March 20, 2014 in Region

NW Today: Energy Department closing Hanford waste sample lab

Associated Press

RICHLAND — The Energy Department plans to close a lab on the Hanford nuclear reservation that tests air, water, soil and sludge samples.

The department told employees Wednesday that the Waste Sampling and Characterization Facility would close within a year.

The Tri-City Herald reports the closure will affect 81 workers with the Mission Support Alliance and its subcontractor, RJ Lee.

The manager of the Energy Department’s Richland Operations Office, Matt McCormick, says off-site labs can provide the same analytical services at a savings of $12 million a year.

The lab opened in 1994 to analyze trace amounts of chemicals and radioactive materials in samples from cleanup work and environmental monitoring.

N. Idaho man charged with first-degree murder

LEWISTON, Idaho — A federal grand jury in northern Idaho has indicted a 37-year-old Lapwai man on one count of first-degree murder.

Raymond Scott Jr. is accused of killing 42-year-old William G. Reich with a hammer or other weapon in July.

Prosecutors say that Scott left Reich for dead in Reich’s home in Lapwai after the attack.

The Lewiston Tribune reports in a story on Friday that the federal indictment says Reich’s injuries included a fractured skull and a laceration to the brain.

The FBI investigated because Scott and Reich are members of the Nez Perce Tribe and the death occurred on the Nez Perce Reservation.

Under federal law, Scott faces up to life in prison.

Butte pet stores allowed to sell mice, rats

BUTTE, Mont. — The Butte-Silver Bow council of commissioners has approved an ordinance allowing licensed pet stores in the city or county to sell rodents as pets or as food for pet snakes.

The Montana Standard reports the ordinance approved Wednesday takes effect in 30 days.

An ordinance enacted in 1977 prohibited raising or selling mice or rats in the city and county. It was rarely enforced until animal control officers told the owner of a pet store he had to stop selling mice and rats as of Jan. 1 after a child was bitten by a rat that officers say they traced back to the store.

Fish Bowl owner Mark Dawson said the sudden enforcement hurt his business.

The county placed a 90-day moratorium on the law in January, allowing Dawson to resume sales.

Payday loan company forgives debt in Mont. lawsuit

BILLINGS, Mont. — A Kansas-based internet payday loan company has reached a settlement and agreed to forgive hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt in a Montana class action lawsuit.

The case began in 2011 when Tiffany Kelker of Billings sued over a $500 loan. She had paid more than $2,100 to LoanPoint USA over six months, but still owed the original $500.

Attorney John Heenan says Kelker was paying 800 to 1,000 percent annual interest. Montana law caps the rate at 36 percent. More than 400 people joined the lawsuit.

The Billings Gazette reports that under the settlement approved Wednesday, LoanPoint agreed to forgive the outstanding balances for those involved in the lawsuit. The 335 borrowers who repaid LoanPoint will share in a $233,000 settlement.

Heenan says other states have settled similar cases with LoanPoint.

Ada County looking for new phone alert company

BOISE — Officials in highly populated Ada County in southwest Idaho are looking for a new phone alert company.

The Ada County Sheriff’s Office tells the Idaho Statesman in a story on Friday that the system hasn’t been working as promised by My State USA.

Spokeswoman Andrea Dearden says that two out of three alerts have failed this year.

On Jan. 28 an alert went out on landlines in some neighborhoods in Boise about a missing teenager but the alert contained no message.

Then on Feb. 6, police wanted to alert residents about a mountain lion being tracked but technical problems prevented the message.

Dearden says the failures didn’t involve major events, but county officials don’t want to take chances in emergencies such as floods or wildfires.

Jackson County commissioners declare local drought

MEDFORD, Ore. — Jackson County commissioners declared a local drought disaster Wednesday and will ask the state to help industries feeling the effects of a dry winter.

Recent U.S. Department of Agriculture reports show the snowpack in the Rogue Basin is 31 percent of average.

The Mail Tribune reports the Mt. Ashland Ski Area failed to open for the winter because of a lack of snow. County officials expect agricultural businesses to suffer as well. Irrigation districts could be forced to curtail water use later this summer.

If Gov. John Kitzhaber declared a drought disaster in Jackson County, the State Water Resources Department could prioritize water rights for human consumption and livestock.

Dry conditions also could lead to an early start to the summer wildfire season.

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