Saturday, October 29, 2016

Olympians Stand with Standing Rock Water Protectors

Above: Benjamin Sitting Bull, Oglala Lakota Sioux, a sixth generation grandson of Sitting Bull, spoke to Olympians in solidarity with Standing Rock Water Protectors on Saturday afternoon in downtown Olympia.

Clothing Donations Accepted in Olympia for Water Protectors

By Janine Gates

At the southernmost tip of Puget Sound, the direct descendent and grandson of Sitting Bull, Benjamin Sitting Bull, Oglala Lakota Sioux, spoke to Olympians on Saturday afternoon in downtown Olympia.

About 65 people gathered in solidarity with the water protectors blocking the Dakota Access Pipeline route at Standing Rock, North Dakota.

A harbor seal in Budd Inlet approached Percival Landing beneath The Kiss statue near Sitting Bull, also wanting to listen.

Sitting Bull lives in Olympia, and said that he is choosing to raise his two year old daughter, Josephine, here because it is safe and warm. As she sat on a little scooter wearing a monarch butterfly costume, he acknowledged the wide range of emotions community members are feeling about the tense situation at Standing Rock. 

....Those feelings are valid…. That’s why we’re standing up as indigenous people, because we’re called upon. Our grandparents that are no longer living - our elders - have tapped on us and come to us in our dreams and are saying, ‘Get up and say something to the people around you. These songs and these ways that are given to you – put them out in the public right now....’

As her father spoke, Josephine listened. When he began singing a prayer song, she closed her eyes, put her head back, and started bouncing to the beat of his drum.  

Although the protest in Standing Rock continues to be ignored by corporate media, a wide variety of social media sources and Native news sites feed constant, live streaming videos and disturbing updates. Reports of police brutality, including reports of intrusive bodily searches of the protesters, called water protectors, are rising.

The proposed 1,172 mile long pipeline would move 470,000 barrels of domestic crude oil a day through four states and run through the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, threatening water, the environment, and Native American burial and prayer sites.

Law enforcement has escalated their response and have arrested at least 141 protesters. Efforts by journalists to document what is happening is being hampered and criminalized.

A local prosecutor had charged Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! with rioting after her crew filmed an assault on protesters on September 3. A judge threw out the charges against Goodman on October 17.

Documentary producer Deia Schlosberg was arrested for filming protesters who broke into a pipeline valve station near Walhalla, North Dakota on October 11. She was charged with three felony conspiracy counts, and could face as much as 45 years in jail.

The Society of Environmental Journalists wrote law enforcement officials at the state and federal levels on October 19, objecting to the prosecution of journalists who have been covering the protests.

Recent visits by the Reverend Jesse Jackson and actor Mark Ruffalo and others have helped raise awareness of what is transpiring, and several Olympians have traveled there, will travel there, or are there now, experiencing police brutality.

Caro Gonzales of Olympia has been at Standing Rock since August as an organizer for the International Indigenous Youth Council, and was arrested and released on Friday. All her gear has been impounded.

“They snatched me while I was praying…then dragged me to the burial grounds to handcuff me and stomped on my arms till I dropped the tobacco offering and sage. They kept us in dog kennels. We were put in solitary and refused medical attention,” she wrote on social media.

She reports that she was charged with a felony and released. She is currently seeking anyone who may have video of her arrest to prove she was praying while taken away by law enforcement.

Amnesty International USA issued a press release on Friday saying they have sent a delegation of human rights observers to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, to monitor the response of law enforcement to protests by indigenous communities.

AIUSA also has sent a letter to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department expressing concern about the degree of force used against the protesters. The organization will also call on the Department of Justice to investigate police practices. 

Sitting Bull continued:

“....Don’t hold hatred in your heart for those officers (at Standing Rock) because that’s not what we do in the Sun Dance way. I want to say, turn that around on them, just hope that they start looking at their human consciousness that’s been stolen from them…that they may have a spiritual awakening, a personal experience. They might say, ‘What am I doing? What am I doing to this person, this human being that I’m pulling out of prayer, pulling his naked body out of the womb. What am I doing? What am I doing? I can’t do this anymore, for money….’ In that way, he might transition back to those birds, those trees. All the natural things around him might start talking to him again. The birds might say, ‘Hey, come back, come back and talk to us, stop what you’re doing. Let’s live together in hope....

Above: As rain clouds loom, Rebecca Cesspooch, Northern Ute, Nakota, of Olympia addressed the group gathered in Olympia on Saturday.

Lydia Drescher, California Band of Mission Indians, Tongva, of Olympia, has already been to Standing Rock and said she will leave again on November 20 to deliver much needed community donations gathered in Olympia.

There are three locations where individuals can make clothing donations. Although there was an initial abundance of clothing sent to Standing Rock, those items, including tents and teepees, have recently been taken away by law enforcement.

The request is being made now to donate earplugs, goggles, heavy socks, long underwear, gloves, and other warm items that are not too bulky.

A donation box is located at the Westside Co-op at 921 Rogers St. NW, but donations can also be taken to the Eastside Coop at 3111 Pacific Avenue SE. Other donation box locations are at The Longhouse at The Evergreen State College, and Traditions Fair Trade, 300 5th Avenue, in downtown Olympia.

Financial donations made at either branch of the Olympia Food Co-op will be matched, dollar for dollar, up to $1,000. In addition, the Co-op is asking patrons to “round up” their grocery bill to the nearest dollar or more to donate to the Standing Rock water protectors.  

Above: Rebecca Cesspooch, Northern Ute, Nakota, of Olympia, held an Honor Treaty Rights sign, addressed the group gathered in Olympia on Saturday.

“This is a long fight that has been happening. This fight is old. It never stopped. It’s been going on forever…It’s our turn now to be strong in the way our ancestors have been strong…It is our time to go back to the old ways. Now is the time to reclaim them because the Mother Earth needs you. Your ancestors are singing to you. Now is the time to unite and remember our ways….It will be hard…but we have to be strong. Talk to the land, talk to each other….Pray for accountability, pray for healing, justice, and long term systemic change. Pray. Take the time to remember the sacredness in you and around you. Love yourself unconditionally and love those around you unconditionally, even though we may not agree….Hold compassion in your heart…because that’s the only thing that will keep us strong and get us through this. All my relations….” said Rebecca Cesspooch, Northern Ute, Nakota, of Olympia. 

For more information, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe at and is accepting financial donations online that will go toward legal, sanitary, and emergency purposes.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Owls Occupy Old Brewhouse Tower in Tumwater

Above: On a tour organized by the Old Brewhouse Foundation in October 2014, City of Tumwater councilmember Tom Oliva, in dark coat, stands on the sixth floor of the Old Brewhouse tower, and looks up at the photographer who is in an upper loft of the tower under the copper roof. Owl droppings litter the floor. It is anticipated that the owls will be relocated before the tower undergoes temporary repairs, window closures, and weatherization this winter.

By Janine Gates

Barn owls have occupied Tumwater’s vacant Old Brewhouse tower for years, but they will not rule the roost for much longer.

In a meeting last month of the Tumwater Historic Preservation Commission, commissioners approved, with conditions, a certificate of appropriateness so the city can begin temporary weatherization efforts of the tower.

The 110 year old Old Brewhouse is a historic landmark, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. It has been on a watch list by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, and is also in Tumwater's Historic Brewery District.

Obtaining a certificate of appropriateness by the commission ensures that any alteration, demolition, or new construction to the historic site is consistent with the property's character. The step is also necessary to move forward with permitting. 

The commissioners took their time at the September 8 meeting to express concern for the owls, ask extensive questions about the types of materials to be used in repairs and weatherization, the methodology for anchoring a temporary roof, and the appearance of the temporary fixes.

One of the conditions for approval was assurance from staff that they would learn more about the barn owls and figure out how to relocate them before installing a temporary roof and sealing up about 55 windows.

Barn owls are a protected species under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

After consulting with biologist Michelle Tirhi of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife after the meeting, city staff learned that they must place owl boxes elsewhere on the property in hopes that the owls in the tower will be convinced that they should go elsewhere.

Contacted by Little Hollywood, Tirhi said barn owls often seek out older, seldom used outbuildings for nesting, like barns and old buildings. Barn owls are done nesting for the season and this is a great time to construct and place nest boxes, and then seal them out of their current location.   

The boxes should be installed as close to where the owls currently enter and exit the building. 

Tirhi said she is hopeful the city or volunteers will continue to monitor the boxes so that they can be protected, repaired, or replaced over time, as needed, for the sake of the owls.

The City of Tumwater acquired the tower in an agreement with owner George Heidgerken in May. Heidgerken and his company, Falls Development LLC, owns the 32 acre area around the Old Brewhouse property, roughly bounded by Custer Way to the south, the Deschutes River to the west, Capitol Lake to the north, and the railroad to the east. 

As of this week, there is still no update on the placement of the nesting boxes.

“We’re working with George (Heidgerken) to get permission to install them on site in a variety of locations that are appealing to owls. Then, it will be safe to seal up the Old Brewhouse,” said assistant city administrator and brewery property manager Heidi Behrends Cerniway.

In the meantime, the building continues to deteriorate. In a process called “spalling,” bricks literally fly off the tower, as moisture causes the mortar to expand and contract with weather temperatures, thus dislodging the bricks. 

Behrends Cerniwey told the seven member commission that whenever she visits the site, new bricks are laying on the ground around the tower.

The city hopes to have the temporary protections and weatherization efforts complete by the end of the year.

Above: The southeast corner of the Old Brewhouse tower of the fourth floor shows a dramatic decay of bricks and exposure to the elements.

Regarding the appearance of the repairs, there will be no unsightly blue tarps, but a temporary roof is expected to stay put for one to four years while funding is secured for a permanent roof and window materials.

The windows could be boarded up with plywood from the inside, and perhaps shaped to fit the window, but some windows may have a clear weather resistant material instead, to allow in light. Some may stay open to allow for minimal ventilation. There is no electrical power or heating inside the building.

The city’s consultant, Cardinal Architecture, produced a detailed tower protection and renovation report in May. It estimated that a temporary roof structure would cost about $97,750, and temporary windows and door panels would cost about $21,250.

Because they will be temporary - immediate protections meant to reduce the rate of decay - the city says it will not go through a formal bidding process, and the work will be done with volunteer labor and donated materials.

This was another aspect of significant discussion, as commissioners did not want to find themselves in a situation similar to that of the City of Olympia when it attempted to use the donated services of Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers to demolish two blighted buildings on the isthmus in downtown Olympia last year.

One of those organizations donating services is the nonprofit Old Brewhouse Foundation.

Rob Kirkwood, president of the nonprofit, has already built four owl boxes, donated an additional owl box, and provides informal input on how to approach the project and what is needed to be done in terms of professional services.

The City of Tumwater will begin permanent restoration efforts as soon as funds become available through grants, capital giving campaigns, and other sources. The project, when complete, is expected to cost about six million dollars.

So far, the only funding the City of Tumwater has on hand for the tower’s restoration is $14,500, an amount earned from the Conservation Futures fund for trail easements that will be donated back to the city. Another $288,000 is coming through the city’s lodging tax funds.

“We’ve been doing our homework about a capital campaign, and working on a funding strategy to raise private and foundation dollars as a match for state grants such as the Heritage Capital Project Fund (HCPF). We did apply for a HCPF grant of $500,000 for the 2017-2019 biennium, but it requires a match of two to one to begin the first phase of restoration,” said Behrends Cerniway.

Above: Local naturalist Nancy Partlow of Tumwater holds barn owl pellets on a tour of the Old Brewhouse property and the tower in October 2014. Partlow documents and contributes many of her observations on a local blog, Bees, Birds & Butterflies, at and has known about the owls in the tower for many years.

“It's a perfect setup for them, protected, but with open and easy access to prey. Their nests are simply scraped together regurgitated owl pellets, which are the fur and bones left over after the rest of its prey has been digested. Nature's recycling at work, but also an interesting way for owls to raise young, on the remains of their victims,” says Partlow. 

For more interior and exterior pictures and information about the Old Brewhouse, Tumwater, the planned action for the historic property, George Heidgerken, Falls Development LLC, stop work orders, groundwatering monitoring, and other issues related to the property, go to Little Hollywood, and type key words into the search engine.

For the benefits of owls in Washington and providing for them, go here:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a page on installing barn owl nest boxes:

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Olympia Sea Level Rise Website Coming Soon

Above: When it comes to sea level rise, downtown Olympia is running out of time. Here, the waters of Budd Inlet reach the floorboards of the Olympia Yacht Club office at high tide the morning of March 10, 2016. Luckily, favorable weather conditions created a tide lower than expected, peaking at about 17.4 feet.

Sea Level Rise Language Clarified for Views on 5th Plans

By Janine Gates

In light of a possible redevelopment of downtown Olympia’s nine story Mistake on the Lake, also known as the Capitol Center Building or Views on 5th, Little Hollywood checked in earlier this week with City of Olympia's water resources director Andy Haub.

What progress has the Olympia City Council made about sea level rise issues since city staff dropped their sobering report about Olympia's vulnerabilities on the council last February?

The briefing by Haub and other staff last February was so frank, it caused one council member to throw into the conversation the consideration of abandoning downtown.

Council members have been updated on sea level rise issues informally since February, and adopted an ordinance on August 30 to raise finished floor elevations in downtown for new construction. 

Although the council’s Land Use and Environment committee hasn’t been updated on the topic since April, staff updated the city’s Utility Advisory Committee (UAC) on October 6. 

The UAC will be helping the city develop the scope of a sea level rise program plan. One goal will be to develop a formal community plan that prioritizes downtown investments. The city is working on establishing participation with the Port of Olympia and the LOTT Clean Water Alliance and looking at the sea level action plans of San Francisco and Vancouver, B.C.

“We continue to make progress in 2016 and the plan is on schedule to begin in early 2017,” said Haub.

Haub also said that an interactive sea level rise webpage on the city website is scheduled to be up later this week. 

The link will be:

The webpage will include a map of downtown. Folks can select various levels of sea rise and see how it affects downtown, degree of inundation, buildings affected, street impacts, and so forth. It should be helpful,” said Haub.

Above: High tide at Percival Landing earlier this month, with the nine story Capitol Center Building, the proposed Views on 5th, in the background. 

Language Clarified for Views on 5th Plans

The community is in need of a sea level rise primer specific to Olympia. 

Recent verbiage used by staff in a meeting to describe how the proposed Views on 5th project must be raised to 16 feet, for example, caused confusion for readers of Little Hollywood.  Admittedly, Little Hollywood didn’t do a good job of explaining that the reference didn't mean 16 feet above the street, and added a note of clarification to the story.

Developer Ken Brogan showed city staff his preliminary plans to redevelop the nine story building and a nearby one story building at last Wednesday’s Site Plan Review Committee meeting. The one story building would be converted to a three story building. 

The elevation reference was in relation to mean sea level, and in the case of the vacant nine story building bordered by 4th Avenue and 5th Avenue, and Simmons Street and Sylvester Street near the Heritage Park Fountain, the sidewalk is 12 feet above sea level. This means the project would need to accommodate a four foot sea level rise.

This analysis is in keeping with the city’s projection of about four to eight feet of sea level rise in downtown Olympia by 2100. 

“....The construction of the project must be designed so that the lowest occupied floor is raised to 16 feet elevation. Alternatively, the applicant can dry flood proof the exterior walls to ensure flood proofing is accomplished with barriers or panels that close entrances, should there be a flooding event, said Tim Smith, principal planner for the City of Olympia, in an email to Little Hollywood.

The 16 foot elevation is an incremental step toward preparing the city for sea level rise and adds one foot to the minimum finished floor elevation required by the current flood prevention ordinance for properties within Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) mapped flood hazard areas. This would be two feet above FEMA’s coastal flood elevation, 14 feet, for downtown.

Parking is proposed under the new one story building, but not three stories. Smith says there is about a six foot differential shown on Brogan’s preliminary plans with regard to the lowest parking floor elevation.

“Staff believes it is very possible to design a foundation or other structure so that it is impermeable to water intrusion and the effects of buoyancy. The design for these considerations will be addressed and calculations performed by the soils and structural engineers based on the conditions and as these elements come together,” said Smith earlier this week.

“If water were to infiltrate or seep into the area, pumps could be used to remove the water. We see this often on a much smaller scale when we have a sump pump in a basement or subterranean garage with a hillside condition that may have a water infiltration issue.”

Above: The Oyster House restaurant prepared for the high tide on March 10, 2016 with a wooden barrier and a few sandbags.

Downtown Strategy

Many other downtown issues are ongoing through processes that have separate timelines and decision tracks.

Another city sponsored Downtown Strategy open house will be held on Saturday, October 29, from 10:00 a.m. to noon, at the Olympia Center at 222 Columbia Street NW in downtown Olympia.

The public can review proposed actions related to housing, transportation, business, and urban design. Staff will ask participants about their priorities for what should be the most immediate actions the city should take within the six year implementation period.

A final draft report will be released later this year, leading to its adoption by the city council by the end of 2016.

“As we mapped and evaluated the downtown land uses, we were struck by how much critical infrastructure and how many emergency transportation corridors are encompassed by our relatively small downtown. 

We all concluded that downtown needed to be protected in its entirety, or not at all. It’s all or nothing,” explains a descriptive flyer produced by the city for the Downtown Strategy process.

For more photos and information about the staff report to council in February, sea level rise, king tides, and flooding issues in downtown Olympia, Andy Haub, the Downtown Strategy, and more, go to Little Hollywood, and type key words into the search engine.

For more information about the Downtown Strategy, contact Amy Buckler, Senior Planner, City of Olympia, at (360) 570-5847 or

A full description of the Dowtown Strategy goals and process can be found at

Above: Ryan Kang, general manager of The Governor Hotel, speaks with his tablemates at a Downtown Strategy meeting for developers and businesses on April 28, 2016 in city council chambers. Other businesses at his table represented the Port of Olympia, Ron Thomas Architects, Big Rock Capital, Olympia Federal Savings, Petworks, Prime Locations, Rants Group, and Adroit Contractors. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

New Plans for Olympia’s “Mistake on the Lake:” Residential, Restaurant, Gym, Pool

Above: Looking north from the switchback trail on the State Capitol Campus toward downtown Olympia, Budd Inlet and the Olympic Mountains, a vacant, nine story building stands in the middle of the view. Local developer Ken Brogan says he is under contract to purchase the former office building and proposes to redevelop it into a mixed use residential apartment complex.

By Janine Gates

Ken Brogan soon hopes to be the new owner of the nine story building in downtown Olympia, best known by critics as The Mistake on the Lake, and has a full set of plans for it. 

Others have been working for years toward its possible demolition to restore the original, open scenic view north to Budd Inlet and the Olympic Mountains.

Brogan met with city staff on Wednesday morning to discuss redevelopment of the two parcel site, which includes the nine story building and another vacant, one story building. 

The nine story building is also known as the Capitol Center Building, and The Views on 5th.

The proposed development would convert the nine story building to a mixed use project containing 136 apartment units, and a 6,364 square foot restaurant and cafĂ©. 

The one story building nearby would be rebuilt into a new three story structure with an underground parking structure for residents, administrative offices, a rooftop swimming pool, and a fitness gym along the frontage of 4th Avenue, which would be open to the public.  It is uncertain if the pool would be open to the public.

The parcels are bounded by 4th Avenue West, 5th Avenue SW, Simmons Street SW, just south of Bayview Market, and Sylvester St. SW, which is next to the Heritage Park Fountain.

Built in 1965 and vacant for over ten years, the blighted nine story building has had a long and tortuous history, and at this rate, despite its location, is old enough to be of interest to historic preservationists for its mid-century architecture.

Homeless individuals currently sleep in and around the buildings and windows are often broken. Brogan, who has not yet taken ownership of the property, said that he and his team spend “everyday” trying to figure out what to do about the situation.

Above: Local developer Ken Brogan speaks with City of Olympia building official Todd Cunningham on Wednesday morning.

Nicole Floyd, city senior planner and manager for the project, led the discussion among key staff who took turns asking high level, clarifying questions, discussing codes, requirements, and concerns involving building, engineering, fire, urban forestry, and public works standards. 

Brogan submitted his plans to the city on September 28 and has not yet filed a land use application.

Among other comments, staff said a traffic impact analysis would be required, and the project would need to conform to the new Low Impact Development standards that will take effect December 1. Brogan said he anticipates submitting an application after that date and would comply with all current standards.

Staff expressed subtle and not so subtle enthusiasm about the project.

“It’s an exciting project, and an opportunity to clean up the area down there,” started city building official Todd Cunningham, who also admitted that the project was a complicated one. 

The building's height is non-conforming and is grandfathered into an area that has a current height limit of 35 feet, however, the structure cannot be enlarged or expanded in size.

There will be opportunities for public involvement throughout the land use process, which will start with a neighborhood meeting after Brogan submits a land use application. The project will be subject to State Environmental Policy Act review, which will be led by city senior planner Cari Hornbein.

Causing confusion for some is the fact that previously submitted plans for the building to be converted into a hotel are vested.

“The previous land use approval was for a hotel, which is still vested. That means an applicant can move forward with building permits to convert the existing building to a hotel. The new proposal is not vested. The applicant must file a new land use review application which must be approved by the city before building permits can be issued and the project constructed,” explained Tim Smith, principal planner for the City of Olympia, after the meeting.

The area is zoned Waterfront Urban – Housing. Smith says that no portion of the property is within shoreline jurisdiction.

Above: Waterfront indeed. A relatively tame storm surge from Budd Inlet spilled over onto Sylvester Street in downtown Olympia in March 2016, reaching 4th Avenue and the Oyster House restaurant. The nine story Capitol Center Building and another vacant building proposed to be redeveloped are in the flood zone. City officials told developer Ken Brogan on Wednesday that he will have to plan to accommodate a 16 foot sea level rise.

Jerry Reilly, chair of the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, attended Wednesday’s meeting.

In an interview with Little Hollywood, Reilly praised the city’s purchase and demolition of two nearby, blighted buildings, in its effort toward the creation of a great civic space on the isthmus.

He is also pleased with the passage of last year’s ballot measure to create the city’s Metropolitan Park District that enabled the city’s purchase of Kaiser Heights, a wooded parcel near Ken Lake, and the LBA Woods. However, Reilly said he would like to remind councilmembers that a leading argument for the MPD’s passage was to also make more feasible the removal of the nine story building.

“Eleven months have gone by since over 60 percent of Olympia voters approved the creation of the Metropolitan Park District. One of the key selling points of the MPD was its potential to make more likely the removal of the Capitol Center Building.

“We may be on the verge of an historic missed opportunity to purchase and remove this building. The building is now at the bottom of its market value. The question now, most often heard from people regarding this building is, ‘Why was it allowed to be built in the first place?’  The question in the future may be, “Why didn't we remove it when we had the chance?

“The people of Olympia intensely dislike this building. They have told us this on many occasions, through an initiative signed by nearly 5,000 registered voters, a Trust for Public Lands poll, the Elway poll, and the positive vote for the MPD. If redevelopment proceeds, we will endure this Mistake on the Lake for another fifty years. Time is running out,” said Reilly.

As for Brogan’s designs, Reilly called them “interesting,” but questioned why he would want to remodel a building built on fill in a floodplain susceptible to liquefaction.

Little Hollywood’s attempts to speak with Brogan were somewhat unsuccessful.

After asking Brogan a few questions, he discontinued speaking with Little Hollywood after twice asking, “Do you support the project or are you opposed to the project?” Further conversation was apparently conditional on my response.

Little Hollywood responded, “If you read my writing, I try to be fair and offer new perspectives. I have fans on both sides of the issue. I tend to stick to the facts and let other people’s comments provide balance,” and suggested he read my articles.

Brogan did say that he thinks the nearby 123 4th Avenue building is a big compliment to downtown Olympia, and if given the opportunity to pursue his project, he would use local contractors.

Above: The interior of the Capitol Center Building is fully gutted. The windows on the first floor are often broken and a source of easy entry into the building.

For more interior photos and information about the Capitol Center Building, aka The Mistake on the Lake or The Views on 5th, hotel plans, the isthmus, scenic views, Jerry Reilly, the Olympia Capitol Park Foundation, the city’s Downtown Strategy, king tides and sea level rise, go to Little Hollywood and type key words into the search button. 

Story Clarifications, October 20: The original article made it sound like the underground garage would be under the nine story building. It would be beside it, as part of the three story building. Also, in preparation for sea level rise to 16 feet, the elevation is in relation to mean sea level, and the sidewalk at that location is about 12 feet.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Needed Repairs Overdue At Our National Parks

Above: Over 20 members from the Olympia, Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett chapters of The Mountaineers volunteered their time for several hours on Mt. Rainier National Park’s Paradise area trails last Saturday. The group used shovels and brooms to reclaim edges of paved trails covered with mud and gravel, took out rebar and rope guidelines along meadow trails, and placed erosion control checks along the newly repaved Skyline Trail.

By Janine Gates

While blizzard-like conditions swirled high on the Muir snowfields at Mt. Rainier National Park, over 20 members of the Olympia, Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett chapters of The Mountaineers worked several hours on trail maintenance at 5,420 feet last Saturday.

Under the direction of National Park Service trail maintenance staff Kevin Watson and Kenny Allen, the group finished the day by placing erosion control rocks and fill at regular intervals, about every four feet, along the steep, newly repaved Skyline Trail.

The rocks, called checks, if angled properly, help water flow in neat rivulets over, not under, the pavement, which would cause unintended erosion and unwanted culverts.

Just as their work was done, the rain started pouring and the checks quickly demonstrated their purpose. The Mountaineers cheered, satisfied that their efforts were effective.

“Burying the checks is one of the most time-consuming projects,” said Allen, who helped supervise the volunteers with good humor. After years of volunteering at projects along the Columbia River Gorge, this was his first season as a National Park Service trail maintenance crew member. 

Allen said more fill will be placed along the trail within a couple of weeks.

Above: Newly installed checks and fall colors on the Skyline Trail above the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Paradise, Mt. Rainier National Park.

If only tackling Mt. Rainier National Park’s list of deferred maintenance projects was so easy.

The National Park System celebrated its centennial in 2016 with lots of well-deserved praise and 307 million visits last year, but with increasingly unreliable funding from the U.S. Congress, all eyes are now on the next 100 years.

It would appear that H.R. 3556, the National Park Service Centennial Act introduced last year, is stalled in the U.S. House of Representatives this 114th Session, and with it, hopes of securing funding to finance, preserve, and maintain access and public safety at the park system's 413 sites.

With 10,000 miles of roads, 18,000 miles of trails, 1,500 bridges, and more than 60 tunnels, the National Park System is $12 billion in the hole in deferred maintenance projects, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Deferred maintenance is the cost of maintenance which was not performed for at least a year from when it should have been or was scheduled to be.

Of the $12 billion, nearly six billion is transportation related, with $2.4 billion considered to be critical, high priority repairs for roads, bridges, trails, wastewater treatment and electric systems, and historical buildings, among other assets.

“Our national parks are a proven economic generator - $16 billion. These deferred maintenance projects are more than just a broken park bench,” said Marcia Argust, director, of Restore America’s Park, a dedicated program of The Pew Charitable Trusts. Argust briefed members of the Society for Environmental Journalists on the topic last month in Sacramento.

Above: Half-Dome at Yosemite National Park. Yosemite has $560 million in deferred maintenance projects, with more than $271 million related to access and transportation. According to the National Park Service, for every dollar invested in the NPS, $10 is returned to cities and towns. Park visitors spent an estimated $16.9 billion in gateway communities in 2015, supporting 295,300 jobs and $32 billion in economic activity nationwide.

Based on the park system's 2015 fiscal year numbers which were released in February 2016, Pew is creating 45 deferred maintenance case studies, including one on Washington State’s Mt. Rainier National Park. 

Using the park's numbers and asset categories, Mt. Rainier National Park has nearly $287 million in deferred maintenance costs - $286,949,885 to be exact.

With current boundaries at over 236 million acres, most of Mt. Rainier National Park's costs are, by far, for paved roads, about $194.9 million, followed by buildings, road bridges, electrical systems, trails, parking lots, landscaping, and water and wastewater systems. The park was established in 1899.

The last push to improve our national park system was during the creation of the National Highway system and the Mission 66 project after WWII. Congress gave money for facilities after huge lines for bathrooms and other inadequate assets resulted in public outcry.

Congress has the responsibility to provide safe national parks, and Pew is working to obtain dedicated annual funding through the Highway Trust Fund, $268 million a year, to address the park’s transportation issues. It is a fund reviewed every five years. It is also looking for policy reforms to prevent the backlog from escalating.

“People have expressed concerns about logos added to Mt. Rushmore, but there are more realistic options for private/public partnerships. We’d like to see corporations donate time and technology,” said Argust.

The site in need of the most finances for repairs is the National Mall, which needs an estimated $900 million. The Memorial Bridge in Arlington needs an estimated $250 million.

The worst case scenario is a total loss of access to a national park, monument, or site due to deferred maintenance and public safety issues.

The Atlanta birth home of Martin Luther King, Jr. was closed in August for floorboard and structural issues. The house was built in 1895 and it is unclear when the repairs will be completed.

Above: California’s Kings Canyon National Park visitor area at Grant Grove. The asphalt sidewalks and paths are in such disrepair that staff offer to assist park visitors and their luggage to cabins using golf carts. The total for Sequoia and Kings Canyon deferred maintenance projects is $162 million.