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Sagebrush project helps turn students into eco-stewards

WENATCHEE — Ten students in WestSide High School’s 4-H Eco-Stewardship Program ventured out to north foothills land owned by the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust Wednesday afternoon to assist with planting sagebrush seedlings.

The additional plants are needed to replenish food for mule deer and other wildlife after two wildfires in the past 10 years burned all of the sagebrush in the area, said Braden Hourigan, who helped coordinate the event for the Land Trust.

Students in the Eco-Stewardship program meet weekly for activities and lessons. Students can also earn a half-credit toward their science or leadership graduation requirements through the program.

Around once a month, students also go on field trips throughout North Central Washington, which have included ropes courses and river rafting. Wednesday’s outing entailed assisting the Land Trust with replenishing land scorched by wildfires in 2012 and 2015.

“We’re trying to restore the natural integrity of the landscape,” Hourigan said. “It doesn’t support the same wildlife that the landscape normally would.”

The Land Trust’s goal is for the plants to act as an island, with the seeds carried to the surrounding damaged lands, replenishing those areas as well.

Wednesday started with a short walk to the trailhead where the WestSide students teamed up with students from Leavenworth. Then, the group hiked about a quarter-mile through the foothills to the planting zone. Once at the designated zone, students paired up with adult volunteers to help plant the brush.

“It’s good to have extra hands,” Hourigan said.

Volunteers included retirees with a variety of backgrounds including computer science, literature and even botany.

“There’s just a fun camaraderie about doing it together,” said Susan Ballinger, a conservation fellow for the Land Trust.

Ballinger said this is the sixth year the nonprofit has worked to get students to explore the foothills, a program that has several benefits.

“They’ve done something they can show their families,” Ballinger said.

By partnering with volunteers, Ballinger said the students also take part in “intergenerational volunteering.”

Megan Cross, the program’s organizer at WestSide, echoed a similar sentiment and said the goal is to “inspire a little bit of inquiry.”

“These students haven’t been out here, they don’t know what’s here,” Cross said.

Eco-Stewardship also gives students the opportunity to be problem solvers outside of a classroom setting.

“If they figure it out, they’ll remember it,” she said. “It allows them to think beyond the obvious.”

Right now, Cross said around 12 students are involved in the program, including Aislyn Schmekel.

Schmekel said her favorite part of the program is that it allows her to get outdoors.

“I really like how interactive it is,” she said. “I’ve always loved nature because I grew up on a farm.”

Schmekel said her one regret from Wednesday’s event is that she wishes she would have done more research, to be more prepared for the outing.

Anna Dickey, who is new to Eco-Stewardship, said she considered joining Eco-Stewardship in the past, but ultimately hadn’t. Now, she wishes she had joined sooner.

“It’s definitely opened my mind up to new career paths,” Dickey said. “Someday, maybe I’ll be an old person planting trees.”

11132018 World photo/Don Seabrook Peyton Irelan, 8, Cashmere, watches backstage Tuesday night as girls practice their dancing routine "en pointe" from The Nutcracker for a performance in this year's Holiday Spice fundraiser at the Performing Arts Center in Wenatchee. She is with the same dancing group, Fabulous Feet, dressed as one of the young Suzy Snowflakes. Performances for the Festival of Trees event featuring local dance, musical, and theatrical talent are Friday night at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 1 p.m. For tickets, go to numericapac.org. Proceeds from the Festival of Trees events go to help fund the PAC.

April Marcel and Lacy Boosinger are the new owners of Chelan's Main Street Gallery. The mother-daughter team purchased the business from David Koenig on Nov. 1.

World photo/Don Seabrook A seven-member color guard from American Legion Post 10 in Wenatchee fires a three-round volley in Memorial Park for the Veterans Day Parade Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021. For more photographs, see a gallery at wenatcheeworld.com.

Leavenworth taking steps to increase low-income housing

LEAVENWORTH — With many workers in Leavenworth opting to commute to work due to lack of housing or rising costs, city officials are looking to increase available housing.

Proposed changes to Leavenworth’s 2021 Comprehensive Plan include denser housing development and more options for developers to build affordable housing.

Updates to this plan are just the first step in a series of changes to increase the types and amount of housing, said Lilith Vespier, city of Leavenworth development services manager.

The aim is also to provide spaces for those who want to live and work in Leavenworth without contributing to highway traffic, she said.

Workers in restaurant kitchens or hotels generally make less money than others in Chelan County, she said. That group of people is “critical to the service industry here in Leavenworth.”

Low-income is defined as people making 80% or less of the county median income. The U.S. Census reported Chelan County’s household median income to be $58,795 in 2019.

Vespier said she does not anticipate residential lots being converted to low-income affordable housing, but that it is a possibility.

Provided map/City of Leavenworth 

Leavenworth city officials say future affordable housing developments are expected to be placed in multi-family or commercial areas, as seen in orange and red in this land use map.

What will most likely happen is affordable housing units coming to the city’s multi-family or commercial zoning districts, she said.

The city is also lifting regulations on duplexes, allowing them to be developed on any legal lot instead of just lots that at least 12,000 square feet, she said.

Vespier is hoping changes to the city’s comprehensive plan help make more housing options available to those in need of affordable places to live.

With a growing community in mind, Leavenworth Mayor Carl Florea said the town cannot go back to “what was.”

Florea agreed with Vespier that Leavenworth does not have enough low-income housing units for people working in jobs such as retail or hospitality. The focus should be on creating more housing for those workers, he said.

Leavenworth businesses right now need to hire people from out of town due to the city’s lack of housing options, he said.

“If we’re going to house the next generation ... things are going to have to change from what they were,” he said.

Land is limited and everything costs more than it used to, he said. Housing that next generation means figuring out how to make more efficient use of space in Leavenworth.

“We’re not going to suddenly be able to house everybody … but it behooves us to be able to house more,” he said.

Availability of both first-time home buyer homes and low-income units are two pieces the city is missing, he said. Filling those gaps is “what my administration is about.”

Florea said he pushes back against the idea that more density translates to less of a “neighborhood feel.” Solving potential issues in regards to density is about one’s approach.

Making better use of Leavenworth’s land is just one of many steps that needs to happen in order to create more affordable housing, he said.

Student assaulted during June wrestling trip

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the boy suspected of assault completed diversion for fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation. He completed diversion for fourth-degree assault.

WENATCHEE — A Wenatchee High School wrestler was allegedly assaulted by a teammate during a team trip to Sunnyside in June. The attacker completed a diversion program in lieu of criminal charges for assault.

The victim reported two incidents. He told investigators with the Wenatchee Police Department that on June 9 while on a charter bus ride to a match, another boy crawled under the bus seats and poked his butt with a phone charger, according to a police report provided to The Wenatchee World by public disclosure request.

The boy told the coaches seated in the back of the 54-passenger bus that three teammates were being unkind to him — the report doesn’t elaborate on the other boys’ behavior — and he sat with the coaches for the remainder of the trip. The report said one coach told the boy the assault was inappropriate and another said they’d talk to the other boy later.

The boy also said the same boy shoved a thumb between his buttocks while they were standing in line at Sunnyside High School for a skin check, the report said. A skin check is a pre-competition process during which referees examine wrestlers for transmittable skin diseases.

The boy told police that in response he hit the suspect’s arm and the suspect threatened, “Touch me again and I will rape you,” the report said.

While the investigation was conducted by the Wenatchee Police Department, the decision to file criminal charges is left up to prosecutors in the jurisdictions where the assaults are alleged to have occurred: Grant and Yakima counties. Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Joseph Brusic said in an email that his office did not file charges against the boy, but that in September the boy completed diversion requirements for fourth-degree assault. The Grant County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

The victim told Wenatchee police he did not want to pursue criminal charges but wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again.

The incidents echo an assault that took place seven years ago.

In September 2014, a 14-year-old player with the Wenatchee High School football team held down three boys and penetrated them with a finger through their clothing. The boy was initially charged with three counts of second-degree rape but reached a plea deal that allowed him to plead guilty to three counts of third-degree assault.

Families of the three victims sued the Wenatchee School District in Chelan County Superior Court and in 2020 the district agreed to pay one student $40,000 and another $85,000. The third lawsuit was dismissed in 2021.

Following the 2014 incident, the district brought in Kris Cappel of the Seabold Group to conduct an internal investigation. Following the investigation, the district released a statement summarizing the findings Dec. 19, 2014, and the full report Feb. 6, 2015, following a records request from The World.

The district also hired a risk manager in 2014 to improve the school district’s ability to prevent serious injury or harm. According to previous coverage by The World, the hire was driven by a drowning in 2011 during a P.E. class at the Wenatchee High School pool and the 2014 incident. The risk manager resigned in 2018, and Haglund said the position was not filled due to budget constraints.

According to a police report, Athletic Director Jim Beason was notified by the parent of the victim of the wrestling trip incidents, and he then called law enforcement. The district’s internal investigation was completed June 22, Haglund said.

School officials have provided few details and declined to release the internal investigation or to comment on the details of the investigation, citing advice by legal counsel. Haglund did not say whether the wrestling trip investigation was led by an administrator or an outside entity.

The World has filed public records requests for the internal investigation and other district records related to the incident. The incident was first reported by Dominick Bonny, an independent journalist in the Wenatchee Valley.

According to the police report, Beason told an officer the student would be emergency expelled. Haglund did not say whether the boy is still enrolled in the Wenatchee School District.

Haglund said school district policy “states that coaches are required to ride on the school-provided transportation” and “coaches are required to have a plan for supervision on the bus that will include where the coaches will be seated.”

Haglund said when possible, a coach will sit in the back, middle and front of a bus. If fewer than three coaches are on a bus, coaches will rotate between these spots frequently. According to Haglund, all chaperones on school trips must be either district-approved volunteers or district employees.

“Coaches are responsible to ensure that there is at least one chaperone accompanying each sex/gender for all school-sponsored activity trips and to make sure appropriate behavior occurs,” Haglund wrote.

The police report, while saying the victim sat with coaches in the back of the bus, does not say whether coaches were stationed elsewhere on the bus.

Haglund declined, citing legal advice, to say if the district determined whether school policies were followed by district employees in the supervision of the students on the bus or at the wrestling match.

Current training for district-sponsored travel is the same as before June 9, Haglund said, and the district has not made any policy changes for school-sponsored trips since the incident occurred.

District officials reported the incident to the Wenatchee School Board, board President Laura Jaecks said. The district and board, however, did not make the incident public.

“Although student privacy laws prevent me from commenting on the specific facts of the incident to the public, the district has fully cooperated with the law enforcement investigation and will continue to do so,” Jaecks wrote. “Student safety has been, and always will be, a top concern for me and for the district.”

In a previous email, Haglund wrote in part that the district is committed to a proactive approach to ensure student well-being.

“We encourage any student that does not feel safe to report the incident to district staff, Haglund wrote. “Additionally, the district has set up an online tip reporting system in the event a student would like to anonymously submit a safety incident or concern, which can be accessed at wenatchee-wa.safeschoolsalert.com. The tip reporting system may also be accessed by phone at 1-844-336-1964.”

Mansoor, 10, looks out the window at the family's new apartment.