by Cara Gardner and Pia K. Hansen

Burning Questions -- SANDPOINT - Safe Air For Everyone (SAFE), a Sandpoint citizens' group, has received the 2003 Max Dalton Open Government Award for outspoken advocacy in the use of Idaho's public records and open meetings law. The award, which comes with a cash prize of $1,000, was presented to members of SAFE at a June 21 ceremony.

"My group has been working very hard to hold the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Environmental Quality accountable for the injuries people have endured from grass burning," says Patti Gora, executive director for SAFE.

SAFE uncovers illegal burning practices and advocates alternatives to burning.

"Last year, the DA was charged with the duty to investigate illegal burning," Gora explains. "We know that in September 2002, the manager in charge of that investigation simply walked off the job and the burning increased, creating a terrible hazard to residents of Boundary County and Creston, B.C."

Gora says SAFE requested public records from the DA.

"We found [the DA] knew that illegal burning had been going on and had done nothing about it," she says.

But Julie Pipal, spokesperson for the DA, says it's not that simple.

"We did not receive authority to assess a penalty until the 2003 legislative session," Pipal explains. "We didn't have enough information about those reports of illegal burning to follow through."

Pipal says now the DA is training people to investigate claims of illegal burning.

"The DA has a duty to run a smoke management program and that's what we're going to do. What the legislature has told us to do we will do," says Pipal.

Risk Management -- SPOKANE - Nobody likes tests, especially this one: The ninth annual National HIV Testing Day is tomorrow, June 27. "Take the Test, Take Control" is sponsored by the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA). The organization says almost a quarter of a million Americans who are infected with the HIV virus don't know it.

"The disease is primarily spread through those who are HIV-positive but don't know it," says Kim Thorburn, health officer for the Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD).

Between 750 and 1,250 people in Spokane County are estimated to have HIV or AIDS; nine cases have been identified since the beginning of 2003.

SRHD will participate in National HIV Testing Day by offering free and anonymous HIV screening for the public through a phone bank running from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.

Christopher Zilar, HIV prevention specialist for SRHD, says anyone with questions about the disease or testing for it should call.

"We are able to get a very good risk history and make an assessment on whether we would encourage them to get tested," Zilar says.

Many area physicians' offices offer HIV testing, but the only two places that provide anonymous HIV testing are the SRHD and Planned Parenthood.

The anonymous and free phone number for HIV screening is 324-1542 or (800) 456-3236.

Brown to Green -- SPOKANE -- The city has just received a portion of what will eventually be a $3 million grant for cleaning up and developing the so-called brownfield properties (vacated and often polluted business sites) within the city limits.

The Washington State Office of Trade and Economic Development has obtained the funding through the Environmental Protection Agency. Spokane will have to share the funds with King County, Seattle and Tacoma, and some of the money will also be available to rural communities across the state.

The city has already received a total of $1 million, $200,000 of which is designated for a pilot assessment program which will be launched in the four mixed-use centers and corridors areas that were determined by the growth management plan.

Cleaning up brownfields allows for new development to take place within the city limits, instead of encouraging sprawl on the outskirts of town.

"These new funds will allow us to expand our program and clean up properties that were not covered under previous years' grants," said Mayor John Powers in a statement announcing the latest grant. "We have a tremendous opportunity now to return drug lab sites to residential use." Sites contaminated by leaking petroleum and gas tanks can be cleaned up as well.

Publication date: 06/26/03

Black History Celebration @ Central Library

Sat., Feb. 11, 4-6 p.m.
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