Today, Bridgeport High School celebrates a century of graduations. Since September, the school has reached out to alumni to include in various events, from homecoming to a barbecue and today’s commencement ceremony, scheduled for 1 p.m. at the high school, 1220 Kryger Ave.June 1, 2014 midnight read more..
Two Tacoma men injured early Saturday morning in a two-vehicle crashMay 27, 2014 4:03 p.m. read more..
Elizabeth Kinkade, 37, is facing charges of five counts of sexual misconduct with a Tonasket High School studentMay 22, 2014 4:12 p.m. read more..
Three Rivers Hospital officially has a new administrator. Hospital commissioners unanimously approved a resolution, 3-0, to hire embattled J. Scott Graham as the new CEO during Monday’s board meeting at a salary of $180,000 per year, plus benefits.May 14, 2014 midnight read more..
Area residents will have an opportunity Monday to hear more information about a Canadian company’s proposal to drill for copper in the Flagg Mountain area north of town. The meeting will be at 7 p.m. in the Winthrop Barn, 51 state Highway 20. A public comment period is open until Saturday.May 14, 2014 midnight read more..
After more than 20 years of waiting due to a dispute over a paperwork snafu that resulted in a lawsuit settlement, the city will finally receive new water rights that could pave the way for development. City officials are poised to sign a 25-year contract Wednesday morning with the state Department of Ecology that will take the city from about 500 acre-feet of water per year to 1,100 acre-feet. “This additional water is taking care of a very limiting factor as far as potential growth, both residential and commercial,” Mayor Marilynn Lynn said. “The new water right also allows the rotation of water in all three city wells to provide increased service to our community. Together with our new wastewater treatment plant, the city of Bridgeport can now accommodate 165 new homes or equivalent businesses.” Under the new contract, the city will purchase the water at $60 per acre-foot from Sullivan Lake. The other option was to lease water rights from Lake Roosevelt. Buying the water outright means the city is locked into a fixed rate for the next 25 years, Lynn said. That allows the city to budget more accurately each year. The first payment to Ecology will be made in November. Issues over water rights in Bridgeport began when the Legislature passed the Claims Registration Act in 1967 to document water rights. The city fell out of compliance and submitted a new permit application instead of a specific form the state required. As a result, the city’s water rights were limited to 500 acre-feet per year. In May 2010, the city filed a lawsuit against Ecology in Douglas County Superior Court. A year later, the city agreed to drop its lawsuit by the end of 2014 if Ecology issued new water rights. Ecology Director Maia Bellon said the region has struggled to access new water on a river that must balance the needs of hydropower, irrigation and protecting endangered salmon. “It’s so nice to be here to deliver on a promise that secures Bridgeport’s future for many years to come,” she said. “We want to thank the city for its patience and legislators like Sen. (Linda) Parlette who are helping us make water available up and down the Columbia River – from farmers in the Odessa area to cities in north central Washington.” Because of fish mitigation needs, Ecology was unable to grant new water rights to towns along the Columbia River for a number of years. A moratorium was placed on new water rights in the early 1990s, around the time Brewster filed its own application for more water, Ecology spokeswoman Joye Redfield-Wilder said. The moratorium was lifted around 1998, but a new state rule required that all new withdrawals be approved after consultations with all interested parties, including state and federal agencies and tribal government.April 30, 2014 midnight read more..
While local voters continue to support emergency medical services in Tuesday’s special election, other measures such as a school bond request and a proposed recreation district are failing. As of Friday’s second round of ballot counts, the Douglas Okanogan County Fire District No. 15 EMS levy was passing, 76 percent to 23 percent among 614 rural residents of the two-counties. The levy is a six-year continuation of the current levy, an amount of 47 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. Brewster and Pateros residents are also passing matching levy requests for District No. 15 EMS that will be funneled through each city. In Brewster, 175 residents cast their ballots as of Friday, with 77 percent in favor and about 22 percent against. Ninety-two Pateros voters are passing it 79-21 percent. “I’m very, very grateful for all of the support to keep us going and keep us here for another six years,” EMS Director Tonya Vallance said. In Ferry County, rural residents of EMS District No. 1 are passing a medical care and ambulance services levy, with about 83 percent voting yes. Republic voters are approving a city version of the same levy request, with 73 percent voting yes. If approved, the levy would cost 47 cents per year per $1,000 of assessed property valuation over a six-year period. A three-year general fund levy of $18,325 for the Keller School District is also passing, about 73 percent to 27 percent. Ninety-six votes had been cast as of Tuesday. If approved, the levy, about $1 per $1,000, would be collected starting next year. Meanwhile, Bridgeport School District’s proposed $3.9 million bond issue to reconstruct part of the elementary school is failing for a second time, 53 percent to 47 percent. The measure needs a supermajority of 60 percent to pass. A similar bond issue was rejected in February despite also having more than 50 percent support. “Bridgeport School District will continue to provide a quality education for kids,” Superintendent Scott Sattler said. “We will have to get a bit creative to provide a positive and healthy learning space for kids and staff, but we are making plans to make that happen. Of course it is disappointing the bond failed, but we have to respect the vote and move forward in a positive manner.” The 20-year bond would have cost property owners about $1.84 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. With help from the state, the school district would have used the bond proceeds to remove temporary portable buildings added to the elementary school, built in the 1970s, and rebuild that portion of the school with 16 classrooms, kitchen improvements, an updated playground and a computer lab, multi-purpose room and music room. In the Methow Valley, residents have overwhelmingly turned down a proposition to create a new recreation district. As of Friday, 80 percent of voters opposed forming the Methow Valley Recreation District, which would have been a junior taxing district sharing boundaries with the school district. Julie Muyllaert, one of the candidates running to serve on the board of directors if the recreation district was approved, said she was disappointed by the results but understood that residents had a number of concerns. “I heard from a lot of people that they support the idea of funding recreation in the Methow Valley, but were uncomfortable with the district structure prescribed by the specific state law and that they would have felt more comfortable voting for a specific plan with a budget,” she said. Part of the purpose of creating the recreation district was to allow for more local control in creating new recreational opportunities while finding ways to help fund existing, popular facilities, such as Wagner Memorial Pool in Twisp and the Winthrop Ice and Sports Rink. As a junior taxing district, the recreation district could have collected up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value starting in 2015. Voters were also asked to select five at-large commissioners to serve in case the proposition passed. The frontrunners as of Tuesday were Don Fitzpatrick for Position 1, Christine Holm for Position 2, Steven Stacy for Position 3, Bart Bradshaw for Position 4 and Paula Stokes for Position 5. Okanogan County voter turnout was nearly 44 percent as of Tuesday, with 2,451 ballots counted and about 383 left to count. Douglas County reported more than 54 percent voter turnout, with 460 ballots counted and about 10 remaining. Ferry County is seeing a nearly 49 percent turnout so far, with 1,112 ballots counted and an estimated 25 left. Special election results will be certified May 6.April 27, 2014 midnight read more..
Exploring the area around Enloe Dam and Similkameen Falls, it’s easy to see why it draws in people who love the outdoors. Roads leading from the highway are primitive and tend to flood in a few spots during especially rainy seasons, but there are numerous walking trails surrounding the falls and opportunities for bird watching, not to mention checking out the historic dam and powerhouse built more than 90 years ago. The dam hasn’t generated power since 1958, when the Okanogan County Public Utility District opted to shut it down and buy power more cheaply from Bonneville Power Administration. The powerhouse is dilapidated, the bridge that connected it to the other side of the river long gone. Since then, there have been countless discussions and a few attempts to get a powerhouse up and running again. After a five-year application process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the utility secures a 50-year license in July 2013 to generate electricity. Previous licenses were granted in 1983 and 1996, but were rescinded because there were no studies done on the impacts to anadromous fish. Although commissioners still haven’t decided whether to restore the dam or breach it, and water issues are still caught up in litigation, the utility is moving forward with meeting FERC license deadlines. Under terms of the license, if the commissioners decide to go ahead and operate the dam – a project that carries a roughly estimated cost of about $35 million – construction must begin by July 2015 and be completed three years later. The project includes plans for two penstocks, a substation, a new powerhouse and tailrace, an intake channel, a bypass reach and five-foot crest gates to boost generation. But the scope of the license involves more than just the dam, according to utility Regulatory and Environmental Affairs Director Dan Boettger. It also includes guidelines and requirements for fish mitigation, recreation and water quality, among other things. One challenge the utility will have to address, he said, is the temperature of the Similkameen River, which can sometimes be fatally high for fish. Because the nearby Okanogan River is even warmer, the Similkameen is a “cold water refuge” for fish, including endangered steelhead, trying to make their way upstream, Boettger said. Utility employees have discovered small pockets of cold water welling up into the stream beds, where fish like to congregate to survive the hotter summer months before moving on, but more work is required. One major project will involve drilling a well to pump cold water into the stream bed. “All of the fish agencies are actually very excited to see this thing get done,” Boettger said. “The lower Similkameen is important habitat for salmonid.” Another required project is bringing in more gravel to help fish safely spawn and house their eggs. Above the dam itself, the utility would install an intake channel with a wide opening that narrows as it descends into the penstocks and new powerhouse planned on the southeast side of the dam. Part of the reason for the wider channel opening, Boettger said, is to slow down the water flow and give fish a chance to turn around and swim back up the reservoir. In addition, the intake won’t need to be as deep, meaning less sediment disruption. Such measures are part of what he referred to as “P, M and E” – prevention, mitigation and enhancement. “We’re trying to avoid fish impacts,” he said. More recreation spots, including a park, small campground and boat launch, are planned for the wooded area northeast of the dam and at Miners Flat. The projects come at the request of the Bureau of Land Management, which owns the land where Enloe Dam sits, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Those projects, however, may be the opposite of what people who use the area want. Boettger said the utility has surveyed people during peak recreation times. “They wanted us to maintain it as you see it today,” he said. “We have tried to honor that, but we’ve gotten some pressure from agencies that want more recreational amenities.” A recreation plan is due in July, as are some other tasks. “We’re currently meeting all of the dates that FERC assigned to us,” he said. Boettger estimates the dam would become economical in about 20 years. It would generate a maximum of 9 megawatts between two 4.5-megawatt generators, which could provide electricity to about 3,500 homes. As for the old powerhouse, Boettger said the utility initially wanted to rebuild it and use it, but can’t. Instead, the plan is to advertise it for sale over a five-year period. If no buyers come forward, it will be removed. “We’re trying to come up with ways to make everyone happy,” he said. A number of ratepayers believe the project isn’t a financially wise move and have asked the utility to remove the dam altogether. However, Boettger said there’s a chance for the utility to recoup some of its investment if the dam is operational, whereas spending a similar amount of money to remove it would be a total loss. Jere Gillespie with the Columbia River Bioregional Education Project, which issued a study pointing out the economic problems surrounding the dam, said a proposal to remove Enloe has been created. “The draft proposal has been submitted to PUD management, and contains an outline of other dams removed in the Northwest recently, the costs of those removals, and other such details,” she said, noting the document has not been made public yet. “Then the removal of Enloe itself is considered, and a timeline of objectives is offered. Also, potential funding sources are outlined and partners are identified.” In February, the Hydropower Reform Coalition was invited along with several agencies to take part in a discussion about the possibility of removing the dam. Representatives from the Bonneville Power Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management all said they would support removing the dam if the utility chooses to go that route, but no one was able to contribute funding to accomplish it. The Colville Confederated Tribes spoke in favor of reopening the dam. The tribe and utility signed a memorandum of understanding in 2009 that would allow the tribe to purchase, at cost, up to 49 percent of the power generated. As a public entity, the utility cannot sell power for profit. Meanwhile, Boettger said there’s still a legal issue ongoing regarding cubic feet per second going over the dam. The utility does not comment on pending litigation. Some legal battles have been settled over the past year. In January, American Whitewater dropped its appeal in federal court that claimed FERC didn’t consider the impacts of the minimum required flow of the falls. The appeal was dropped in an effort to open communication with the utility. The state Pollution Control Hearings Board issued an order July 23, 2013, requiring the state Department of Ecology and the utility to conduct an aesthetic flow study within the next three years, then amend the minimum required flow if necessary. Advocacy groups argue 10-30 cubic feet per second (cfs) isn’t enough flow, and that the permit failed to comply with the Clean Water Act. Since then, the utility has secured a Clean Water Act permit, Boettger said. To obtain the full 9 megawatts, the utility has a water right of 1,000 cfs, but an additional 600 cfs is needed. He said the dam could be created for a smaller amount of production that would use less water, but that may prevent the dam from becoming solvent.April 27, 2014 midnight read more..
After signing a new union contract earlier this month, Okanogan County Public Utility District commissioners have opted not to approve new salary ranges for non-union employees this year. Utility commissioners considered a resolution Monday that would have changed the potential range of salaries within the employee compensation program based on the current market value of those jobs. The new contract with Local 77 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, approved April 7, carries with it a $185,000 budget adjustment, but the resolution proposed Monday would not have resulted in immediate raises for those non-union positions. “Underscore, it does not equate to wage increases to individual employees,” General Manager John Grubich said at the start of the discussion. Raises are based on performance evaluations and merit, Grubich said, noting that the review is typically done every year to ensure the utility is up to date and doesn’t suffer “sticker shock” when industry salaries increase. “As we evaluate each individual employee and their contribution to the organization, we also take a look and say, what is the market telling us that position is?” he said. Commissioner Ernest Bolz moved to approve the resolution with the caveat that the employee compensation program should be reviewed every other year in the future, rather than annually to save on consulting fees. His motion died for lack of a second. “I like every other year, but I just don’t feel this year is the year to be doing it,” Commissioner David Womack said, adding that the lower end of the salary ranges has been going up every year. The resolution outlined salary ranges for 31 positions, from technicians, engineers and assistants to finance department employees, several managers and three directors – in accounting, engineering and power resources. There are 45 non-union employees and 47 who belong to a collective bargaining unit, Grubich said in an interview. Proposed salaries ranged from a minimum of $38,692 and a maximum of $55,805 for a Grade 7 employee, to a minimum $117,417 and a maximum $180,218 for a Grade 20 director, according to the draft resolution. After reviewing salary ranges over the past three years, Bolz said, “My concern is, looking at that, only one of those – and that was for the Grade 20 – came anywhere within the range for the union steps over the same period, and the others exceeded that considerably. “I’m wondering if we’re pushing up the bottom of the ranges faster than we need to for the economy and for what labor contracts have been negotiated, etc.” “I’m surprised that those outweigh the union contracts because the last six years, linemen had been averaging 3 percent a year, and … the market tends to go up and down,” Grubich said. “If one of those employees gets hired away, they get a big pay raise to go to work for somebody else.” He used the utility’s recent search for a new engineer as an example – a position that drew candidates who were paid above the proposed mid-point salary being considered, Grubich said. “There’s little use in trying to attract someone like that if we’re not going to pay that type of wage,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s the Pacific Northwest market, it’s not the Okanogan County market. That’s the utility industry.” “I see your point about an engineer; you’re competing in the Northwest market,” board Chairman Steve Houston said, noting that the proposed salary ranges for some lower-paid positions were about 15 percent higher than in 2011. “But grades 7-14, or even 7-10 – that’s a local market, and I don’t think any of my ratepayers that I’ve talked to have seen even double digits in that same time frame, let alone 18, 17, 16 percent.” Grubich said utility employees have not seen double-digit wage increases over that time. Houston also spoke out during the April 7 meeting against approving the budget adjustment for unionized employees’ compensation increases. According to the meeting minutes, Houston said, “at this time … he would rather find the funding somewhere else in the budget over the next few months, even if it is taken from the capital improvements.” On the other hand, Womack and Bolz said they understood during the budget process late last year that wage increases were not included, so an amendment would be needed once a union agreement was reached. They voted in favor of the agreement, while Houston voted against it. The previous agreement expired March 31, and the new one is in effect through March 31, 2017.April 27, 2014 midnight read more..
Local voters are overwhelmingly turning down a proposition to create a Methow Valley Recreation District, according to Tuesday’s preliminary results for the special election.April 24, 2014 3:04 p.m. read more..
The Brewster City Council has scheduled a public hearing Friday to consider comments on a $35,000 federal grant and loan to purchase a new police car.April 23, 2014 6 a.m. read more..
Preliminary special election tally shows voter overwhelmingly rejecting a ballot measure to create a Methow Valley Recreation DistrictApril 23, 2014 midnight read more..