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

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Telford Scabland Shrubsteppe and Wetlands

Telford Scablands and the Kettle Range in the distance

The ice age floods surged across several areas of eastern Washington after the flood waters reached Glacial Lake Columbia and or Glacial Lake Spokane. Numerous spill ways were scoured by flood waters. The three largest are the Palouse Scabland Tract from Spokane south through the Palouse, the Telford-Crab Creek Scabland Tract between Davenport and Wilbur where flood water passed south over a broad area and then passed through numerous coulees and flood ways towards the south and west, and the flood way through Grand Coulee. There were a number of other notable flood routes as well such as the flood route down Moses Coulee.   

The term scabland is apt - the land sort of looks like a scab. The basalt bedrock in most of the scabland with its dark color and way of fracturing does indeed look scabby. A lot of this land was never homesteaded as its is rocky rough ground not suitable for farming. Much of the land has been used as public range land in the past. More recently it has been shifting to use as wildlife habitat with some debate regarding leases for grazing. 

Much of the northern part of the Telford Scabland is on the edge of being wet enough to support trees. A close look at the pictures above one can see ponderosa pine stands and Douglas fir in the distance. Low areas are seasonally wet and ponds and lakes are present throughout the area. All in all a wide habitat mix with a great variety of plants over short distances. The areal extent is large with wide connections to other wild land areas. The changeover in grazing management where grazing is still allowed has allowed this area to evolve towards a near wilderness status with some fairly large blocks of roadless land. Even in areas where grazing is still permitted the range management has improved and the range is improving from its previous unsustainable use.  

Wetland amongst the scrub steppe in the Telford Scabland
A rail and road embankment as well as some downward scraping created the pond

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Field Hazards: Ticks and Seeds

One field hazard that is a particular problem when going off trail are ticks. 

I was a very aware I might be in a tick zone having been near this place about a year ago and finding nearly a dozen ticks on my legs. It has been a long time since I have been bitten in part due to vigilance.

An irritating but significant less threat are the seeds that attached to my socks. June is rather bad for various grass seeds. I had a range of species that I was aiding by moving them to other territory. I try to avoid cheat grass entirely as their seeds are thick and very hard to remove. I believe these were mostly if not all native including the aptly named needle-and-thread grass (Hesperostipa comata). A bit early for the seeds, but it has been very warm.

Typhoon, a favorite band, has several songs inspired by Kyle Morton's encounter with a tick.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Landscape Pictures and Bugs

Limited posting due to work load and then some off the grid time including some field adventures out of state.

This last trip reminded me that the lovely photographs of spectacular landscapes frequently fail to capture an aspect of our landscapes that can make a big difference in how we experience our landscapes - the bugs. I managed to capture some bugs in a landscape picture.

Wispy steam clouds above the forest are bug swarms 

I have no idea what the swarms were and they were limited to the tree tops showing up nicely in the late in the day sun light. These small bugs stayed up in the tree tops and for the most part the bug situation on the ground in this area was not at all bad.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Cartoon Map of Washington 1930s

Cartoon map of the Washington landscape in the 1930s.

An interactive view of the map that explains some of the images as well as links to the source is found at

A couple notes on a few of the images. The Oregon Trail is shown passing through the Blue Mountains in southeast Washington. The trail crossed the Blues in Oregon.

The image of the two Indians chasing the troops is likely a reference to the united tribal effort against Colonel Steptoe. Not a fair portrayal as the Indians had guns and by accounts I have read actually had better guns.    

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Common School Trust Exchange in Pasco

When Washington State was granted statehood, the Federal government granted lands to the state in sections 16 and 36 in each township and range. The lands primary purpose is to generate revenue and are called the Common Schools Trust Lands and are managed to generate revenue by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources with oversight by the Washington State Board of Natural Resources. Those lands still support schools and are a very large part of the public lands in Washington State. Washington State has managed to actually increase the acreage in this original trust category. Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming are the others with Montana at 99% holding even.

At times the land holdings are shifted around from the original land grants. The BNR approves the trades and sales and recently reviewed a buy, swap and approve for sale exchange in Franklin County.

The property on the west in Pasco is Common School Trust Land
The property in on the east will be purchased and will replace the trust land through a "swap"
The former trust land will then be sold at a minimum bid of the appraised value 

The change is presented in this summary: and power point presented to the BNR: bnr_pasco_presentation.pdf.

One can see that the land use has been changing dramatically in the area and demands a new way of management for the particular parcel.

1996 image of north Pasco and approximate trust land area

There are lots of agricultural lease properties in eastern Washington in the trust land portfolio, and "highest best use" for the property now surrounded by urban land is no longer agriculture.  Highest and best use in the case of Common School Trust is revenue and continuation of farming under the DNR management no longer achieves that goal and hence the exchange and sale.

The urbanization of this area of Pasco was set in motion with the construction of a
Interstate Highway and bridge across the Columbia River. Even by 1996 the area was starting to see growth.

The bridge crosses at an old ferry route Ferry, an interesting story in its own right.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Notes form Lisbon

A bit ago I took a long vacation. For the first time I worked via computer and email while traveling. I managed to take care of a few critical projects while far from Washington, but have been a bit pressed for time since returning.

As with all travels, there is always some geology involved - geology is everywhere. And I find while traveling one gets a perspective on one's home place. My time in Lisbon provided a geology perspective on geologic hazards, a subject I have been doing a fair bit of recent work on.

View of Lisbon and the Carmo Convent in center

Carmo Convent

 The Carmo Convent is a reminder of the Lisbon Earthquake of  1755 (wiki/1755_Lisbon_earthquake). The quake destroyed most of Lisbon and the convent is one of the few reminders of the event that remains standing in the city.  

Fractured and patched wall above south doorway

The roof of the Carmo Convent 

View towards the Atlantic
The bridge in the distance at the opening of the bay was designed by the same folks as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California

The earthquake also generated a large tsunami which rolled into the bay through the area now spanned by the bridge. The high wave and the shape of the bay brought another severe blow to the city immediately after the quake. 

The new Lisbon built after the devastation is a very pleasant city. The city square facing the waterfront was a particularly pleasant public space. Perhaps an under appreciated feature when communities in Washington do waterfront planning.