106,000 pounds to 129,000 pounds.

Dear reader, this quite simply is not in the public interest nor would it be safe, especially in wintertime. It is a classic case of corporate interests rationalizing their desire to maximize their profits regardless of the increased risk to the driving public.

Look at a map of north Idaho and note the facilities owned by Idaho Forest Group. From Moyie Springs to Laclede to Grangeville to Lewiston, to Chilcoe, the firm, the result of a merger several years ago, has its mills in disparate locations. Someone, somewhere within the company no doubt did a study that showed if they could increase the weight of whatever they hauled between these facilities they could reduce operating expenses and make a few bucks more.

But at what price? Some critics cite the increased weight doing more damage to roads and bridges, but a ten year study in southern Idaho supposedly showed that not to be the case. That’s not really the issue, though. (more…)