Cleanup Battle Continues -- Coeur d'Alene -- Earlier this week, the Sierra Club and the Lands Council took their fight to assure Washington fair representation on the Coeur d'Alene Basin Cleanup Commission to Capitol Hill.
The cleanup plan's focus is on the 100 million tons of mining waste contaminating rivers and soil upstream from Lake Coeur d'Alene. Local business and miners have fought an eventual Superfund designation, saying it would hurt the local economy unnecessarily. Local environmental activists have complained that Washington doesn't have adequate representation on the commission, even though this state is being impacted by the mining waste that flows into the Spokane River.
Also, the $360 million cleanup plan that was originally supposed to be handled by the Environmental Protection Agency is now being administered by the commission -- a change made by the Bush administration that the environmental groups say may be against the law.
"Instead of protecting the 400,000 people who live downstream, President Bush is letting toxic chemicals flow right into our communities," says John Osborn, the Sierra Club's conservation chair. "Unless the EPA steps in to clean up the pollution in the Coeur d'Alene Basin, the Spokane River watershed will be condemned to a toxic future."
The environmental groups are asking Sens. Cantwell and Murray to request an independent investigation of the commission and are calling for congressional oversight of the cleanup.
In August, the EPA and Washington Gov. Gary Locke signed an agreement approving the commission. Washington has one vote on the commission as long as the state pays part of the cleanup costs -- but Shoshone, Kootenai and Benewah counties have been granted veto power. Spokane County, the city of Spokane and the Spokane Tribe are not represented.
"Washington's future is being held hostage," says Neil Beaver of the Lands Council. "Repeatedly, Idaho's top elected officials have viciously opposed the cleanup. Now they are in the driver's seat of the new cleanup plan. This is an environmental wreck and a huge waste of public money just waiting to happen."
Funds for Housing -- SPOKANE -- There's good reason to celebrate at the Spokane Low-Income Housing Consortium this week. Just recently the Consortium released a study outlining the lack of low-income apartment units in the Spokane area, but now it looks like at least some help is its way.
The Consortium tracks 1,220 low-income apartment units, but only 50 of those were vacant on July 1 -- and many of the vacant units are downtown studios that can't accommodate a family.
"That is about a four percent [vacancy]. That's the lowest it has been since 1998," says Marj Dahlstrom, executive director of the Consortium.
The good news is that a private donor has given the Consortium $75,000 to buy land and begin the development of more low-income housing.
"We are just really excited," says Dahlstrom. "We can't release the name of the donor yet, but getting private money makes everything so much easier."
Usually, low-income housing is funded by state and federal grants, which come with long lists of restrictions. One problem in Spokane is that severe poverty tends to be concentrated in specific neighborhoods, says Dahlstrom.
"We can't put federal money in those areas because they don't want to see the concentration of poverty," she explains. "The county and the city, [since they're] both adopting comprehensive plans that encourage the development of low-income housing, might help this a little."
Even though new apartments are being built in many locations around town, few of them are affordable for low-income families.
"The waiting list to get rent assistance from the Spokane Housing Authority is currently 18 months," says Dahlstrom. "It's hard for these families."
Better Walking Conditions -- SPOKANE -- Ever wondered where you are supposed to walk when there's no sidewalk? Ever wondered if you're going to get hit in a crosswalk, or why pedestrians never are allowed enough time to cross before the light turns red?
Well, things may soon get better for local pedestrians. The Spokane Regional Transportation Council (SRTC) has been awarded a $20,000 grant from the National Center for Bicycling and Walking. The money will go toward holding community discussions both here and in Post Falls and Coeur d'Alene.
"With the Walkable Community Grant, this spring we will present a series of eight half-day workshops focusing on local pedestrian issues and hands-on solutions," says Glenn F. Miles, transportation manager for SRTC. "We are currently in the process of updating the regional bicycle and pedestrian plan, so this grant comes at an ideal time for us."