by Pia K. Hansen

Funding Autism Care -- SPOKANE -- The Northwest Autism Center (NAC) is getting closer and closer to becoming a reality. At a luncheon earlier this week, the NAC announced plans to open in January 2004.

"The Autism Task Force has met regularly, and the consensus is that we needed a center with inclusive services," says Dawn Sidell, executive director of NAC. "We needed a board and nonprofit status. All of that has worked out, but we don't have a location yet."

Sidell, whose son has autism, says that for now NAC is going to focus on distributing information.

"We were offered office space in town, but people won't come to an office to get the information. I will have to take it to them at the schools or the daycare centers," says Sidell, adding that not having to pay rent leaves more of a budget to produce educational material.

NAC continues to raise funds, having totaled about $30,000, including a $7,000 CATCH grant from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"That's a grant specifically to be spent on the planning process on a project that a pediatrician is involved in," says Sidell, who wrote the grant application together with Dr. Peter Holden.

Sidell is not too worried about the lack of a specific office or building -- yet.

"Eventually we envision a space that will have capacity for about a dozen students, ages from birth through age 5, and four or five offices and an auditorium for continuous education," says Sidell. "Accessibility is a big deal, because the kids would come on a daily basis. For now, we are looking for a large sum of money that can sustain us for a couple of years while we work on getting the project off the ground."

Reaching parents with newly diagnosed children is NAC's top priority.

"We are trying to work out a way to get the information to the parents. They often don't get anything," says Sidell. "We'd like to see a package that the parents can be hooked up with when their children are diagnosed."

For autism information or to get involved with NAC, call 467-8760.

Cleanup Almost Complete -- SPOKANE VALLEY -- The former Chevron Bulk Plant on East Olive Avenue may finally be removed from the state's list of contaminated sites.

The Department of Ecology has concluded that the site is cleaned up to a point where it's no longer a health risk to humans. To finalize the cleanup and get the plant off the contaminated site list, Ecology is now opening all files and documents, test results and cleanup reports for public review.

"People can submit written letters of testimony after reviewing the files," says Johnnie Landis of Ecology's Spokane office. "This is like a public hearing period. It's open until December 29. All people need to do is call in and make an appointment with me."

The cleanup project began after the plant closed in 1985, when contractors discovered that petroleum products had leaked out into the soil. The plant was used to store and load petroleum products on and off railcars. Tanks on the site contained gasoline, aviation fuel, diesel, asphalt and various solvents and oils.

In 1989-90, about 5,600 cubic yards of contaminated soil were dug up and removed from the site. Ecology will review all written comments and prepare answers as it determines how to classify the site.

Call 329-3415 to review the files.

Smaller Increase to L & amp; I -- SPOKANE -- On Monday, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L & amp; I) announced that annual workers' compensation increases, beginning in 2004, would be limited to 9.4 percent, not the 19.4 percent as was first planned.

Workers' compensation is charged to all Washington businesses with at least one employee. Since L & amp; I announced in September that it wanted a 19.4 percent increase, thousands have testified at hearings across the state, saying that such a large increase is not only unjustified and unaffordable, but that it would cost jobs.

"While we are disappointed that the rates are increasing at all, we are proud that so many small-business owners across the state rose to the challenge and forced [L & amp; I] to reduce its proposal," says Carolyn Logue, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) in a statement. "The next session of the legislature must make workers compensation reform its top priority if our state wants to produce jobs."

Publication date: 12/04/03

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