by Pia K. Hanesn and Cara Gardner

Get on the Bus -- SPOKANE -- Members of the Spokane Alliance are riding the bus this week, not because they can't drive but because they want to spread the word about what the bus system means to the people who use it every day.

"We have about 50 people who have been trained to go on buses and talk to people about what kind of impact the STA cuts would have if they were to go into effect," says Wim Mauldin, staff organizer with the Spokane Alliance, an organization that works to build stronger relationships among religious institutions, labor, education and other nonprofit organizations. "The STA were proposing a 38 percent cutback, but last Wednesday they proposed a 0.3 percent sales tax increase instead."

That sales tax increase is on the ballot on May 18, and even if it's a step in the right direction, Mauldin says it's not what his organization hoped for.

"We were hoping for 0.3 percent sales tax, but they have also put a sunset clause on it in 2008," says Mauldin. "We were hoping [the STA board] would focus more on long-term commitments, like making the board more transparent and televise the meetings."

Being more open about decision-making would hold the STA more accountable, he says.

"The Alliance believes we should create accountability, not just punish the riders," says Mauldin. "If we don't take a long-term approach, I'm not sure what they think will happen after 2008? The problem would just go away?"

Mauldin says the Alliance people who ride the bus will share the bus riders' stories with their own organizations.

"Several of the people who go out on the buses don't ride the buses every day, so hopefully they'll take the stories from the riders back to their institutions," says Mauldin.

Action Taken -- SPOKANE -- The before- and after-school care program at East Central Community Center is taking big steps toward rectifying several problems that, if left unresolved, could lead to the center losing its state license.

The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) cracked down on the center two weeks ago because of a number of compliance and licensing issues, including one incident where a toddler was left alone in a van for 42 minutes.

"We have talked to parents and children, and they want to see the program continue," says Mayor Jim West. "As a result, we are collaborating with parents to resolve the issues raised by DSHS."

Among the changes being made are the implementation of a more efficient system of monitoring on-site compliance and employee certification and the creation of a Parent Advisory Committee. The advisory committee already has 19 volunteer parent members. A checklist and reminder system which will identify employees who are due to update their CPR and First Aid certification has also been put in place.

"We believe that all the families that use our center should be able to rely on the childcare services we provide and that they will not be interrupted," says Diane Jackson, East Central Community Center director. "Our parents are entitled to a program like ours that emphasizes child safety and well-being."

Cleaner Than Before -- POCATELLO, Idaho - A major cleanup project at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) has been completed. Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne announced on Tuesday that more than 450 barrels of waste and soil containing more than 100 nanocuries of transuranics (plutonium and radioactive elements) have been cleared from Pit 9, an acre inside INEEL's 97-acre landfill.

Although an important step, it's just the tip of the pollution pile. INEEL is an 890-square-mile government reservation established in 1949 as the National Reactor Testing Station. Now run by the Betchel Corporation, INEEL irradiates materials for the Navy.

"This is a significant step forward in cleaning up the INEEL and protecting the Snake River Plain Aquifer," Kempthorne said in a press release.

The State of Idaho, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) say larger-scale cleanups at INEEL will begin within the year.

The $80 million cleanup is a step forward for INEEL, which is being considered as the site for a $1 billion nuclear reactor written into President Bush's energy bill.

Publication date: 03/04/04

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