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NW today: Megaloads foes abandon legal fight

What’s news in the Northwest today:

LEWISTON – The opposition to megaloads Thursday abandoned its legal fight to prevent ConocoPhillips from shipping four megaloads on U.S. Highway 12 to a Billings, Mont., refinery. The development means that nothing other than bad weather or mechanical difficulties could likely delay the departure of the first megaload from the Port of Lewiston at 10 p.m. Tuesday, said John Roper, a spokesman for ConocoPhillips in Houston. The Idaho Transportation Department issued permits last week granting permission for two ConocoPhillips megaloads. The company has since also received clearance from the state of Montana, Roper said. The attention of the megaload opponents is now shifting to the 207 megaloads ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil wants to haul to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada, and any others that might follow, according to a news release issued Thursday by Karen Hendrickson and Linwood Laughy. The two are a married couple who organized efforts to stop the plans of the oil companies, and they live next to U.S. 12.

Wolves kill cow north of Eagle, Idaho

BOISE — Idaho Wildlife Services officials say wolves killed a cow north of Boise, and the predators will be killed if they can be located. Acting IWS state director Todd Grimm tells the Idaho Statesman the full-grown cow appeared to have been taken down by two wolves, one in the front and one in the back. Spring Valley Ranch manager Jerry Thompson found the carcass Tuesday morning about five miles north of Eagle. He said he thinks the wolves were spooked before they ate too much. Grimm said he believes the wolves were following the wintering deer and elk when they encountered the cow.

Lawmaker wants to merge some Washington counties

OLYMPIA — A Washington state legislator has proposed a law that would allow counties to merge to make them financially stronger. Rep. Glenn Anderson of Fall City told the Seattle Times that when more counties are self-sufficient, the overall state economy would improve. The bill would allow the Legislature to dissolve and reorganize counties that receive at least twice as much in state funds as they generate in tax revenue. That would currently apply to Adams, Asotin, Ferry, Stevens, Lincoln, Garfield, Yakima and Wahkiakum counties.

Barge grounded in Columbia River starts leaking oil

VANCOUVER, Wash. – A grounded barge sent a 15-mile-long sheen of oil drifting down the Columbia River early Thursday, just three days after the U.S. Coast Guard assumed the hazard had been removed. The vessel’s owner had been ordered to remove onboard oil and garbage after the vessel broke its mooring and went aground Jan. 20. The condition of the 431-foot-long barge Davy Crockett, beached and broken on the north bank of the river between Vancouver and Camas, has deteriorated since the converted Liberty ship went aground a week ago. The stern and the bow now form a ’V’ sticking out of the water with much of the midsection of the ship swamped by river water. State and federal authorities were trying to assess the threat as dusk fell on Thursday. “We’re trying to figure out how much oil is on it,” said Curt Piesch, a spill response specialist for the state Department of Ecology. “There could be a lot of oil on it.”

Idaho energy rebate could be victim of own success

BOISE — Wind developers pushing to extend a big tax break suffered a blow because state officials say the success of the program so far is undermining efforts to balance Idaho’s budget. Back in 2005, when alternative energy developers got the 6 percent sales tax rebate, lawmakers estimated it would cost Idaho just $2.13 million annually. But with massive wind projects now going up, Idaho now estimates it will hand over rebates of $47 million over the next two years. That’s helped open a gaping $185 million hole in the budget. House Majority Caucus Leader Ken Roberts isn’t sure if the rebate’s success has sounded the death knell for an extension but says it faces a difficult fight. Democratic Rep. Wendy Jaquet is torn: She thinks the rebate helped spur clean energy, but it may come at the expense of education funding.

Lane County pays $20,000 to settle lawsuit

SALEM, Ore. — Lane County has paid $20,000 to settle a lawsuit accusing a sheriff’s deputy of coercing an 11-year-old Creswell boy to falsely confess to shooting a neighbor’s dog. Acting Lane County Administrator Liane Richardson said the county settled because it would have cost more to defend the case in court. The (Eugene, Ore.) Register-Guard reports the school district settled its share of the case last month for $10,000 plus $12,000 in attorney fees. Neither the county nor the school district admitted employees did anything wrong. A sheriff’s deputy, school principal and security officer questioned the Levi Dunn in 2008 until he falsely confessed to the shooting. The Lane County district attorney’s office dropped an animal abuse charge after tests showed the pellet gun he allegedly used could not have killed the dog.

Teachers still in demand despite proposed cutbacks

BOISE — Education leaders and state officials say job opportunities for teachers in Idaho are relatively good and will likely continue to be that way based on projections. Officials say a growing state population that includes young families combined with retirement of baby boom generation teachers will offset proposed state budget cuts that include eliminating about 770 teacher jobs, mainly through attrition. The state Department of Labor tells the Idaho Business Review that 10-year projections show teaching jobs are likely to grow by 20 percent, compared to 15 percent for all occupations. Ken Coll is associate dean of teacher education and accreditation at Boise State University. He said areas that are short of teachers are math and science, special education, bilingual education and early childhood studies.

WSU regents vote today on new Richland lab

RICHLAND, Wash. – A new research facility might sprout in Richland this fall if several decision makers approve the project in the next few weeks. The first decision is due this morning. The Washington State University Board of Regents plans to vote on a proposal by WSU Tri-Cities to enter a partnership with the Hanford contractor EnergySolutions for construction of a 13,000-square-foot lab across from the campus. If the board approves, WSU would allow EnergySolutions to build a $2.5 million testing facility on about seven acres of university land on the southwest corner of George Washington Way and University Drive, said Dick Pratt, WSU Tri-Cities vice chancellor. The company would not buy the land from WSU and the university would not pay any costs for the construction or utility hookups. Once the facility is built, EnergySolutions would donate it to WSU and then lease it from the university for 18 months for $15, Pratt said.

Jailed Kennewick firefighter dies after hanging

RICHLAND – A Kennewick firefighter who hanged himself in jail last week died Thursday morning, officials said. Ryan Gladstone, 34, had been at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland since Jan. 18, after he was found hanging by bedsheets inside his cell at the Franklin County jail. Benton County Coroner John Hansens said that he received a call about 9:30 a.m. from hospital staff, who said Gladstone had died. An autopsy is being scheduled. Gladstone joined the Kennewick Fire Department in 2007 and was a good employee and excellent firefighter, said Fire Chief Neil Hines. He was being held in a single-occupancy cell in protective custody in Franklin County because he previously worked as a corrections officer in the Benton County jail.

Second-fewest traffic fatalities in 2010 in Portland

PORTLAND — Twenty-six people were killed in traffic fatalities in 2010 in Portland, the second-lowest number on record, after the 20 deaths in 2008. Police and City Hall officials told The Oregonian the numbers show a downward trend as a result of safety initiatives. But the number of pedestrian traffic deaths is climbing. There were 15 pedestrians killed in 2010, compared with 11 in 2009 and five in 2008. The city is holding a Transportation Safety Summit on Feb. 8 at Marshall High School.

Clark Fork woman enters plea in shooting death

SANDPOINT — A 45-year-old Clark Fork woman has entered an Alford plea to a charge of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of her boyfriend during an argument in a recreational vehicle north of Priest River last fall. Under an Alford plea, Lorraine Kathryn Kenitzki admits no wrongdoing, but acknowledges there is enough evidence for the state to win a conviction. The Bonner County Daily Bee reports Kenitzki faces up to 15 years in prison when 1st District Judge Justin Julian sentences her on March 24. Kenitzki was originally charged with involuntary manslaughter for shooting 41-year-old Erik David Foust on Oct. 6. The original complaint alleged she negligently handled a 9-millimeter pistol. The amended complaint alleges she shot Foust in the chest during an argument.

Man accused of molesting on Olympia school bus

OLYMPIA — A man accused of molesting two 6-year-old girls while working as a school bus helper in Olympia has been arrested for investigation of child molestation. The Olympia reports the 32-year-old was arrested Thursday while being questioned at the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office about the incidents reported last month. The man had worked as a bus driver since 2005 for the Olympia School District. Spokesman Peter Rex says the man was on the bus last month to learn a new route. He resigned Jan. 19. Rex said the man had passed a background check and had no criminal record.

Washington lawmakers consider cutting own salaries

OLYMPIA — Washington state lawmakers are considering legislation and a proposed constitutional amendment that would cut their own salaries. The Olympian reports the legislation would allow the Citizens Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials to do what Gov. Chris Gregoire asked it to do in December — cut the pay of elected officials by the same 3 percent state employees are facing. The commission said it did not have the authority. State legislators earn $42,106 a year plus $90 per day of work in Olympia. The governor’s annual salary is nearly $167,000.