In Brief

First Night Quite Bright

SPOKANE -- "Oh, my God," the woman -- a First Night organizer elsewhere in Washington -- said under her breath. The soft exclamation was her response to hearing the number of people attending Spokane's inaugural First Night.

Somewhere between 13,000 and 15,000 people -- nearly 4 percent of the metro area's population -- attended the New Year's Eve arts activities downtown, according to the organizers' estimates.

First Night is a 25-year-old tradition started in Boston to celebrate the New Year, the community and the arts in a non-alcoholic setting. Half-a-dozen Northwest cities hold First Nights, from Boise to Tacoma. Spokane's is the newest and, apparently, it was one of the largest.

"We were thrilled," says Kay Lester, chairwoman of nonprofit First Night Spokane. "We were hoping for 10,000." Tacoma organizers estimate their attendance around 15,000 and the Tri-Cities pegs theirs at about 3,600 this year.

First Night Spokane organized 150 or more volunteers for the New Year's Eve celebration. One mark of success is the gathering of several thousand people who stayed for the midnight fireworks, says Lester. "There was a huge crowd. It was still going strong. There were people dancing on the bridge."

There's still much to learn about putting on a First Night, says Lester. Bathrooms, for one, were sometimes scarce, partygoers report, and Lester says people wanted more food options than were available.

There's plenty of time to respond to those kinds of suggestions. Planning for 2002's First Night is already under way.

-- Dan Richardson

Implementing GMA

SPOKANE -- The city's Plan Commission is holding an open house on Wednesday, presenting draft land use regulations resulting from the adoption of the city's new comprehensive plan.

That plan directs future growth mainly to a centers and corridors design, which seeks to incorporate growth in areas where there already is active development.

The Spokane Municipal Code has yet to be updated to correspond with the new comprehensive plan, and the plan commission is currently looking for people interested in participating in that process through the Development Code Task Force. The task force's job is to review the proposed regulations and hold future open houses and public hearings seeking comments on the land use rules. The entire process is expected to take at least a year.

Also on the agenda next week is the introduction of four pilot neighborhood centers and corridors: the area around Ninth and Perry, the area around Broadway and Maple, the area around Holy Family Hospital and the North Market Street corridor. Each area needs to form a stakeholder team, which will then commit to working out a master strategy plan for their specific area together with city planning staff. That process and the final master strategy plans will then serve as examples for the rest of the city's designated neighborhoods.

[The meeting is Wednesday, Jan. 16, from 6-9 pm at the Arena's Champion Room, 720 W. Mallon. 625-6967]

-- Pia K. Hansen

Clearwater No Longer

KOOSKIA, Idaho -- When a tanker truck rolled over on Highway 12 early Sunday morning, spilling into Idaho's Clearwater River most of the 10,000 gallons of agricultural diesel fuel it was hauling, the accident was an all-too-common commercial accident the Idaho State Police has been trying to stop for months.

It was also an accident that should make authorities question leaving the winding mountain highway open to commercial truck traffic, contends one environmental activist.

"We need to ask the bigger questions," says Gary Macfarlane, of the Friends of the Clearwater. "Should we be shipping diesel across this route?"

Highway 12 plunges down from Lolo Pass, on the Idaho-Montana border, to Lewiston. So many commercial truckers were crashing there -- 28 smashed their rigs on the highway's curves in one recent six-month period alone -- that Idaho State Police began emphasis patrols along the corridor last summer.

The spill near Kooskia was a big one for the Clearwater. It was the largest in at least 15 years, according to Lt. Col. Tim Marsano of Idaho's Military Division, the agency that runs the state's National Guard, hazardous waste and disaster services bureaus.

The floating diesel polluted water for four downstream communities, including Lewiston. As of press time, the best authorities could say was for residents in those areas not to drink that water until further notice.

-- Dan Richardson