What’s news in the Northwest today:
SEATTLE — Marijuana activists are again trying to legalize the drug in Washington state through a ballot measure. Douglas Hiatt, an attorney who works with a group called Sensible Washington, says it will file an initiative this afternoon that would remove all state criminal and civil penalties for the possession use and sale of marijuana in any quantity. The group tried to get a similar initiative on the ballot last year but fell about 50,000 signatures short. That proposal was criticized for not including a state regulatory system overseeing the marijuana industry. This time, the initiative would direct the state Legislature to develop such regulations, including possibly taxing marijuana sales. State Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson of Seattle has introduced a bill in the Legislature that would allow the sale of marijuana in state liquor stores.
Yellowstone bison may be fed to keep them in place
BOZEMAN — Montana wildlife officials are considering feeding two dozen wild bison to keep them from wandering off a newly designated grazing area on the Gallatin National Forest. Mel Frost with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks says state law allows for supplemental feeding of the animals for “disease control purposes.” The Yellowstone National Park bison were relocated to 2,500 acres north of the park last week under a pilot program to expand bison habitat. Because of fears over a disease carried by bison, one of the animals was shot by state livestock agents Monday when it wandered onto private property. Officials had tried unsuccessfully to haze the animal back onto public land. They say feeding the remaining bison might keep them in place.
Public comments sought on carbon dioxide permit
SPOKANE — The state Department of Ecology is accepting public comments on a proposed permit to inject carbon dioxide into basalt rock to study the potential for underground storage. The project will test the suitability of Columbia River basalt rock to permanently store the gas and prevent it from being released into the atmosphere. The study requires a solid waste discharge permit. Columbus, Ohio-based Battelle will conduct the study later this year. Battelle operates the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland. The permit would allow up to 1,100 tons of food-grade carbon dioxide to be injected on Boise Inc. property 20 miles southeast of Pasco. Comments must be submitted by Feb. 15.
Study ties pine beetle to severe Wash. wildfires
YAKIMA — A new study mapping the mountain pine beetle outbreak in north-central Washington shows that infested areas were more likely to experience larger, more destructive forest fires. The study, which was a collaboration between NASA and the U.S. Forest Service, aimed to detect bark beetle infestations and to evaluate the link between them and forest fires in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Satellite data showed regions of the forest experiencing water and vegetation stress, and analysis tied these regions to beetle infestations. Additional review showed highly infested areas that subsequently burned had more intense forest fires than areas without infestations. The forest has experienced severe wildfires in recent years, including the Tripod Fire, which burned on more than 273 square miles.
Former guard sentenced for smuggling cell phone
HELENA — A former Montana State Prison guard has been given a 13-month suspended sentence after pleading no contest to smuggling a cell phone to an inmate. Shannon Davis of Butte was sentenced for felony transfer of an illegal article to an inmate during a hearing Tuesday before District Judge Ray Dayton in Deer Lodge. She was also fined $1,500. Powell County prosecutors allege Davies smuggled a cell phone into the prison in September 2008 and left it in a garbage can where it was retrieved by an inmate. Davies resigned in October 2008. In November 2008, Warden Mike Mahoney told the Associated Press that Davies had acknowledged having a romantic, although nonsexual relationship with inmate Michael Murphy and that she failed to report that Murphy asked her to smuggle a cell phone into the prison.
Big rig to carry photo of missing Oregon boy
PORTLAND — A tractor-trailer rig with a giant picture of Kyron Horman is heading for the road in a renewed effort to find the Oregon boy who vanished from his Portland school last June. The Oregonian reports the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office announced this week that it has partnered with the Washington State Patrol to include the boy in WSP’s Homeward Bound Program. As part of that program, Kyron’s image has been affixed to the side of a truck operated by Gordon Trucking Inc., which runs routes nationwide.
Idaho takes center stage in union contractor fight
BOISE — Idaho state and local governments could be forbidden to require bidders on public works projects to pay their workers pre-determined wages and benefits. A Republican-backed measure that cleared the Senate State Affairs Committee 7-2 today seeks to outlaw so-called “Project Labor Agreements” for state and local public projects. These are collective bargaining agreements with unions that establish employment conditions for individual construction projects. Non-union construction companies argue such deals drive up the cost of projects for taxpayers. Union representatives maintained that Idaho is inviting lawsuits if it tries to interfere. Two committee Democrats opposed it. Testimony on a second bill that takes aim at unions, to forbid them from using dues to subsidize members’ wages, will continue Monday.
250 houses searched in Oregon police shooting
WALDPORT, Ore. — A 25-man SWAT team has searched more than 250 houses in Waldport on the Oregon coast in the manhunt for a 43-year-old Portland man suspected of shooting and critically wounding a Lincoln City police officer. Newport Police Chief Mark Miranda said today morning that 30 percent of the houses his team has searched are vacant. He said some rental or vacation homeowners have called local police to ask them to search the properties for David Anthony Durham. A warrant issued Tuesday for Durham included aggravated attempted murder charges after police say he shot Lincoln City Police Officer Steven Dodds on Sunday night, then sped south until his truck was stopped in Waldport and Durham fled into the woods. Police have allowed residents in the search area to return home.
Feds investigating police vehicle arson attacks
KETCHUM, Idaho — The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is assisting central Idaho authorities in an investigation of arson attacks last month on two unoccupied law enforcement vehicles in Hailey. The federal agency earlier this week also announced it is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of those responsible for damage to a Blaine County Sheriff’s Office Dodge Durango and a marked Ketchum Police Department Chevrolet Suburban. The attacks occurred Dec. 27 and Dec. 28 while the vehicles were parked at the homes of officers, and authorities say neither vehicle was seriously damaged. One vehicle was doused with a petroleum accelerant, and authorities say the other was hit with two fire bombs. Ketchum Police Chief Steve Harkins says the attacks endangered the lives of local police officers and their families.
Boise State looks at year-round calendar
BOISE — Boise State University is considering a year-round academic calendar to help meet the growing demand for college graduates in Idaho as funding for higher education declines. Boise State President Bob Kustra told lawmakers today that it doesn’t make sense to have the campus sit “relatively idle” over the summer given the pressure on Idaho universities to produce more graduates. Kustra says his university is exploring a move to a trimester calendar, which would split the academic year into three semesters instead of two semesters in the spring and fall. The state Board of Education wants to double the number of Idaho adults who have a college degree or credential from a professional-technical school over the next nine years.
Oregon fisherman grateful for Coast Guard rescue
ASTORIA, Ore. — An Oregon crab fisherman says he is very grateful to the Coast Guard for his rescue after his boat was capsized by a wave last month. Eric Petit told the Daily Astorian he was trying to loosen a stuck crab pot when it happened just inside the Willapa bar in Washington state. Petit said he and his dock hand, Luis Perez, were trapped underneath the 32-foot fishing boat, Ella Ann, before they got free. Petit found his cell phone in a pocket and was actually able to call 911 from the water, starting the rescue. A Coast Guard helicopter crew was able to find Petit in time, but not Perez, whose body was recovered a couple of days later.
Idaho panel to consider effort to tax Internet sales
BOISE — Idaho lawmakers will at least debate joining the nationwide effort to tax Internet sales following a 12-6 vote in favor of introducing the measure in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. Today’s vote brings the bill just as far as it made it during the 2010 Legislature, before it died on a deadlocked committee vote. In fact, four similar measures have died in the House since 2007. But the tax committee’s chairman, Republican Rep. Dennis Lake, says he’s convinced the panel’s changed roster this year could give this push a better chance of surviving. Lake is among proponents who say joining the national push to tax Internet sales will help level the playing field for Idaho’s Main Street brick-and-mortar merchants who suffer a 6 percent sales tax handicap, compared with many Internet businesses.
Geothermal lease proposed in south-central Idaho
TWIN FALLS, Idaho — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has announced a potential geothermal lease on 760 acres about 12 miles south of Malta in south-central Idaho. The agency says the possible lease it announced last week is up for public comment until Feb. 25, and it will then decide whether to allow the lease to go through. If the land is approved for lease, it will go up for auction in July. BLM spokeswoman Heather Feeney said an unidentified company began the process to acquire the geothermal lease in 2008, and the company’s name will be revealed if it’s successful. The proposed lease is near a 12-square-mile geothermal area already being developed by U.S. Geothermal.