A web app that tracks exemptions to Oregon Public Records Law? Yes. We just made that.


If you are on this email list, then by now you know it’s been redacted. Not so much inked over as scrubbed from view. Curtained. Exempt, as they say, from disclosure.

Not a subscriber yet? Sign up here.

Up until January of last year, it was a public record, compiled as part of formerRedacted. Attorney General John Kroger’s perhaps naive effort at transparency reform in Oregon. For a couple of glorious years, this list united like minds in the mission to daylight the beaver state. As we all now know, that undertaking evaporated. Ironically, this email list nearly also disappeared when Rep. Dennis Richardson’s run at publicly available emails earned email lists an exemption to Oregon Public Records Law in 2013.[1]

Just another blow to a once-lauded Sunshine Law that is now dying its death of a thousand cuts. We’re already nearly halfway there.

At last count there were 478 exemptions to the law. That is not the news. What is the news is that, in the spirit of the transparency reform that brought us all to this list in the first place, InvestigateWest has put those exemptions in one place: Redacted, a searchable web app of OPRL exemptions.

Robert McClure's picture

Bigger cleanup, but no end to fishing restrictions on the Duwamish

Seattle’s biggest toxic mess is going to take more cleanup than previously thought, federal officials said Tuesday in releasing their plan for the Duwamish River Superfund site. But when the cleanup is finished, people will still be warned against eating seafood from the river, officials acknowledged.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s final cleanup plan boosts by one-fifth the amount of river bottom to be dredged up and hauled away. In a draft plan released last year, EPA said it would require 84 acres of contaminated river bottom to be removed, while the final plan released Tuesday would expand that to 105 acres. The cost for the remaining work increases from $305 million to $342 million.

That accumulated pollution from a century of industrial activity, municipal sewage, and stormwater runoff contaminates not just the riverbed but also marine life. For decades, almost no fish or seafood caught in the river has been safe for people to eat, although authorities have been unable to keep people from fishing there.

Key questions left unanswered Tuesday were how safe Duwamish seafood will be after the cleanup, and to what degree people will ever again be able to safely eat the fish. In any case, the river cleanup will end up taking a full generation. The Duwamish was designated a Superfund site in 2001. About half the pollution has been dug out so far. Further dredging is expected to start in 2015 and last seven years. Then it will take another 10 years for fish pollution levels to be reduced to the maximum extent under the cleanup blueprint EPA selected, the agency said.

“We think this plan gets it right,” said Dennis McLerran, head of EPA’s Seattle-based Region 10. “This cleanup plan keeps the Duwamish River open for business and will reduce risks” to locals who fish for their dinner, people playing in the river and to Duwamish wildlife.

Robert McClure's picture

EPA boosts required cleanup budget for Duwamish River Superfund site

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today issued its long-awaited final decision about the extent of cleanup that will be required at the Duwamish River Superfund site — the biggest toxic waste site in Seattle.

Details are still emerging and the agency is conducting a news media briefing this hour. But it's clear that EPA has boosted cleanup requirements from the tentative plan the agency issued last year: The pricetag has gone from $305 million to $342 million. That's to be spent over seven years of active cleanup and 10 years of "natural recovery" that involves allowing sand, dirt and mud washed down the river to cover what the agency describes as low levels of contamination on portions of the river bottom.

The Boeing Co., King County, the city of Seattle and the Port of Seattle all lobbied to hold down cleanup costs, as InvestigateWest reported last month. Environmentalists, community groups and others banded together as the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition have pressed for a plan that would cost substantially more and would call for all the contaminated river bottom to be dug out and hauled away. That plan would have cost about $500 million.

Robert McClure's picture

How government and Boeing fought to curtail Duwamish River cleanup

Photography: Paul Joseph Brown/ecosystemphoto.com

After a decade of studies that cost millions of dollars, the time had come for the people living around Seattle’s biggest toxic mess to tell the government what a cleanup should look like.

On a spring night in 2013, Spanish-speaking residents of south Seattle approached a microphone that sat beneath the basketball hoop at the South Park Community Center. One by one, they envisioned a new future for the Duwamish River and the neighborhoods it passes through. Today those neighborhoods of South Park and Georgetown are home to some of King County’s highest rates of hospitalization for childhood asthma. Locals regularly fish the river, despite government prohibitions due to high levels of toxic chemicals in seafood caught there.

Clean up as much as you can, the people said, overwhelmingly.

InvestigateWest is hiring!


Do you know someone who is passionate about journalism and passionate about our community?

We are hiring an events and outreach manager and we need your help to find the perfect candidate, someone who can help us to grow public support and revenue for the organization.

The brand-new position has been created to run our events, coordinate with members, and develop an audience for our stories in fun, creative ways.

The full job listing is here: http://www.invw.org/about/jobs.

Send applications, questions, or candidates to staff@invw.org with the subject line "Events and Outreach Manager". Thank you!


Senior centers lag behind Alzheimer’s rising tide in Oregon


Music therapist Keeley St. Clair sings with Lake Oswego residents Tom Moore (left) and Robert Russell at the Adult Community Center. Respite classes are led by music, art and horticultural therapists. 

Art Martin saw his wife Sue through her dementia diagnosis and treatment. Now when he talks to others about her, it’s rare, he said, when he doesn’t hear a story of a relative, a parent or a spouse that echoes his own: Martin was completely unprepared for his new responsibilities.

“I’d read a little bit and knew there were some potential issues,” said Martin, who lives in Lake Oswego. “But basically I was ignorant.”

The story of Art and Sue Martin matters because increasingly Oregonians will have to pay to care for an aging population where Alzheimer’s and dementia are on a sharp uptick. Right now in Oregon, nearly 60,000 adults suffer from Alzheimer’s. By 2025, that number is set to jump to 84,000 — almost two percent of the population.

Yet senior centers, an important provider of services to older adults and a local link to state and federal safety net programs, are frequently unprepared to serve people with Alzheimer’s and the family members who care for them.

How unprepared? One recent study by a Washington University in St. Louis scientist found that senior center workers know less, on average, about Alzheimer’s than the typical university student.

That lack of knowledge among senior center workers worries some of their bosses.

“I think that we need to develop some additional skills and capacity on the part of our staff,” said Susan Getman, chair of the National Institute of Senior Centers, an arm of the National Council on Aging, who also serves as executive director of a center in Wilmington, Delaware.

But the training Getman advocates costs money. And it could mean a change in how senior centers identify themselves in the community, one Portland State University researcher is learning.


Mayor's budget shorts Seattle’s historic labor-law efforts, advocates say

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signed legislation earlier this year to raise the city's
minimum wage to $15 an hour. Credit: City of Seattle

Under Mayor Ed Murray Seattle has passed a historic $15 minimum wage, is redoubling efforts to fight wage theft by employers and is about to become the second major city in the nation to set up a city office specifically to enforce labor laws.

But as the City Council meets Thursday for its second of two public hearings on Murray’s proposed budget, worker advocates say Murray’s spending plan would undermine Seattle’s progressive labor ordinances. There’s not enough to staff the enforcement office or make sure workers know about the laws and whom to call if they are violated, critics say.

And compared to the budget in the only other American city to embark on such a campaign, San Francisco, Seattle’s budget does indeed look pretty small.

“The amount of money allocated was very low,” said Hilary Stern, executive director of Casa Latina and a member of a panel of advisors Murray assembled on the issue.

So Thursday worker advocates will be asking the City Council to boost funding for the labor-enforcement office and for community groups such as Casa Latina that are supposed to go out into the community to make sure workers know about the $15 minimum wage and the city’s ban on wage theft.

Last month a group of stakeholders appointed by Murray, including business owners, labor advocates and wage experts, finished hammering out what needed to be in the mayor’s 2015-16 budget. Known as the Labor Standards Advisory Group, these 16 people issued seven pages of recommendations for Murray and the City Council.

So, what was recommended and how did that end up translating into the budget?


In Oregon, Gangs Take Over as Sex Trafficking Goes Offline


PORTLAND —This river city along Interstate 5 has long had a reputation as a hotspot for child sex trafficking, even after a 2010 report to Congress made it clear that Seattle and other American cities are just as bad and that sex with children is a burgeoning American pastime.

It’s a sad truth many communities have yet to embrace. But consider the numbers:

Police say escort ads for young women are a good barometer of the size of a trafficking market in any town — women billed as young but legal who often turn out to be minors. The Portland metro area, population 2.3 million, saw 377 total listings for escorts in a recent week on the web site Backpage. Seattle, with a metro-area population of 3.5 million, had 523 — roughly the same rate per capita. In Atlanta, where the population is three times larger, there were more than 1,100 listings.

Lots is happening in Portland to combat the problem of children being forced into the sex trade – usually by pimps who first present themselves as boyfriends. In Portland, authorities have learned lessons that are important for Seattle and other cities along I-5 corridor, which enables sex trafficking to stretch to Southern California:

  • Trafficking of minors for sex increasingly is handled by gangs rather than individual pimps.
  • These gangs who previously squared off over riskier crimes like drug dealing are cooperating to help each other evade police as prostituting minors becomes a larger and safer staple of their income stream.
  • The gangs and others prostituting girls – 96 percent were female in a 2013 Portland study – are learning to promote their victims via word of mouth, phones, sex parties, and publications handed out on the street rather than the more-easily-traceable internet channels of, say, five years ago.
  • Much of this activity is occurring around concerts and major sporting events such as the Super Bowl – anywhere large congregations of men are expected.

As the deputy sheriff heading the Human Trafficking Task Force in Multnomah County, Ore., Keith Bickford is acutely aware of these trends. And he’s grateful to have a special helper, a woman who works as an advance guard at concerts and sporting events. When she gets there, she snaps up magazines and brochures from the sex trade.

Among the latest was a tabloid-sized glossy, a barely dressed girl on the cover poised over a line of cocaine.