What’s news in the Northwest today:
BROOKINGS, Ore. — Curry County commissioners voted at special meeting Sunday to declare an emergency at the county’s three ports — Port Orford, Gold Beach and Brookings — because of damage when Friday’s tsunami hit the Oregon coast. The Oregonian reports the declaration is the first step in seeking federal disaster assistance. There’s no estimate of the damage to docks and infrastructure. But Port of Brookings Harbor Executive Director Ted Fitzgerald guessed $10 million to $13 million. Brookings says it’s the busiest recreational port on the Oregon coast. It also harbors commercial fishing boats.
West Coast quake warning system would be costly
SEATTLE — A billion-dollar warning system alerted some Japanese residents a few seconds before the 8.9 magnitude quake sent a deadly tsunami washing into the country. Scientists say a similar system could be installed on the West Coast of the United States, but it would cost about $150 million. The Seattle Times reports officials will have to decide whether such a system would be worth the cost and how the public would be trained to respond. The director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network at the University of Washington, John Vidale, says people have to know what to do with the information. Southern California Earthquake Center Director Tom Jordan says even 15 or 20 seconds warning would give people time to dive under tables.
Washington high school exams begin this week
OLYMPIA — Washington high school students begin taking their statewide exams this week. Students will be taking the reading and writing exams over three days this week. The science section of the High School Proficiency Exam will be given in April. And math end-of-course exams will be given in late May or early June. Students in the class of 2013 and beyond are required to pass the science test and at least one math end-of-course exam, depending on legislative action. For the past three years, students have been required to pass only the reading and writing exams to be eligible for a diploma. This requirement remains for students through the class of 2012. Although the state Legislature is debating changes to exam requirements, State Superintendent Randy Dorn says students and schools should proceed as if the graduation laws will not change.
Governor hosts forum on education consolidation plan
OLYMPIA — U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will join Gov. Chris Gregoire and state lawmakers for a discussion on the governor’s education reorganization plan today in Olympia. Duncan will participate by video, making remarks and also answering questions at the noon forum in Senate Hearing Room Four of the Cherburg Building. The governor wants to consolidate most of the state’s education work into a new Department of Education. Her proposal has been passed by the Senate Education Committee. But an alternative proposal made its way through the state House.
Bill to limit abortion coverage clears House panel
BOISE — Legislation to ban state insurers from providing coverage for elective abortions is headed to its final hurdle in the Idaho Legislature. The House State Affairs Committee approved the bill today along party lines. The measure already passed the Senate and now goes to the full House. The federal health reform approved by Congress last year requires so-called insurance exchanges set up in states to cover elective abortions. But the law also allows states to opt out of requiring elective abortion coverage. Republicans behind the Idaho legislation say it would ban abortion coverage in the exchanges except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life was in jeopardy. It still allows women to purchase coverage for elective abortions from private insurers. Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee have similar bills in place.
Oregon company uses duckweed to generate electricity
ASHLAND, Ore. — An Oregon company has teamed up with an East Coast engineer who has figured out how to generate cheap, clean electricity from duckweed — which grows on ponds and other still or slow-moving bodies of water. The Mail Tribune reports that Pacific Domes of Ashland, a global marketer of geodesic domes, is now selling BioEnergy Domes developed by Rudy Behrens, an aerospace engineer. They say their patented system is capable of producing a megawatt of electricity for the same price as coal or nuclear energy — and significantly cheaper than wind or solar. The systems can power a single home or be expanded for a municipal utility. The fast-growing biomass that makes the project viable is duckweed, a common sight on Lithia Park ponds in Ashland every summer.
Idaho hazardous waste totals down in 2010
BOISE — A tally by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality shows a decline in the amount of hazardous waste generated statewide in 2010. A recent agency report says Idaho generated more than 5,000 tons of hazardous waste last year. That’s half the total accounted for in 2000, but slightly higher than 2009. The inventory tracks hazardous wastes generated in the state or materials imported from other states or countries. The list includes chemicals or substances deemed toxic, flammable or radioactive or chemicals from automotive shops or dry cleaners. DEQ Hazardous Waste Analyst Rene Anderson tells The Times-News the decline over the last two years is tied to businesses adopting cleaner practices. But she says the biggest factor is the economic slowdown. She says less business means fewer hazardous wastes generated.
Kalispell-area pharmacy robbed, employee kidnapped
KALISPELL, Mont. — Flathead County authorities are searching for a man who robbed a Kalispell-area pharmacy at gunpoint and kidnapped an employee. Sheriff Chuck Curry says the man entered Evergreen Pharmacy at 11:32 a.m. Saturday, showed a handgun and demanded oxycodone. The man then forced an employee into the employee’s 2004 green Ford pickup and made the employee drive him to the Mormon Church on Whitefish Stage Road. The employee was released unharmed. The pickup was found in a ditch near U.S. 93 at 2:45 p.m. Curry says someone tried to help get the suspect out of the ditch and then gave him a ride. The suspect is described as a white man in his 30s or 40s, between 5 feet, 6 inches and 5 feet, 8 inches tall, with dark hair.
Coal train kills woman on tracks in Quincy
QUINCY, Wash. — Authorities say a Quincy woman is dead after being hit by a coal train passing through Quincy in central Washington state. Grant County emergency management spokesman Kyle Foreman says the woman was on foot Sunday when she was hit by the eastbound Burlington Northern-Santa Fe train. The woman was identified as Pricilia Orta-Menzez, age 48. BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas says the accident occurred just after 7:30 p.m. at a non-rail crossing in Quincy. The BNSF train was en route from British Columbia to the Powder River Basin, Wyo. Melonas says the line has been shut down for the investigation. He expects it to reopen about 9:30 p.m.
3 mudslides impact Washington state rail service
SEATTLE — Three mudslides in Washington have knocked out rail service on lines south and north of Seattle. BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas says two of the slides on Sunday occurred near Everett. One of the slides hit Sunday morning and buried one of the two BNSF main line tracks. Also near Everett on Sunday, another train hauling intermodal containers from Chicago struck a slide that impacted a line north of Seattle. Officials placed a 24 hour moratorium on rail service between Seattle and Everett, starting at 1:55 p.m. Sunday. Melonas says a third slide occurred between Ridgefield and Felida, near Vancouver. Passenger operations were suspended for 48 hours starting at 1 p.m. Sunday. Heavy rain caused more than 20 incidents for rail officials in Washington this winter.