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Vaccinations begin at Town Toyota Center

WENATCHEE — Snow flurried down at the Town Toyota Center on Tuesday as National Guard members in camo fatigues directed vehicles full of people about to get their first COVID-19 vaccinations.

It was the opening day for the mass vaccination site at and people were full of emotions and anxiety, said Cole Massey, a chaplin with the Southeast Washington Incident Management Team. Massey was helping to de-escalate conflicts and he had already intervened in several situations, he said.

Some of the people waiting for vaccinations haven’t seen another human in a long time, he said. “We are here to be approachable and to help with their next step in their vaccination journey,” he said.

People receiving vaccinations Tuesday included many people from the Wenatchee Valley and North Central Washington.

T.J. Elston, 51, drove from Shoreline, near Seattle, to get vaccinated. Elston said he signed up online two days ago. It was a pretty straightforward process, but he was unable to find anywhere closer to home.

World photo/Luke Hollister 

T.J. Elston says he traveled from Seattle, in the snow, just to get vaccinated in Wenatchee, Tuesday at the Town Toyota Center.

Elston waited in a section of the parking set apart by cones and tape. Behind him stood three white tents where medical personnel were vaccinating people who had already registered.

Elston has pre-existing conditions, heart disease and diabetes, and his partner works in health care. They’ve been isolating from each other in the same house since March and Elston has also been on furlough from his job as a lawyer since March.

“It’s been tiring,” Elston said. “It’s been a big drain on my social life and my home life. My husband works at a health care facility so he’s working every day, so he works every day, he’s never stopped, and I’m at home, every day.”

Elston, because of his pre-existing conditions, waited for 30 minutes after he got his vaccine to make sure he had no negative reactions. Most people have to wait for just 15 minutes.

Chelan-Douglas Health Administrator Luke Davies said the health district is focusing its vaccination sign-up efforts on people in their 80s or older because of the limited number of vaccine doses.

As more doses become available, the health district will loosen those limits, he said at a Tuesday news conference at the Town Toyota Center vaccination site.

People can go to prepmod.doh.wa.gov or call 1-800-525-0127 or 1-888-856-5816 at noon on Sunday to sign up for that week’s vaccines.

But the Town Toyota vaccination site will only receive so many doses from the state each week. Once all time slots for vaccinations that week are filled, the site will be closed and people will have to wait until next week to try again.

The health district is taking a hybrid approach for vaccination by working with clinics, such as Confluence Health and Columbia Valley Community Health, he said.

If people are mobile and capable, they should get vaccinated at the Town Toyota Center. But if people will have trouble getting to the Town Toyota Center, they should contact their doctor.

Eventually pharmacies at Safeway, Albertson and Costco will also start vaccinating people, Davies said.

The Town Toyota Center is also exclusively using the Pfizer vaccine to reduce confusion, he said.

World photo editor Don Seabrook contributed to this report.

Correction: This story incorrectly reported the number to contact for a vaccination appointment, due to an error in a Chelan-Douglas Health District report. 

Alaska Air lost $1.3 billion last year, but projects 'brighter days'

SEATTLE — Due to the massive downturn in air travel from the COVID-19 pandemic, Alaska Air Group, parent company of Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, last year lost $1.3 billion, or $10.59 per share, according to financial results announced Tuesday.

That compares with a profit of $769 million, or $6.19 per share, the previous year.

In the fourth quarter, the airline lost $430 million, or $3.47 per share. That compares with a profit of $181 million, or $1.46 per share, in the final three months of 2019, the last quarter unaffected by the pandemic.

In the quarter, the total number of passengers carried was a third of the figure a year earlier and total revenue was down 64%.

Air Group CEO Brad Tilden Tuesday projected the beginning of a recovery this year.

To help make it through the next three months, the airline reached an agreement with the U.S. Treasury this month for an extension of payroll support totaling $533 million. It received $266 million of that amount on Jan. 15.

As a condition of the extension, it won’t lay off any more employees or cut pay or benefits through the end of March.

Alaska ended the year with $5.2 billion in liquidity, consisting of $3.3 billion in cash and the rest in available loans.

Tilden insisted that the company’s strong cash position will allow the airline to survive the pandemic and that because the airline has a mostly domestic, low-fare business, it will recover faster than larger competitors with more exposure to international markets that are likely to take longer to come back.

“We are not out of the woods, but we are seeing signs of brighter days ahead,” he said in a statement.

“We’re positioned to come out of this crisis with our balance sheet unimpaired and our competitive advantages intact, and both of these set us up for a strong future and a long runway for growth,” he added.

For comparison, Alaska’s much larger rival, Delta Air Lines, announced earlier this month that last year it lost $12.4 billion, including $755 million in the fourth quarter.

As part of Alaska’s recovery plan, Tilden has committed to renew Alaska’s fleet with the newly ungrounded Boeing 737 MAX, getting rid of its less efficient Airbus A320s.

Alaska has 68 MAXs on order and took delivery of the first one on Sunday. That airplane is due to begin passenger service March 1, and the airline will have 13 MAXs in its fleet by year end.

Alaska Air is the commercial airline that serves Pangborn Memorial Airport in East Wenatchee. Before the pandemic hit, Pangborn Memorial Airport had three flights to SeaTac with a fourth possibly on the way. So as passengers dwindled, flights were reduced to one in April but then bumped up to two in mid-July last year.

Things are not scheduled to change through March this year, but Pangborn Memorial Airport is hopeful a third flight will return soon after, Chelan Douglas Regional Port Authority CEO Jim Kuntz said.

World staff writer Oscar Rodgriguez contributed to this story.

Black Rock development called off

WENATCHEE — The saga of Black Rock Terrace Estates, a controversial 18-home development proposed in the Wenatchee Foothills, has reached its end.

A 2019 reversal of the once-approved housing development was finalized Jan. 19 after developers Steve and Tanya Tramp declined to remedy problems found in their plan by a Chelan County Superior Court judge.

“We’re tired. We’re done,” Steve Tramp said in an interview Tuesday. He added, “We had a whole lot of controversy over the project, and we love Wenatchee too much to have that kind of conflict.”

Tramp said he spent the better part of a decade attempting to build Black Rock. His plan called for the Tramps to divide their 13-acre property into 17 lots, which individual buyers would build on as they were purchased. Their own home is already located on the site and there could have eventually been 18 homes on the property at 1701 Skyline Drive.

“The purpose of purchasing it was to split it up amongst our boys and eventually they would build their homes up here and we’d be able to spend just a lot of time with grandkids,” Tramp said. “That was really the full and sole goal from the get go, but with all of the interesting things that took place we just decided to find a different spot to do that.”

The development was approved in December 2018 by city of Wenatchee Hearing Examiner Andrew Kottkamp, but not without heavy pushback from residents and wildlife officials concerned about the site’s exposure to wildfire; its steep slope and potential for slide; its interruption of the foothills; and, what was ultimately most critical, mule deer habitat.

“The hearing examiner and city staff simply ignored the public, as well as the city’s own Comprehensive Plan and city codes,” the citizens group’s spokeswoman, Suzanne Hartman, said in a news release after the approval. “They disregarded what more than 100 local residents had to say about this ill-conceived concept.”

Kottkamp’s decision was reversed 10 months later by Chelan County Superior Court Judge Travis Brandt after an appeal by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and a group of local residents.

In the 2019 decision, Brandt wrote that if the Tramps fixed the errors in their application, the development would be approved. Because no action has been taken in the matter by the Tramps in over a year, Brandt’s decision became final Jan. 19.

“We are putting Black Rock to bed,” Tramp said. “At this time, we just want to focus all of our attention on the new hotel. And maybe Black Rock just needs to be behind us.”

Tramp owns the Comfort Inn and Suites and the recently opened Sleep Inn and Suites, both in Olds Station. The Black Rock property is for sale for $2.2 million.

Brandt ruled that a city ordinance providing protection to wildlife habitat wasn’t applied to the Black Rock development and that the development site is considered a critical area for mule deer.

Specifically, Brandt ruled that the “best available science” wasn’t used when determining whether the 13-acre site was a critical area for mule deer.

In their application to build Black Rock, the Tramps used information from the city’s website, which did not list the site as a critical wildlife area. However, a city ordinance also states that best available science should be determined by local experts and that the mapping information it provides online is not regulatory.

The city’s Critical Areas Ordinance defines fish and wildlife conservation areas as “habitats and species of local importance” that if altered “may reduce the likelihood that the species will maintain and reproduce over the long term.”

Mule deer are considered a “species of local importance” and use the Wenatchee Foothills for winter forage.

Washington lawmakers want to ban openly carrying firearms at state Capitol, public demonstrations

OLYMPIA — Openly carrying firearms or other weapons at public demonstrations and the Capitol Campus could become prohibited if a state Senate bill passes this session.

In its first public hearing, the bill received some support from Democratic lawmakers and gun reform advocates, while Republicans and gun rights supporters said it goes too far.

“It’s time,” bill sponsor Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, told the Senate Law and Justice Committee on Tuesday. “Given what we’ve seen and given the level of political decision, it makes sense as Washington to join those other states that have enacted bans.”

The bill would make it illegal to open carry a firearm while participating in or attending any demonstration held at a public place, within 1,000 feet of a demonstration at a public place after law enforcement advises the person to leave until they no longer possess the firearm, on state Capitol grounds, or inside a legislative office or hearing.

It does not apply to people possessing any weapon inside a private dwelling, building or structure.

Safety at the state Capitol has been a topic of discussion this legislative session after a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol and protesters breached the governor’s mansion gate at the Washington State Capitol on Jan. 6. Many protesters in both Washington, D.C., and Olympia were openly carrying guns.

Before the start of the legislative session, Gov. Jay Inslee deployed the National Guard to assist state patrol and Capitol police in keeping the Capitol safe. Fencing also was erected around the Legislative Building, and strict areas where protesters could meet were designated. Few protesters have since traveled to the state Capitol.

Concealed carry is allowed in the state Capitol with the correct license. Guns are not allowed in the Senate public galleries. Openly carried guns are also prohibited from House galleries. This bill does not apply to concealed-carry rules in the Capitol.

Tom Kwieciak, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, called the definitions “unconstitutionally vague.” He also said the law would be ripe for selective enforcement.

In the bill, “demonstration” is defined as conduct by one or more people communicating or expressing views or grievances. It does not include casual use of property by visitors or tourists. “Public place” is defined as any site that is accessible to the general public.

”Although it may not be common in some of your districts,” Kwieciak told committee members, “many citizens in Washington do exercise their right to open-carry firearms in our state every day without incident.”

Dan Mitchell, owner of Sporting Systems in Vancouver, said the bill “reeks of inequity.”

”If we’re doing such a marvelous policy job, why are there so many angry people outside?” he asked committee members. He also cautioned the committee against doing anything to undermine civil rights.

Republican leadership agreed that the bill may go too far. In a Tuesday news conference, Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, said the bill goes beyond just banning open carry in or around the Capitol. It has restrictions on having a weapon in the car and has a broad definition of “public places,” she said.

”This bill conveys something in writing that is much different than what it purports to,” she said.

Kuderer said she did not think the bill would undermine any rights. Lawmakers put restrictions on amendments all the time, she said. She also pointed to courthouses, jails and prisons as places where guns aren’t allowed.

”It’s not a suspension of the Second Amendment,” she said. “It’s simply a reasonable restriction.”

Adrian Diaz, interim police chief of the Seattle Police Department, testified in support of the bill. He said he supports the Second Amendment, but he sees the threats at large demonstrations when people open carry. Guns make no one safe and increase danger for everyone involved, he said.

Democrats aren’t sure what the best options are for safety at the Capitol. There are no metal detectors to get into the Legislative Building, although they were installed for one session in 2005 and then removed.

House Majority Leader Rep. Pat Sullivan, of Covington, told reporters Monday that lawmakers will have to think of different ways to incorporate safety measures so everyone has a good experience when they come to the Capitol, but he wasn’t sure what that might look like.

Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said safety at the Capitol is not just about lawmakers.

”It’s about people really feeling welcome to come and they feel safe when they visit,” she said.

Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, said it’s important to strike a balance between access and safety.

House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, of Yelm, told reporters Tuesday that even though there were armed people banging on a House door last session demanding to see him, he believes most of the gun rights rallies over the last 10 years have been “very well-conducted and peaceful.”

He added it’s already against the law to aim a weapon at someone or to threaten someone with a weapon, and “we should enforce those (laws) without exception.”

The bill will be up for a vote in committee on Thursday.