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News in Brief 

by Inlander Staff

Green Light to Burn - COEUR D'ALENE -- The Sandpoint-based activist group Safe Air for Everyone (SAFE) didn't get the result it had hoped for in court last week.

SAFE is seeking to end grass stubble-burning in Idaho, and to do so, the group turned to federal court in May.

SAFE's lawsuit was filed under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a federal law that regulates the disposal of hazardous waste, including agricultural waste. SAFE claims that farmers burning bluegrass stubble are disposing of agricultural waste in such a manner that it harms other people's lives, and that's why grass burning should be outlawed.

SAFE had hoped the judge would be on its side and come down with a court injunction that would stop grass burning already this season. That didn't happen.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward Lodge dismissed both the lawsuit and the injunction, saying that the burning of crop residue in this case does not fall within the definitions of disposal of solid waste.

Grass and wheat stubble burning was banned in Washington last year.

Patti Gora, executive director of SAFE, said last week that the group is not seeking damages but simply wants to stop the burning practice.

The good news for local residents with breathing trouble is that the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality will now determine which days burning will be allowed in an attempt to better manage the smoke clouds. Also, farmers on the Coeur d'Alene Reservation have agreed to bale as much as 40 percent of the area that's usually burned.

"We don't know yet what we are going to do," says Gora about SAFE's next move. "We are getting our board together to talk about our options with the appeal process and what that would cost. We're a little bummed," but I just got two phone calls from people who almost died during last year's burn season. The level of fear they live with is just horrific."

STA Campaign Kickoff - SPOKANE -- The first action most people will see from a new pro-STA sales tax group will be their green-and-white "Vote yes for transit" yard signs.

By the end of the summer, though, the Citizens for Public Transportation will be calling, talking and writing everywhere they can to convince people to approve a September ballot, says campaign manager C. J. Tyler-Watson. The Sept. 17 ballot would authorize the Spokane Transit Authority to levy a local sales tax to offset potentially huge cuts in service next year.

The 3/10 of 1 percent tax would work out to three pennies on a $10 purchase, and 30 cents on a $100 purchase. The STA expects to fall to about half its current budget starting next summer due to the loss of motor vehicle excise funding.

"Public transportation is part of the fabric of our community," says Tyler-Watson.

Citizens for Public Transportation is a group formed by STA union officials and nonprofit mass transit advocates, and includes among its leading members former city council members Dean Lynch and Phyllis Holmes. The group has about $10,000 in the bank, according to Tyler-Watson, and will try to raise more money to wage its campaign.

Mount Spokane Road Surgery - SPOKANE -- Summertime: The perfect time to fix a road that throws winter drivers. That's why the Mount Spokane summit road is closed above the Bear Creek Lodge, sending some hopeful picnickers on an unexpected hike.

Workers contracted by the state are tearing up, straightening and repaving half the road between June and October, says Steve Christensen, park manager for Mount Spokane State Park. That's 1.75 miles.

"We've put way too many patches on it," says Christensen. "It keeps buckling and giving us trouble."

People can still hike on and around Mount Spokane but must park their vehicles below the park entrance because of the road closure.

The $1.5 million road project -- expected to be followed by a project completing the road repair next year -- is necessary because drivers leaving the ski lodge atop the mountain often find trouble while motoring down the curvy road, says Christensen. This winter, about 200 vehicles slid off the road, and there were three head-on collisions and three rollovers, according to Christensen.

When workers complete the project, drivers will see "it's an entirely new road," he says. "The worst corners where we had all the accidents are getting taken out."
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