Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Olympia Attorney Fights for His Life, Nature

Above: Darren Nienaber, former deputy city of Olympia attorney and father of three young children, is looking at the big picture as he battles class 4 glioblastoma brain cancer. He has started an environment and land use education non-profit called People and Otters.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Characteristically, Darren Nienaber, 47, has always spoken slowly and quietly, choosing his words carefully.

For 18 years, the former deputy city of Olympia attorney has worked as an attorney for both city and county government, specializing in land use and environmental law.

Now, Nienaber (pronounced nee-neighbor) is on a mission to use his legal expertise to protect nature in the Pacific Northwest, especially in Western Washington and Oregon.

His goal is to educate decision makers and the public about federal, state and local environmental codes and regulations. While assisting community members with advice and potential litigation, Nienaber is also fighting for his life.

A father of three young children, Nienaber has class 4 glioblastoma, a rare, aggressive type of brain cancer with a low rate of survival.

In December 2015, Nienaber had brain surgery to remove the cancer. All was well for a while, but then it came back.

He had a second surgery in January of this year and is now undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments. In May, he left his position at the city.

“I hope this does the trick. I’m doing all I can do to fight it,” says Nienaber, who talked about his outlook on life and new endeavors with Little Hollywood last week

Chuckling at the irony, Nienaber said he had just paid off his law school debt when he found out he had cancer.

To further his environmental interests, Nienaber recently created a new non-profit called People and Otters. Asked about the name, he laughed and said, “I picked otters as a representative of nature out of total cuteness.” 

The idea is working. On his website, his creative writing oozes his upbeat personality and passion for conservation issues.

The purpose for the organization came to him after his first brain surgery, when he realized his sense of smell was more acute. 

“I could smell so-called odorless paint for months,” he said. His sense of hearing also improved. That led him to think about the animals in nature.

“It’s not surprising that some animals want to avoid state and federal logging roads. The roads are noisy and generate a lot of dust that damages streams….Then it occurred to me: can there be more places without roads and areas set aside just for nature?”

Above: The distinctive, loud drumming of several pileated woodpeckers boring into trees could be heard well before they could be seen along Sequalitchew Creek in DuPont on Tuesday.

With deep family roots in Whatcom County, Nienaber was born and raised in Bellingham. He grew up playing in nearby forests, building forts, hiking trails, and having Douglas fir cone fights with his buddies.

Well into his 20s, his days were also filled with lying on the beach and playing in tide pools, observing barnacles and crabs.

He started his college education taking classes in finance but ended up graduating in environmental analysis from Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University.

He was the editor of an award-winning environmental magazine called The Planet and appreciated his time with faculty member Michael Frome, a nationally known environmental journalist.

“He said to me, ‘You have to talk to the other side to understand what they are saying. Don’t just get mad and angry from a distance,’” Nienaber remembers. 

Wanting to help the environment from within the system, Nienaber received his law degree in 2000 from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. He had legal stints in King and Mason counties before landing at the City of Olympia in 2005.

True to his temperament, Nienaber has a unique approach to adversarial situations.

“I am not afraid to take a strong stance for my client, but that doesn’t mean I have to be mad while doing it,” he said.

Above: In January, 2010, then deputy city attorney Darren Nienaber spoke before the city’s Design Review Board. The contentious issue was Triway Enterprises’ plan to build a massive housing and mixed-use office building project on the isthmus in downtown Olympia. Going against a city staff recommendation to approve the project, the Board recommended denial of the applicant’s plan.

State, County, and City Reforms Needed

Nienaber is enjoying his ability to be outspoken as a private citizen and says anyone can be a city planner or an activist if they get involved in the process. 

Optimistically, Nienaber is taking the long view on state, county, and city level environmental reforms.

On the state level, his interests include improving federal and state land management and logging practices. He wants to stop outright clear cutting and limit the harsh impacts of extensive road systems within the forests.

“There should be more all-natural nature than there is,” he says.

On the local level, he has voiced his desire for city and county officials to take themselves out of all levels of permit processes in land use decision-making.

Out of respect for his former employer, Nienaber demurred when asked about examples specific to Olympia, but referred to last months Washington State Supreme Court decision against the county, Maytown Sand and Gravel, LLC v Thurston County. 

The case involved a 20-year special use permit to mine gravel in Thurston County. The Maytown Sand and Gravel Company and the Port of Tacoma claimed the county’s board of commissioners imposed unnecessary procedural hurdles on the process, and had personal communications with others about the permit that were not disclosed during a permit review hearing.

“Regardless of political party or what may or may not have not been discussed, private conversations in quasi-judicial, administrative and appeal processes are bad. A lot of land use decisions go to the county commissioners that shouldn’t. In this case, millions were paid out by the taxpayers and the county’s insurance company, eight million to the Port of Tacoma and four million to Maytown Sand and Gravel.

“Unfortunately, there was an appearance of corruption. Land use cases should be handled by hearing examiners who have the knowledge and expertise to deal with cases on a local level. If there are specific concerns about the local environment, the hearing examiner needs to be made aware of them,” he said.

Referring to the Appearance of Fairness Doctrine, he said the City of Olympia is a good model for this process.

About growth issues, Nienaber has seen first-hand how city councils need more options to attract infilling of their downtown and neighborhood centers.

“All too often, these areas are too risky to invest in because of legacy pollution,” he said.

Nienaber recently wrote a letter to Washington State Governor Jay Inslee regarding the state Department of Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program, which is responsible for the Model Toxics Control Accounts (MTCA).

“It is an underfunded program,” he wrote the governor last month.

“This is a problem that I think both conservation/ environmental groups and the development/construction side can agree. People and Otters strongly supports both a significant increase in funding, in the short term to take care of a back log, as well as funding to increase the number of (Ecology) employees that review MTCA cases.”

Referring to the Washington State Growth Management Act and local project review requirements, Nienaber says increased funding will move projects forward more quickly so small and medium sized cities can rebuild and reinvent.

If all this seems like Nienaber has a lot on his plate, he does, but he’s also taking time to enjoy the nature he loves so much. He recently took a trip to Alaska with his children, and often takes day trips to local destinations.

“I had thought I would be able to protect nature when I retired. Now, I don’t know how much time I have left.

“I must first and foremost fight the cancer and also love my loved ones. With whatever time I have after that, and fun time too, I want to fight for nature. That’s my mission. I don’t know where this will go, but I have lots of hopes and dreams of a better day for nature.”

For more information about People and Otters, go to or on Facebook, go to

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Olympia Sea Level Rise Open House

Above:  Due to its location on Budd Inlet, downtown Olympia will flood more often as sea levels rise. Draft sea level rise adaptation strategies will be on display at an upcoming open house. City staff will be in attendance to answer questions.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Olympia city staff will host an open house and community meeting about sea level rise response planning for downtown Olympia.

The event will be September 19, 2018, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m., LOTT Clean Water Alliance, 500 Adams St NE, Olympia.

The City of Olympia, Port of Olympia, and LOTT Clean Water Alliance are working together to develop a sea level rise response plan to help protect downtown assets, services, and critical infrastructure.

The meeting will include presentations on the planning effort and potential adaptation strategies. It will also offer an opportunity for public feedback on draft adaptation strategies.

The city is planning for sea level rise of 24 inches, or two feet, by mid-century and 68 inches, or 5.7 feet, by the end of the century.

A variety of potential adaptation strategies have been identified, including permanent flood protection such as elevated paths, new sea walls, and higher existing sea walls.

Temporary flood protection includes sandbagging, sealed street grates, and flood gates. 

Other options include living with water, creating living shorelines, elevated structures, and allowing landscapes to flood.

Key areas of concern include the Budd Inlet Treatment Plant, the isthmus and Percival Landing, Capitol Lake and the Port of Olympia marine terminal area.

Throughout the month of September, the city is featuring informational displays on Percival Landing about sea level rise in downtown Olympia.  

Above: Eric Christensen, City of Olympia Public Works, indicates the area where the city will protect downtown from sea level rise using a combination of strategies such as flood gates and raised walls and planter boxes.

Elected Officials Meeting

To discuss sea level rise response planning, a joint meeting of the LOTT Clean Water Alliance Board of Directors, Port of Olympia Commission, and Olympia City Council will be held September 17, 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m., LOTT Clean Water Alliance.

Community members are welcome to attend and observe. Public comment at this meeting will be limited to written form.

For more information about City of Olympia sea level rise planning and previous community meetings, downtown flooding issues, high tides, combined sewer and storm water systems, go to Little Hollywood, and type key words into the search button.

For more information from the City of Olympia about sea level rise response planning, go to or email

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Sequalitchew Threatened by DuPont Warehouses

Above: DuPont Industrial Partners, LLC is proposing to build two massive warehouses near Sequalitchew Creek and the Sequalitchew Creek trail in DuPont. The peaceful trail area, abundant with wildlife, is a favorite destination for families, bird watchers, and photographers.

Public Comment Deadline is September 12

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

A developer is proposing to build two industrial warehouse buildings on a vacant 21 acre piece of land located on the west side of Sequalitchew Creek in the city of DuPont in Pierce County. 

The project applicant is Eric Cederstrand, DuPont Industrial Partners, LLC, represented by Barghausen Consulting Engineers of Kent.

According to the application submitted to the city, the proposed construction of the two buildings total approximately 258,400 square feet, or over five acres. Over 70 percent of the property is expected to become impervious surface.

The warehouse facility is expected to employ 99 people. 

Sequalitchew Creek is an environmentally sensitive area on the east side of the Nisqually Reach.

Its canyon water flow comes from a variety of sources, including Sequalitchew Lake, underground springs, and smaller seeps.

peaceful 1.5 mile walking trail follows the wooded ravine along Sequalitchew Creek. It begins at the City of DuPont’s civic center and ends at the mouth of Sequalitchew Creek and Puget Sound, just north of the Nisqually Delta. It is a favorite destination for families. 

The buffer between the proposed project and the Sequalitchew Creek trail as labeled on an attached site map is 100 feet.

The City of DuPont has reviewed the proposed project and will likely issue a Mitigated Determination of Non-significance (MDNS) for the project.

Agencies, tribes, and the public are encouraged to review and comment on the proposed project by submitting written comments to the City of DuPont by 5:00 p.m. on September 12.

Comments should be sent to Jeff Wilson, City of DuPont Community Development Director and City SEPA Official, City of DuPont, 1700 Civic Drive DuPont, WA 98327 or

Above: The beginning of the paved portion of the Sequalitchew Creek trail and a dirt road indicates the direction a new road would be constructed to access two proposed industrial warehouses in DuPont. The area is the former site of the historic Methodist Episcopal Mission.

The Sequalitchew area was the site of a year round village for the Sequalitchew-Nisqually Indians over 5,700 years ago. The name Sequalitchew is the Nisqually description of the sandy beach at the mouth of the creek and means big tide or long, run out tide. 

The land for the proposed warehouses is also the general site of the historic Methodist Episcopal Mission, the first non-permanent, Euro-American settlement on Puget Sound. Built in 1839, the Mission burned down in 1842.

In 1841, a second group of Americans arrived and anchored off the mouth of Sequalitchew Creek. Led by explorer Lt. Charles Wilkes, the general area is said to be the site of the first Fourth of July celebration north of the Columbia River.

According to the application, the proposal includes an expanded public right-of-way dedication to create a public plaza for historical markers as part of the development.

The vacant site will need all aspects of land preparation and infrastructure including grading, landscaping, water and sanitary sewer extensions, a stormwater collection and infiltration facility, dedications of public right-of-way, and an extension of Sequalitchew Drive.

Due to contamination, the property is subject to the terms of a 1991 consent decree between the Washington State Department of Ecology and the Weyerhaeuser Company and DuPont Company. 

Under the state Model Toxics Control Act, the companies agreed to implement remedial cleanup activities for the contaminated areas of the site. 

The property is part of the former DuPont Works site, a 3,000-acre parcel of land that at one time was the site of an industrial explosives production facility operated by the E.I. duPont de Nemours & Company. 

Above: A site map indicates the location of a 21 acre vacant parcel of land along Sequalitchew Creek proposed for the construction of two warehouse buildings totaling over five acres in size with related facility requirements.

Above: The nearby apartment community of Creekside Village is nestled alongside the Sequalitchew Creek trail on Sequalitchew Drive. The trail system along the creek and the historic Fort Nisqually site is a major draw for residents in DuPont.

Near the proposed warehouse site across Center Drive and the historic Fort Nisqually site, is a quiet residential neighborhood called Creekside Village. 

To access the proposed project, a cul-de-sac at the end of Sequalitchew Drive would be removed and a road would be extended through the property. Large Oregon white oak trees would also be removed.

DuPont is proud of its historic heritage and produces many events and activities around its history.

Each year in August, the City of DuPont hosts DuPont Heritage Days. On August 18-19 of this year, the DuPont Historical Society hosted reenactment activities and tours at the Fort Nisqually site.

The Hudson Bay Company arrived in 1832 on Sequalitchew Creek and built Fort Nisqually, a fur trading and agricultural settlement. The fort was later purchased by the U.S. government in 1869. 

The remaining fort structures were moved and reconstructed as a living museum in the 1930s to the Point Defiance Park in Tacoma.

Above: The city of DuPont's city hall at 1700 Civic Center Drive sits just east of Sequalitchew Creek. Access to the trailhead of the Sequalitchew Creek trail is nearby. A favorite with families, the Sequalitchew Creek Canyon features a stunning 1.5 mile walking trail that follows Sequalitchew Creek and ends at Puget Sound. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Tumwater Educators Strike, School Delayed

Above: A young member of the Kressin family gives second grade teacher Lauren Roberts, center, a big hug Tuesday morning outside Peter G. Schmidt Elementary School. Kristina Kressin and her children came to show their love and support for the teachers. 

Teacher Lauren Roberts wants lower class sizes and language in her contract that addresses safety issues

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Tumwater school children met their teachers and brought them cookies and snacks at Peter G. Schmidt Elementary School on Tuesday.

Teachers, crouching low, gave out big hugs while laughing and exclaiming how big their students had grown over the summer.

But instead of all these greetings happening in the classroom, they were out on the picket line outside the school.

School was scheduled to start on Wednesday, but that will be delayed for the Tumwater School District.

Day by day, Washington Education Association union members from across Washington State have been able to bargain agreements, but Tumwater School District and Tumwater Education Association (TEA) members have not.

“There will be no school September 5th due to the TEA decision for a teacher strike,” read the Tumwater School District website on Tuesday. 

“Both the district and TEA bargaining teams are coming to the table on September 6th to continue working to reach an agreement. If you have an appointment scheduled at any of our schools, it will need to be rescheduled when schools reopen. We will communicate Wednesday when we have more information.”

No negotiations were ongoing on Tuesday.

Above: Members of the Tumwater Education Association and children strike outside Peter G. Schmidt Elementary School on Dennis Street in Tumwater Tuesday morning.

Parent Kristina Kressin of Tumwater says her soon-to-be third grader, TJ, 8, is a smart little boy who has had the best teachers at Peter G. Schmidt Elementary School.  

“He has had the best teachers who have made sure he is challenged - they've gone above and beyond and have helped him encourage other kids. The teachers deserve to get paid like everybody else. This school district made the top ten in all of Washington but are not being paid as much as those in Olympia and Thurston County.”

With her four year old daughter starting kindergarten next year and a five month old son, Kressin says she wants all her children to have the same teachers.

“I was going to be the mom who homeschooled her kids, but then I met his kindergarten teacher and fell in love.  I would really like to keep the caliber of teachers we have here. This is our home and I don’t want to lose our teachers because they can’t afford to live here.”

Peter G. Schmidt Elementary School second grade teacher Lauren Roberts of Tumwater says she is on strike in support of lower class sizes and language in her contract that addresses safety issues. 

She has been an educator for 12 years and is passionate about her classroom children.

“We do everything in our power to make sure their day is the absolute best that it can be and sometimes that’s hard. And most of the time, it’s the best thing in the whole entire world. It’s so fun. I wouldn’t do anything else but I also deserve to be paid fairly.

“We have a lot more kids these days. Some come from challenging home lives and they are not always ready. Some of those behaviors come out in the classroom. We love them through and through but it’s sometimes hard for the other kids in the classroom to see those outbursts.”

She said there have even been injuries.

“It can take its toll emotionally on a teacher and on a classroom. Those kids who act out end up being some of my favorites but we also need language in our contract that supports teachers during those challenging times.”

Roberts was asked what that support would look like.

“It would look like somebody covering the classroom for ten minutes so I can remove myself or help a kid take some time out, not as punishment, but to recognize that there may have been a trigger for something and we need to do something else. Maybe we could look for it in advance. Luckily at Peter G., our admin is so supportive of this and works really hard with us, but having that language in our contract helps protect us and helps us say, ‘No, we really need this.’”

She said that this year, she will have 24 children in her classroom.

“We’re in public education, so we are going to teach these kids, all of them. Our contract from before says that 24 kids is our trigger limit, so if I get a 25th kid, I get overage pay. We have five second grades right now. Three of us are at 24 kids and the other two are at 23. Those are really high numbers. Really, if we had one more teacher, we’d all be at 19.5 kids, which is a reasonable number. In the high schools, the class sizes are even higher.”

According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tumwater is 277 out of 295 statewide districts for student to classroom teacher ratio.

Decision to Strike

The last thing Tumwater Education Association union members wanted to do is strike, said Tumwater Education Association president Tim Voie, but that’s what happened as of 12:01 a.m. September 1.

On August 27, voting 91 percent in favor, Tumwater Education Association members authorized a vote to strike if a contract agreement wasn’t reached by August 31. An agreement was not reached.

The Association’s goal was to start school on time with smaller, safer classes. The union is also calling for the Tumwater School District to pay its teachers competitively in order to attract and retain high quality teachers.

In accordance with the McCleary Decision to fully fund education, the Legislature increased state funding for public school by billions, including $2 billion to increase educator salaries in the 2018-19 school year.

As of Tuesday evening, nearly 6,000 Washington Education Association members are on strike in nine Western Washington school districts.

For more information about the negotiations and the Tumwater Educator Association, go to Little Hollywood and read the August 25 story, “Tumwater Educator Union Members Rally,” at

Monday, September 3, 2018

Chambers Prairie Grange Starbucks Open Soon

Above: Luis Smith of Shelton steps back to check the position of a tree he just planted at the site of a new Starbucks at the former Chambers Prairie Grange on Yelm Highway in Tumwater. Opening day could be as soon as September 20, said property owner Tom Schrader.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

A new Starbucks in the former Chambers Prairie Grange in Tumwater may be open for business as soon as September 20, said property owner Tom Schrader earlier this week. 

The 108 year old building is located at 1301 Yelm Highway on the corner of Yelm Highway and Henderson Boulevard.  

Bought by Schrader from the Washington State Grange in 2015, the building had sat neglected and unused for years, but still retained its historic character and structural integrity. 

After a series of messy misunderstandings between Schrader and the city, Schraders original vision of lightly converting it to a neighborhood cafe and bistro began to disappear. 

Property rezones, negotiations and compromises between the city and Schrader are documented in several articles by Little Hollywood.

Earlier this week, contractors working for Starbucks were busy working on the inside and on a large outdoor deck jutting from the opened up western side of the grange. 

Meanwhile, Schrader was busy outside planting several liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree) with two employees. 

Although several large trees were cut down, Schrader said he left 26 trees on the property. Two stormwater retention ponds were created to mitigate the impact of new impervious surfaces and make up for the work performed by the large Douglas firs and maple trees that were on the property.

The property now has 30 parking stalls. The drive thru lane, a non-negotiable feature for Starbucks, can accommodate nine vehicles before traffic starts spilling out onto Yelm Highway. 

The drive thru access points provide both left and right ingress and egress on both Yelm Highway and Henderson Boulevard.

In a nod to the former grange’s roots as a community center for farmers, Schrader has placed authentic, rusty farm equipment on the property, sourced from Rochester.

In past interviews, Schrader said numerous national businesses contacted him about the high-profile corner, but chose Starbucks because it is a coffee business where people also enjoy meeting. 

Above: With Tomás Wilson of Shelton, Tom Schrader loads up another liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree) to plant on site. 

A Brief Chambers Prairie Grange History

Historically, granges served as the community center for social, agricultural, educational and political activities for farmers.

According to the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, the Chambers Prairie Grange No. 191 was first organized in 1906. Grange members built the wooden, one story 5,668 square foot building through donated work on land donated by the Wickie Family.

The Chambers Prairie Grange, completed in 1910, was one of the first in Thurston County. It is not on any local, state or national historic register. 

When Schrader bought the grange, he quickly announced his vision for it to be a neighborhood café and bistro. 

Wanting to save the building’s historic character and integrity, Schrader received a successful rezone of the property from single family low density to community service.

Because the building sits in the city’s right of way and the city has future plans to expand the intersection, city staff made some development concessions with Schrader in support of his efforts to save the building. 

Intent on building a new 4,000 square foot building after entering into negotiations with Starbucks, Schrader declared that the building could not be saved and began dismantling the interior. 

City staff told Schrader he would have to conform to land use regulations for new construction if he was going to destroy the building. 

Schrader purchased the adjacent property from The Farm Homeowners Association and received a rezone for that property in 2016. 

Through negotiations with the city, a developer’s agreement was hammered out and Schrader moved forward with his new plans. 

For more photos and information about the history of the Chambers Prairie Grange, the building’s purchase by Tom Schrader, and related land use discussions with the City of Tumwater, go to Little Hollywood, and type key words into the search engine.