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Removing hazard trees gives Washington Park a whole new look

WENATCHEE — Washington Park’s big evergreens — which city officials and neighbors have watched with concern during windstorms for the past two decades — are coming down this week.

Removing the trees will reduce risk and create a whole new look for the park.

“We are currently removing 27 coniferous trees that are located between the street and sidewalk along the perimeter of the park,” city Parks Director David Erickson said. The trees slated for removal, a mix of pine, fir, hemlock and spruce, were planted when the city built the park in the mid-1940s. Strong winds in 2007 brought down some of the trees and the city has been keeping close watch on the rest ever since.

Certified arborists were called in to check out the trees in 2009 and 2017, noting rot, decay and a general declining health of the trees that eventually would lead to their removal. An inspection this spring showed their time had come.

“The majority were classified as high risk and hazardous due to a number of factors including rot and decay, infestations, previous damage, lifespan of the tree species, target risk and location,” Erickson said.

In addition to health issues, some trees were getting too close to high-voltage power and fiber optic communication lines and tree roots had damaged sidewalks over the years, creating trip hazards.

“We were very fortunate that the trees along Miller Street haven’t burned down,” Erickson said. Workers have come across scorched branches where they have come into contact with the wires.

It provides a lesson for tree planters, public and private.

“It is important to not only call before you dig when planting to ensure you don’t run into underground utilities, but also plan ahead for the mature height of the tree so that in the future it doesn’t grow into overhead powerlines or other structures,” he said.

The city is partnering with Chelan County PUD on removing and replacing the hazard trees.

Contractors hired by the city and PUD are performing the work, along with the city park maintenance crew, Erickson said.

“I don’t have the cost for the PUD side of the work, but I would estimate that the total cost of the removal of the trees and stumps, disposal of debris, importing topsoil and planting grass where needed and the also acquiring and planting of the new trees will be in the neighborhood of $20,000-$30,000,” he said.

The city’s share will be funded through the park maintenance budget. Some of the new trees are being funded through a Department of Natural Resources Urban Forestry Grant received last year that allowed the city to plant more than 80 trees in the park system, including 10 in Washington Park.

The replacements for those being dropped now are on order, Erickson said, with planting to occur after the current trees and stumps are removed.

“We planted 10 trees last year and will be planting 30 additional after the removal is completed,” he said. “A variety of trees will be going in to provide fall color and spring blooms.”

The new trees will include:

  • 13 autumn blaze maple
  • Two Linden trees
  • One golden rain tree
  • Four gingko (male)
  • 20 flowering cherry trees

“The next phase of the project will be to underground the electrical overhead wires, upgrade the efficiency of park lighting and improve accessibility by replacing spalled and heaved/broken sidewalks,” Erickson said.

The timing of that next phase depends on future budget requests.

The park, which sits south of Washington Street between South Miller and South Wilson streets, is used for a variety of events and informal activities with most use coming from general drop-in park visitors, he said.

It features a picnic shelter, play area, restrooms and wading pool.

Erickson said after the 2007 storm created more open space in the park, it has seen increased use by youth sports and Special Olympics sport practices.

Inslee: 'Strong evidence' of a fourth wave of COVID-19 in state

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee warned Thursday of “strong evidence” of a possible fourth COVID-19 wave in Washington, just as residents 16 years and older become eligible for vaccination.

Speaking outside the governor’s residence — at his first in-person news conference in Olympia in more than a year — Inslee noted that daily case counts have grown to over 1,000 daily. That’s up, he said, from 700 per day in February.

“Unfortunately there is a strong evidence of a fourth wave potentially developing in the state of Washington,” said Inslee, who like others gathered Thursday wore a mask. “We cannot and we will not wait until that wave engulfs us.”

Standing in front of a banner that read “Take it outside,” the governor urged people to stay outside when socializing and working.

“Just take it outside, have your meeting outside, because it is so much safer to be outside,” said the governor, adding later: “Take it outside, keep your county open, save yourself, enjoy the outside.”

State health officials Thursday reported 1,432 new coronavirus cases and five new deaths, for a total of 5,362 fatalities.

About 23% of state residents have been fully vaccinated.

Even as cases increase, Thursday marked a new milestone in the pandemic’s long slog: All Washingtonians 16 years and up are eligible for a vaccine.

Health officials are now distributing an average of 62,000 vaccine doses per day around the state, according to Lacy Fehrenbach, an assistant secretary with the state Department of Health.

Meanwhile, hours are being extended at Washington’s five mass-vaccination sites, Inslee said, “into the evening and weekend so that working people don’t have to take off time from work.”

As coronavirus cases trend up in Washington, Inslee last week ordered three counties — Pierce, Cowlitz and Whitman — to tighten restrictions by moving back to the second phase of his “Healthy Washington” plan.

The move — which caps indoor spaces like restaurants and fitness centers at 25% capacity — drew criticism from Republicans, who have implored Inslee to ease restrictions.

On Wednesday, Republican lawmakers blasted Inslee’s decision to tighten restrictions in the three counties, criticizing the public health metrics — such as cases per 100,000 in counties and hospital data — he used in the decision.

“I think once again we’re seeing the governor and Department of Health look at the wrong metrics in how we safely get people back in business,” said GOP Senate Minority Leader John Braun of Centralia.

The other 36 of Washington’s 39 counties remain in the third phase of the governor’s “Healthy Washington” plan. That plan allows, among other things for businesses and indoor spaces to operate at 50% occupancy.

If cases and hospitalizations continue to increase, however, more counties could roll back in May to the second phase.

Even as the number of vaccinated people grows, Inslee said he didn’t know when restrictions imposed via his emergency powers may ultimately lift.

Asked whether a certain percentage of Washingtonians need to be vaccinated to broadly lift virus restrictions, or if herd immunity was needed, Inslee also said he didn’t know.

“I wish I had an answer to this question,” said Inslee. “But the science does not exist on this.”

World photo/Don Seabrook An eagle flies into a nest occupied by its mate Tuesday, April 13, 2021, in the Horan Natural Area. Eagle pairs have been spotted in the nest among black cottonwood trees since the winter of 2018 - 2019. The Washington State Parks has closed off a lookout that is close to the nest to keep people from disturbing the birds.

Monday was the first day of in-person school for Lewis & Clark Elementary School students in kindergarten through second grade. Said kindergartener Jenalyn Donnelly, 5: "I have to stand on the lines. That's tricky." The school has been closed to most students since last March because of COVID-19 restrictions.

World photo/Don Seabrook Kevin Lindblom with Wenatchee Public Works uses a pressure washer to remove grime from the bottom of the Wenatchee City Pool Friday, April 16, 2021. The pool will open June 12, Monday through Saturday, with swimmers needing to preregister online through the parks department or by calling (509)888-3284 after June 1. According to parks recreation coordinator Gina Shaw, they will be offering family swim times, lap swims, and swim lessons at the pool as well as swim team access. No open swimming will by available because of Covid-19 rules. Families of up to two adults and five children will be able to swim in one of eight spaces in the pool in the afternoons and use the diving boards. Lap swims will be open in the mornings, at noon, and evenings. Swim lessons will be held in two-week segments and will be open for registration after June 7. Parks director Dave Erickson says there are more swim lessons offered this year but the number of students per lesson has shrunk from a maximum of eight children to three to abide by social distancing guidelines. He also said safety padding has been added under the diving boards. Shaw says she's excited to start the swim programs again.

Senate passes bill to make drug possession a gross misdemeanor

OLYMPIA — After an emotional debate that scrambled party lines and revealed deep divisions on how to treat substance use, the Washington Senate Thursday approved a bill to treat drug possession as a gross misdemeanor.

Senate Bill 5476 comes in response to the state Supreme Court’s February ruling that struck down Washington’s felony possession law.

Should the bill pass the full Legislature and get Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature, it would bring back criminal penalties for possession. But instead of a felony, those instances would be treated as a gross misdemeanor.

But deep disagreements remain among lawmakers, who are scheduled to end their regular session on April 25.

The bill — whose original sponsor Thursday spoke out against the new version — now heads to the state House, where it meets an uncertain fate.

February’s court decision invalidated felony convictions stretching back five decades and effectively decriminalized drug possession in Washington. The Seattle Police Department, for example, announced shortly after the ruling that officers would stop confiscating drugs, or arresting or detaining people, solely under the simple possession statute.

Since then, state lawmakers have struggled over how to treat controlled substances after a long-running war on drugs that many have acknowledged was a failure, and that had a disproportionate impact on people of color.

Some senate lawmakers, including many Republicans and a couple of moderate Democrats, supported bringing back a felony possession law with tweaks so it passes constitutional muster.

Many Democrats, meanwhile, have seen the ruling as an opportunity to decriminalize drug possession for personal use and shift Washington more toward substance-abuse treatment.

Much of the debate on either side has focused on how to compel people with drug problems to get treatment, with some believing criminal penalties are necessary to force that to happen.

The proposal that passed Thursday satisfied neither ends of that political spectrum.

The version of SB 5476 that passed brings back criminal penalties for possession.

It, among other things, also requires prosecutors to divert first- and second-time violations for possession of a controlled substance into drug-treatment programs. The bill then encourages diversions of later violations too, if a prosecutor agrees.

The bill passed on a vote of 28-to-20, with 14 Democrats and 14 Republicans supporting it.

Perhaps the most striking example of that fractured dynamic was the “no” vote by the bill’s original sponsor, Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond.

“The Supreme Court did provide us with an opportunity ... to really think about what we as a state and as a nation have been doing in regards to the war on drugs,” said Dhingra in a floor speech. “To really think critically of the impact that this has had, very, very specifically, on brown and Black families.”

State data, Dhingra said, showed that people offered drug treatment outside the criminal system, overwhelmingly accepted it and had successful outcomes.

She likened that process to an “A” grade — and called the criminal legal system’s drug treatment approach a “C.”

“I have higher expectations for my family, for my children and for this state,” Dhingra added. “I would like us to adopt a policy that is grade A, and that is not what we’re doing today.”

Republican Senate Minority Leader John Braun of Centralia, meanwhile, voted in favor of the bill. In an emotional floor speech of his own, he told of a recent suicide attempt by a nephew who has struggled with drugs.

“We need a way, his parents need a way, to get him help that will stick,” said Braun. He said he didn’t agree with everything in the bill, but called it “a very balanced approach.”

Braun also acknowledged that “the war on drugs has not served us well, we aren’t getting it right and people are suffering.”

Dhingra’s original bill would have made it a gross misdemeanor for someone under the age of 21 to be in possession of a controlled substance.

Then, it would have set legal thresholds for the possession of different types of drugs, according to a legislative analysis of the bill. For example, someone could possess as much as 40 units of LSD or one gram of heroin.

People with legal amounts would be connected with workers known as forensic navigators, who provide resources for recovery and treatment services.

For amounts above those personal-use thresholds, her proposal would have reinstated the felony possession law.

It’s unclear what House lawmakers will think about the new version of SB 5476. Even though Dhingra’s original proposal had decriminalized drugs at certain amounts, her bill had already been considered too moderate for some House Democrats.

On Thursday, House Democrats introduced their own proposal, House Bill 1578, which focuses on expanding for statewide drug treatment.

That bill also creates thresholds for drug possession, said co-sponsor Rep. Tarra Simmons, D-Bremerton. People possessing under a certain amount would get a civil infraction, she said, while possession above the set thresholds would face a gross misdemeanor violation.

Backpacks, purses, and a belt are among the items left by migrants on the path leading north from the Rio Grande River, last month in Roma, Texas.