Friday, July 3, 2015


Fireworks village

This year there is probably about as much anxiety regarding fireworks as any previous year. It is dry everywhere in Washington State. Relentless warmer than normal temperatures and almost no rain over the past two months.

Hopefully "safe and sane" will prevail.

Bellingham has restricted fireworks (Bellingham/2013-06-043.pdf) and Whatcom County has limited use of fireworks. The County ordinance received general support and I have been struck at how rapidly folks began following the law in Bellingham. A big change to the past when fireworks in Bellingham was like a week battle as far as noise. All the talk about the law being ignored has not head true - Bellinghamsters are generally law abiding after all. Given the dryness this is all good - and good for the dogs as well (although my dog is past being bothered as she is fairly deaf).

If you do use fireworks keep in mind the vegetation is very dry just about anywhere in Washington. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Huge Deflation Bar at Moses Coulee on Highway 2

Highway 2 east of Wenatchee crosses over the Waterville Plateau. At one point while crossing the plateau the road dips down into a cliff lines canyon - Moses Coulee. Moses Coulee was one of the major ice-age flood routes before the Grand Coulee captured all the flood waters in later floods.

I snapped this picture while heading southwest into the coulee as I headed down through the eastern cliff side of the coulee. The initial rise of the road out of coulee bottom ahead is the slope of a huge deflation gravel bar left behind by the ice-age floods. The coulee widens from north to south at this location and the bar formed due to the slight loss in energy.     

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Jail Woes

By far the largest part of any county budget is the law and justice system. Building county jails is an expensive undertaking and recent history in Washington State is full of cautionary tales. It is not just that a jail structure is expensive. Running the jail costs a lot of money.

Whatcom County is having a bit of a jail crisis and is in need of a new jail facility. The planning for this facility has been proceeding with some assumptions that appear to be unraveling and hence the crisis has gotten worse.  And due to the fact that all cities in Whatcom County have been contracting with the County for jail services that crisis now involves the cities as well as the Lummi Nation.

What follows is a bit of out loud thinking and notes on jail woes elsewhere to clarify my own thinking on this problem.

Thurston County

Thurston County built a jail that has sat empty for over four years because they did not have the funding to operate the jail (new-thurston-county-jail-still-empty-after-five-years). Part of Thurston County's troubles was timing; the jail was completed just as the economy plummeted and Thurston County was impacted fairly badly. A 2012 report (Thurston-Co-FINAL-REPORT-2-14-2012_1.pdf) made numerous recommendations to implement to reduce operating costs to $16 million a year but working through those recommendations and costs has proven difficult between the elected sheriff and the county commissioners as well as the labor union for corrections officers. A new union agreement in 2014 was a step in solving the problem. An agreement passed in January 2015 to resolve the other differences between the sheriff and the commissioners with optimism expressed that the new jail would be open in 2015, but at this time the jail is still not open. 

The Thurston Jail situation only involves Thurston County government. Local cities have their own jails or contract beds in non Thurston County facilities. For example Olympia has its own jail. One of the recommendations in the Thurston report linked above was for the county not to take on providing beds for cities. Given the difficulty of assumptions providing beds for misdemeanor offenders, the joint operation of a jail between the cities and county in Thurston caused the split well before the new jail was built.

Mason County and Shelton

Cities have their own challenges. It is tempting to assume that a county jail would also serve the local cities, but that formula does not match Thurston County as noted above. Cross jurisdictional issues do present problems and hence separation has been the choice of the cities in Thurston County. Nearby Shelton in Mason County has been sending city inmates to the Mason County jail as well as all the way to Forks. But staff funding in the Mason County jail combined with a partial closure of the Forks jail for a remodel precluded those solutions and caused Shelton to look elsewhere. Shelton recently entered into an agreement with the new Niscqually jail at $65/day per inmate and $20 booking fee (

The Mason County challenge has been significantly impacted by disparity in pay for deputies between Mason County and neighboring counties and cities. Officer starting pay in Mason County is $3,200/month versus $4,199/month in adjoining Thurston County (staffing-challenges-jail-costs-create-funding-crisis-for-sheriffs-office).

Pierce County

Pierce County has been having ongoing jail woes with their new jail (pierce-county-jail-deficit). For  a time a section of the jail was closed and now they are running into overtime pay problems with a section of the jail being periodically opened and then closed. Furthermore, the City of Tacoma stopped using the County jail as for its misdemeanants and instead has been sending prisoners to adjoining Fife because Fife is much less expensive. Pat McCarthy, the County Executive, points out that "The burden of all felons falls on the shoulders of county government, there’s no sharing costs. The only paying customers so to speak, are those convicted of misdemeanors". Hence, the loss of Tacoma as a "paying customers" as well as Fife and other cities means the County jail has been over built and is not getting the anticipated revenue from when the jail expansion began. Fife was charging $75/day. But with the Yakima County jail charging $55/day, even Fife has been sending prisoners to Yakima. And recall above Niscqually not far from Tacoma is charging $65/day.

Yakima County

Yakima County has also had trouble (yakima-to-close-county-jail-to-help-close-93-million-budget-gap) (washington-county-jail-remains-closed-after-voters-reject-tax-hike) ( They built a new jail in 2002 in addition to the existing 950 bed facility they already had, but a significant part of the funding scheme was to house prisoners from elsewhere in the State as a means to transition to a larger newer jail. That approach did not pan out as initial jail users, particularly from King County found other jails that were less expensive, or reduced incarceration rates or built new jails themselves. The jail was closed in 2010.  The Yakima County jail however, has reopened with some newer contracts such as Tacoma and Fife described above as well as Everett and Snohomish Everett_Yakima_Jail_agreement and  hopes that the State will also use the facility. However, the new facility is substantially smaller than originally planned. The Yakima rates also might be low simply to partially defray the bond payments.

The City of Yakima built its own jail in 1996 and houses 70 prisoners and has interlocal agreements with other cities in the area. Wapato also has a jail with a 73 inmate jail and municipal court. Hence, Yakima County has not had the funding stream from its local cities from even before the new jail was built. Those cities decided to go with their own systems for managing misdemeanor offenses with their cities.

Jerome, Arizona

Ok not in Washington, but Jerome's jail has a landslide issue:

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Swift Creek above Goodwin Road and Short Update

I stopped by Swift Creek in northern Whatcom County a couple weeks ago while heading elsewhere. I have several posts on Swift Creek that can be found by clicking on the label I assigned it. Whatcom County has a set of reports for those that want more info:
I took a short walk along the creek upstream of Goodwin Road. This reach like essentially all reaches of the creek has been agrading from the huge sediment load from the active landslide in the watershed and stream excavations have taken place to keep the stream passing under the Goodwin Road crossing as well as the Oats Cole Road crossing further downstream.
Sediment piles on bank  

Cobble of serpentinezed mafic rock starting to crumble as veins expand from wetting and drying

More sediment removal stockpiles.

The reach above Goodwin Road is gravel and sand but there are pockets of fine sediment deposition.
This is the bad stuff: fine grained and thus subject to getting in the air and full of asbestos form minerals as well as poor chemistry for plant growth. 

Whatcom County has been doing extensive planning on mitigating this natural slow disaster that has broad land use impacts. A proposal has been developed for building sediment capture basins. That scheme has funding in the Governor's budget and was funded in the State House budget. Funding was not in the Senate budget in May, but I have not been able to confirm if that still is the case. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Jails, Geology Disasters and Charters

The last couple of evenings I was out talking policy on jails, geology disasters and planning, and county charter. While I have posted about geology disasters I have not written up anything on jails and charters - maybe some day.

In the KVWV studio with Paul Gazdak, Greg Stern, and Stephanie Kountouros as well as Dave Willingham being the tech guy

Monday evening I was asked to talk about disasters. It has been my experience that emergency planning folks are really well versed in this stuff. I learned way more than I provided. The first part of the show also included a bit on jail planning that Tim Johnson pulled me into - Whatcom County and the City of Bellingham are in a bit of dilemma regarding jail issues (possible post for another day). 

Tuesday evening Lisa and I were at the County Council meeting. This is not the first time and some friends have joked that these meetings are a date night for us. I provided testimony on county charter amendments and the State Constitution regarding Charter amendments - another local dilemma.  

Monday, June 22, 2015

Ground Amplification Map, Victoria

Seismic amplification map, Victoria, BC, Canada
Red and orange are high and very high hazard
See Monohan and others (2000) for more detail

The seismic amplification map above is a simplified version of a much more detailed map that can be seen by clicking the link above. The higher hazard areas are subject to higher seismic risk because of the types of soil and how those soils may react to long wave period seismic events. Areas underlain by soft soils will respond differently to seismic events and are locations more likely to be damaged particularly from seismic waves that have a long period wave length. Hence, a quake some distance away with long seismic waves may cause extensive damage in the red and orange zones with no damage in the gray areas.

The gray areas on the map (grey if your Canadian?) are hard compact geologic units or bedrock and will be much less susceptible to damage from seismic events. However, a sharp high g force quake in close proximity will impact all areas of Victoria and the difference will not be as noticeable.

There are lots of other caveats with maps like this. Locations where waves get refracted or develop resonance (like a kid sliding back in forth in a bath tub) require knowing a lot about the underlying units and geologic basins and the predicted wave length of the seismic waves.

The short answer is being on bedrock or other very compact geologic unit is preferable and perhaps a consideration in planning where to build critical facilities.  

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Symbols Honoring Pro Slavery Leaders in Washington State

Matthew Yglesias discusses the memorials to leaders that defended and fought for slavery: vox/things-named-after-confederate-leaders.

While, the South and Civil War are far from Washington State, the issue of memorials to pro slavery leaders came up in Washington State in 2002 when Hans Dunshee, a state legislator, observed a memorial to Jefferson Davis at Peace Arch State Park in Blaine. Dunshee put forward legislation that was passed to have the memorial to Davis removed from the park. Disclosure: I put forward a resolution to the Whatcom County Council to support the removal of the memorial; that resolution passed.

The memorial was associated with the north-south highway through western Washington being named the Jefferson Davis Highway. The highway name was never an official name. It was only called the Jefferson Davis Highway by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and they were responsible for placing the memorial next to the highway. Another memorial had been placed next to the highway in Vancouver, Washington. That memorial was also removed a few years before by local City of Vancouver leaders.

This paper: jeffersondavishighwaypacificnorthwest.pdf provides the details and a social perspective on the history and debate on the issue.

The granite memorials were given to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. They built a private park adjacent to Interstate 5 near Ridgefield, Washington and placed the two monuments there jefferson-davis-park