Parks for Sale
For more than four decades, towns and cities in all 50 states have bought or built new public parks with money levied from oil companies that operate offshore oil drilling operations. The National Park Service has made about 42,000 park grants to states and local governments, and each grant imparts special protection: the park will never be closed to the public without written permission from the Park Service and a guarantee of a replacement of “equal fair market value and reasonably equivalent usefulness and location.”
An InvestigateWest investigation has found multiple failures in the Land and Water Conservation Fund leading to what parks advocates contend is an increasing number of park closures and conversions. The Park Service’s internal controls fall well short, and only in recent years has it started to request detailed information about park location. State compliance is spotty, and a five-year inspection cycle has slowed, with some parks going without inspection for up to a decade. And even in cases where the Park Service is consulted in a park conversion, an imbalance of power between local advocates and wealthy developers means uneven deals sometimes get struck and promises get broken.
In reporting this story, InvestigateWest tracked a handful of park conversions for more than three years, reviewed thousands of pages of documents, and compiled a database of federal grants under the Land and Water Conservation Fund. We’re asking readers to use this searchable database to identify local parks that have received such funding and file reports on the current status of those parks. InvestigateWest would like to thank MSNBC.com, the Fund for Investigative Journalism, and its members, without whose financial support this story would not have been told.
Forests and the Economy | May 2015
Environmentalists and the timber industry — once bitter adversaries — are working as allies on forest restoration. Collaborative forest thinning projects aim to fight megafires before they start — but money is scarce and tens of thousands of acres acres in Oregon now face an elevated risk of catastrophic fire. Ben DeJarnette reports for InvestigateWest.
Equity | April 2015
Cash reigns in the Portland housing market. The city faces pressure from a new kind of speculation, as investors buy thousands of homes with cash and long-established protections for bank-financed homebuyers are ignored. Lee van der Voo and James Gordon report for InvestigateWest.
Wealth and Poverty | March 2015
March 2015 marks the anniversary of a bold promise: King County's 10-year plan to end homelessness. Now that the 10-year plan is ending and local homelessness is worse than ever, talk of ending homelessness is being replaced with less-lofty aspirations: making homelessness rare and brief when it does occur.
In collaboration with KUOW this week, we examine the roots of the plan, the challenges it faced, and where community and city leaders think we go from here.
Equal Justice | December 2014
With grand jury reform elsewhere focused on eliminating racial bias and curbing police use of force, Oregon is an outlier: It is one of just 14 states that do not regularly record the citizen grand juries that charge people with felonies.
Almost five years after police killed an unarmed black man in Portland and the Multnomah Co. district attorney petitioned for that grand jury to be recorded, lawmakers in Salem are lining up behind a reform bill to mandate recording statewide, InvestigateWest has learned.
Seafood | December 2014
A struggle in Alaska over shrinking supplies of halibut is threatening the iconic centerpiece fish in favor of cheaper exports, fast-food fillets and fish sticks.
At risk is most of the frozen supply that sustains restaurants, food-service companies and retail stores nationwide, such as Costco and Whole Foods. Lee van der Voo investigates.
Photo: Peter Haley / The News Tribune
Environment | November 2014
It will take hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up the Duwamish River. But how clean is clean? And who decides?
Robert McClure looks at how lobbyists and community groups have squared off over the health of the waterway and its neighborhoods.
Photo: Paul Joseph Brown/ecosystemphoto.com
Trafficking | October 2014
Authorities say organized gangs increasingly are trafficking children for sex in the Northwest, and even cooperating with each other to stymie police.
Meanwhile in Portland, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has become the third most prolific nationally in securing indictments for trafficking children and adults for sex.
Photo: Oregon DOT/Flickr
Minimum Wage | August 2014
"Everyone is aware that passing a $15 an hour minimum wage was historic," an advisor to Mayor Ed Murray and the Seattle City Council told InvestigateWest. "But if we cannot enforce that, we haven't accomplished much."
Based on a review of more than 20,000 wage theft complaints, hundreds of pages of reports and more than a dozen interviews, "Stolen Wages" shines a light on the dark world of pay violations in Seattle and across Washington.
Infrastructure | May 2014
Portable, modular or relocatable classrooms — whatever you call them — are a necessity for cash-strapped schools.
But many portables become permanent fixtures, in place for decades at a time. Costly and insufficient, these aging structures burden the grid, frustrate teachers and administrators and compromise student health.
Environment | April 2014
Energizing our world with wood sounds so natural. And it has quickly become a multibillion-dollar industry as governments including British Columbia and the European Union turn to biomass to replace dirty old coal. Yet what we found when we dug into the coal-vs.-wood debate will surprise you.