September 8, 2013 in City

Spin Control: Special session? For Senate leaders, only eyes roll

By The Spokesman-Review
 

OLYMPIA – With enough time, things that were once unthinkable can become possible. But maybe not probable.

I’m not talking about anything as outrageous as using sarin gas or electing a Democrat in the 4th Legislative District. But a few months ago, when legislators limped wearily out of Olympia after two overtime sessions, it would have been incomprehensible to talk seriously about calling yet another special session of the Legislature this year.

Now, however, a special session to address some of the state’s major transportation woes is being floated by Gov. Jay Inslee, who said last week he’d consider calling one in November if legislators could agree on a package of projects and revenue.

Keep Washington Rolling – a strange-bedfellows coalition of business and unions, environmentalists and farmers – thinks this is a terrific idea. That’s probably not surprising, considering the name is about vehicles rolling over highways and bridges, not some oblique reference to newly legal marijuana.

Considerably less enthusiastic are folks in charge of the state Senate. They’ve got a series of public meetings scheduled around the state this month and next to talk about transportation projects, including one at 6 p.m. Oct. 2 at the Greater Spokane Incorporated offices, 801 W. Riverside Ave.

Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, of Ritzville, said he wants to hear what folks have to say before deciding on a special session.

This may be bad news for Inslee and Keep Washington Rolling. By the time the great thoughts from the statewide “listening tour” are compiled and translated into something resembling a real proposal, it could be late October. The construction season would be all but over and the holidays approaching. With the 2014 session just a couple of months away, the urge to wait will be strong. In politics as in physics, a body at rest tends to stay at rest.

State, Army corps splitsville over coal port reports

Any marriage of convenience between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state of Washington for environmental statements on new coal ports was dissolved last week for what appear to be irreconcilable differences.

They will issue separate statements, possibly with different conclusions, about new ports near Longview and Bellingham. Until Friday, the state plan was to issue a single report, although it might have had two parts with different conclusions.

Signs of trouble were clear last Tuesday. The corps had invited reporters to call in to its headquarters to chat with Col. Bruce Estok, Seattle District commander, about the environmental review process for the ports.

It’s a more interesting topic than it may sound. The corps says federal law limits their studies to the land and water around the port. The state says Washington law requires their studies to include everything from mining the coal in Wyoming, shipping it across the state and loading it on ships bound for China, where it’s burned in power plants and the pollution is carried back on the wind.

It’s not 100-percent guaranteed they’ll come up with different preferred options. But supporters of the new coal ports like the corps’ approach, while opponents like the state’s approach.

After getting more than a dozen reporters on the line – it was the morning after a three-day weekend, we all were hurting for news – staff announced Estok wouldn’t be talking. The Seattle office wasn’t able to say anything because they needed “some coordination above the regional level.” Folks higher up the chain of command hadn’t decided what they wanted to say. They’d have something “before the end of the week,” said Muffy Walker, chief of the regional office.

That “something” turned out to be a posting in the Federal Register late Friday afternoon that the corps would be filing separate environmental statements on the two ports. Estok wasn’t available to answer questions, and the corps left it to the state Department of Ecology to explain things to the news media.

Spin Control, a weekly column by political reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items and reader comments at spokesman.com/spincontrol.


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