Hole-y roads, Batman, my commute
Regional impacts on commuting infrastructure continue unabated.
There was that situation with the West Seattle Bridge. Broken buses and a bus driver shortage struck, on top of service changes due to a pandemic-related drop in ridership. A hole above the Westlake light rail station created delays, and a rather large hole opened up on an onramp to Highway 99. Capitol Hill Seattle blog has been keeping a watchful eye on the sinkhole on Interlaken, which is getting bigger for no known reason.
The issue at Westlake was solved relatively quickly, with both light rail tracks operational by May 8. The state reported that the gap on the onramp was repaired faster than expected, roughly a week after it was first discovered by unhappy drivers.
The bus situation will take longer to fix. According to an April 19 presentation to the Regional Transit Committee, 122 routes have reductions or suspensions totaling 572,766 service hours, some of which were funded by the city of Seattle and others funded at the county level. As of November 2022, when the most recent county budget was approved, Metro was operating at 90 percent of pre-pandemic service while transporting about 50 percent of the pre-pandemic daily ridership.
ICE flights resume in King County
After a four-year hiatus, flights transporting undocumented immigrants out of King County resumed on May 2, according to a post from the University of Washington Center for Human Rights (UWCHR).
The practice involves transporting detainees from the Northwest Detention Center to Boeing Field, from where they are taken elsewhere — a previous flight brought people to Guatemala. Researchers identified the plane as an “ICE Air” flight by its tail number and other features. It landed at El Paso International Airport in Texas.
The practice of using Boeing Field — which is owned by King County — ended briefly when King County Executive Dow Constantine barred Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from using the facility. A federal judge overturned that order in 2019, but flights did not resume until last week.
According to the post, members of La Resistencia — an advocacy organization that focuses on the rights of undocumented immigrants and detainees at the detention center — were there to record a white van bringing people to the airplane. They were unsure, at the time, of the number of people who boarded the flight.
Federal judges have ruled against attempts to ban the flights or shut down detention facilities, most recently in California, but the state is taking steps to improve conditions in the facilities, wrote Angelina Snodgrass Godoy, UWCHR’s founding director, in the South Seattle Emerald.
The National Weather Service (NWS) forecasted potentially record-breaking temperatures for Mother’s Day weekend, conditions that could spell danger for vulnerable groups unable to escape the heat.
The week started out cool — barely breaking 60 degrees on Monday, May 8 — but temperatures are expected to climb steadily through the week and into the weekend, with a 40 percent chance of temps topping 90 degrees by Sunday, May 14.
According to NWS, the Seattle record for that Sunday was 88 degrees in 2018.
The city and region are notoriously short on air conditioning. According to the 2019 U.S. Census Bureau American Housing Survey, of the 1.5 million homes in the Seattle-Bellevue-Tacoma area, approximately 44 percent had air conditioning.
Places for people without air conditioning to escape the heat are few and far between. Branches of the Seattle Public Library system are popular places to find refuge, although some older locations — such as the University Branch — also lack it. In the last major heatwave in 2022, that branch and eight others shut down to the public.
Extreme heat is particularly dangerous for the young, the old and medically vulnerable people, including people experiencing homelessness. Such conditions can cause heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, as well as trigger other health events such as heart attacks, strokes and respiratory illness, according to the Seattle Office of Emergency Management.
Things are likely to get worse as time goes on — climate change is “weirding” local weather, making weather events more extreme.
Quite the shock
A hydroelectric dam company will pay $1 million in fines and restitution after a Pierce County Superior Court judge found that the company had allowed workers to put materials containing toxic chemicals into the Puyallup River riverbed.
The suit, brought by the state Attorney General’s Office (AGO), found that Electron Hydro Chief Operating Officer Thom Fischer allowed workers to put artificial turf and crumb rubber into the river. The river was then diverted, causing damage that resulted in materials flowing into the river for 10 days.
Charges against the company alleged that Electron Hydro had violated various measures including the Water Pollution Control Act, Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Code, Shoreline Management Act and Pierce County Code, according to a press release from the AGO.
Fischer and the company pleaded guilty to a gross misdemeanor violation. Electron Hydro will pay $250,000 to Pierce County and $745,000 to the Puyallup Tribal Fisheries. Fischer will pay $5,000 to Pierce County.
According to the AGO, this may be the largest amount for an environmental crime that the state of Washington has ever won.
Read more of the May 10-16, 2023 issue.