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& & State parks may close & & & &

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission may have to close some state parks because it is facing a 6 percent reduction of its budget. Reductions take effect in the next biennial budget period, which begins on July 1, 2001.

During budget submittals in August, Parks and Recreation was asked to cut 2 percent out of its $92.8 million biennial budget, and it's now being asked to cut an additional 4 percent, totaling $3.9 million.

State Parks Commission Chair Joan Thomas said in a prepared statement that the parks system is in such an advanced state of decay that the most responsible approach to a budget reduction is downsizing the system.

"Closing parks seems fundamentally wrong to all of us, but we are already funded below what is necessary to serve the public well," she continued. The state parks report 46.5 million visits per year, up by 43 percent over the last decade.

Based on data collected by the National Association of State Park Directors, Washington's parks have the fourth highest day attendance numbers in the nation, but ranks only 47th in state budget expenditure per visitor.

If the budget passes and parks have to be closed, public hearings would be held at that time to determine which parks may have to close.

"If we need to operate with an even smaller budget, it makes most sense to reduce the number of parks," said Thomas. "That way we can take better care of the parks that remain open."

& & BNSF protest continues & & & &

Hauser, Idaho -- The Friends of the Aquifer (FOA) has sponsored a petition to the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB), requesting that the board assume regulatory authority over the proposed Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) refueling depot to be built here.

"This is one of the few areas that has drinking water this pure," says Lucy Fueller, acting president of FOA and an Idaho resident. "You can't undo damage to the aquifer. If the railroad pollutes this aquifer, you can't just fix it by putting chlorine in the water."

The location of the depot on top of the Spokane-Rathdrum aquifer has been the subject of protests since BNSF first proposed the facility two years ago. The aquifer is the main source of drinking water for an estimated 400,000 residents in Idaho and Washington.

BNSF maintains that the proposed refueling facility, where above ground tanks would hold 500,000 gallons of diesel fuel, is absolutely safe.

A majority of Kootenai County commissioners voted for the facility, attempting to maintain local control over the project instead of having BNSF go over their heads to gain approval from federal authorities. Now FOA is going to federal authorities with the opposite purpose.

"Rather than dealing with lower levels of jurisdiction that may have no bearing on the railroad, we decided to go to the one that does," says Fueller. "The railroad has indicated to us that no one has regulatory power over this particular facility, but we believe the STB does. They have jurisdiction over the entire U.S., and until we are told otherwise, we are going to continue to pursue this avenue." & & - (P.H.) & & & &

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