Rural Areas Seek Broadband

By Jake Morgan, staff writer

     CHEHALIS – When it comes to high-speed Internet access, many people in rural areas feel like they are being left behind in favor of larger urban areas.

     Connecting rural areas of Lewis County with broadband Internet is critical to the success of rural businesses and to the education of our youth, according to a group of more than 60 public officials and legislators, telecommunication companies and rural residents gathered at a broadband technology discussion on May 4 held in the Lewis County Commissioner's hearing room.

     Officials said the process of replacing copper telephone lines with underground fiber-optic cables is extremely expensive and time consuming. It costs approximately $50,000 and $70,000 per mile to bury fiber and it costs more than $10,000 per customer to connect in rural areas.

     Without state or federal assistance, it is far more profitable for telecommunications companies to focus on urban areas where there are more customers closer together.

     "We have been dealing with this by cramming everybody into cities, but that's not a solution that works," said Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama). "Rural broadband is absolutely critical. We need to stop focusing money on downtown Seattle and start focusing it in rural areas."

     The Lewis County Public Utility District has a fiber-optic Internet pipeline going along Interstate 5 and along U.S. Highway 12 from Napavine to Packwood, said PUD manager Daniel Kay. He said the PUD provides wholesale service, not retail service, so getting Internet requires finding a retail provider to connect customers to the pipeline.

     ToledoTel is one such provider who recently completed a massive project to bring gigabit fiber to the homes and businesses of every customer in its Toledo 864 exchange, an area of approximately 388 square miles.

     The U.S. Department of Agriculture is currently accepting applications for loans under its Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program to extend broadband infrastructure in eligible rural communities. Loan applications ranging from $100,000 to $25 million will be processed on a first come, first served basis and the USDA plans to make more than $100 million available through the program.

     Lewis County's many rural, unincorporated towns can also apply for these loans and grants if they can find a public entity such as a school district or fire district to process their application.

     The USDA said funding priority will be given to applicants that propose to serve the highest percentage of unserved households.

Toledo's Reserve Sergeant Randy Pennington stands next to a Dodge Charger police vehicle in this undated photo provided by the Toledo Police Department.

 

Toledo Rejects End to Police Contract

By the Lewis County Tribune staff

     TOLEDO — The city of Toledo formally rejected Winlock's claims of a material breach of the interlocal police contract between the two cities in a March 20 letter signed by Toledo Mayor Steve Dobosh, and said the agreement remains valid and binding.

     "Winlock is searching for any justification to support its desire to terminate the interlocal agreement now, rather than allow the agreement to expire on its terms on Dec. 31, 2018," the letter from Toledo said. "This claim of material breach by Winlock is disingenuous and is rejected."

     In a letter sent to Toledo on Feb. 27, Winlock City Attorney Samuel Satterfield stated numerous sections of the agreement signed in Dec. 2016 were violated, specifically a Dodge Charger patrol vehicle belonging to the city of Winlock that was not returned to the city after its engine was damaged.

     Toledo responded that the engine in the Dodge Charger patrol car provided by Winlock failed in early June of 2016, was no longer operational and was then towed by Payneless Automotive of Winlock.

     "In July 2016, and at Winlock's direction, the Dodge Charger was towed to Winlock's bullpen," Toledo's letter states. "Toledo has no contractual obligation to repair or replace the engine in the Dodge Charger and Toledo will not do so. Winlock is in possession of its Dodge Charger."

     The letter from Dobosh said Toledo has not materially breached the interlocal agreement and therefore Toledo has nothing to cure and Winlock remains liable for payment.

     Click here to read the rest of the story.

Community volunteers network and mingle during this year's big community meeting March 22 at the Toledo Middle School.

Photo by Jake Morgan / Lewis County Tribune

Volunteers Share Love for Toledo

By Jake Morgan, staff writer

    TOLEDO – Volunteers shared new ideas, gave updates on ongoing projects and offered each other encouragement and support at Vision:Toledo’s eighth-annual big community meeting March 22 at the Toledo Middle School.

     Projects completed since last year include a popular new mural on the city water tower featuring founder Simon Plamondon, several new public garden areas and a thriving summer market on Thursdays.

    State Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, joined Toledo School Board Chair Brad Dykstra for a  presentation on Toledo's opportunity to get $18 million in federal and state funding to rebuild the high school, provided that the district can pass its next $7 million school bond.

    "Toledo can't support the high tax burden to pass a new school bond," Dykstra said about the district's recent failed bond attempts that had a majority of yes votes but lacked the 60 percent supermajority required to pass. The current 42-year-old high school building is in need of critical repairs and the state and federal government is willing to fund the majority of replacement costs if Toledo can pass its next bond.

    In addition to the town’s annual Cheese Days celebration in July, upcoming community events include art shows in April and September, a fishing derby and a wine tour in May, a community clean-up day in June, a bluegrass festival and a threshing bee in August and a pow-wow and a fundraiser for the city park in September.

   Vision:Toledo organizer and volunteer Mike Morgan said Toledo’s events and clubs make him proud to be part of the Toledo community.

    Volunteers shared stories of successful events at the community library, growth with the new garden club and school gardens, an “honorable society” network of artists and crafters, progress on a new trail system and several new mural projects already underway, among other things.

    For more Toledo community news and to stay updated or to get involved, follow Vision:Toledo on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/visiontoledo/ or read Marlea Hanson’s daily Toledo news column at http://www.theothertoledo.com/daily-column.

HDR engineering manager Keith Moen explains schematics to engineers and supervisors at the proposed dam site on Sept. 29.

Photos by Jake Morgan / Lewis County Tribune

Dam Could Mitigate Chehalis Floods

By Jake Morgan, staff writer

     PE ELL — Regional planners are making progress to mitigate periodic flooding in the Chehalis River Basin with a new proposal to construct a flood retention dam south of the town of Pe Ell in western Lewis County.

     Engineers and supervisors with the Chehalis River Basin Flood Control Zone District met Sept. 29 to tour the proposed site of a flood retention facility on Weyerhaeuser land in a narrow valley surrounded by steep rock walls.

     Currently there are three similar retention dam options being considered for the location, all three of which would have the same flood reduction benefit of withholding 65,000 acre-feet of flood water.

     Keith Moen, engineering manager at HDR, said dam and water retention technology has improved a lot in the past 30 or 40 years. Moen said the proposed designs are similar in function to the Mud Mountain Dam on the lower White River and Puyallup River valleys and the Howard Hansen Dam on the Green River, both in Washington state.

     The primary function of the retention dam would be to hold back flood waters during storms like the flood that inundated the city of Chehalis and shut down Interstate 5 in late 2007.

     “This won’t prevent the Chehalis area from flooding in the future but it will help,” Moen said.

     The first proposal for the Chehalis River dam project would contain drop-down gates that only retain water during a flood and allow the river to naturally flow beneath the dam the rest of the time. The second proposal would retain water throughout the year and have the capacity to hold additional water during a flood. The third proposal is similar to the first proposal in that it would only retain water during a flood, but it is designed to be expanded in the future to provide increased storage capacity for flood waters, should the need arise.

     Flood district supervisor and Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund said she was most interested in the expandable retention option.

     All three proposals are designed with a spillover safety feature at the top should the retention dam ever reach capacity. All three proposals include provisions for fish passage and none of the current proposals include plans for hydroelectric power generation. Each of the proposals are expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars with materials sourced from local rock quarries.

     For more information on the Chehalis Basin Strategy, visit http://chehalisbasinstrategy.com/

County Wants Mandated Funds

By Jake Morgan, staff writer

     CHEHALIS — State and federal requirements to provide health care to inmates at the Lewis County Jail and legal defense costs for the poor or indigent don’t include state or federal funding and the costs for these services are crippling the county budget. Unfunded mandates for Lewis County to provide indigent defense and medical costs to jail inmates is approaching $1.5 million a year and continues to rise.

     “We need help,” Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund told state representatives and state senators gathered for a legislative roundtable Oct. 6 at the county courthouse. The county is not being reimbursed for these costs and the budget is so tight that the county has no choice but to cut back programs like health and social services including disease prevention and senior care.

     Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza said 75 percent of the county’s annual budget is being absorbed by the legal system, with approximately $1 million going to pay the medical expenses of inmates. Snaza said medical expenses are consuming most of his department’s budget, forcing the sheriff’s office to operate at staffing levels below what they were in 1985.

     Health-care costs continue to rise nationwide and premiums can be so expensive that many low-income people just can’t afford health insurance and they are forced to put off necessary medical and dental care. Even if they do qualify for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid will not cover the health-care costs of inmates while they're in jail or prison and state and local governments must foot the bill.

     “We’re strapped,” Snaza said. “Medicaid in our facility is killing us. Seventy-four percent of our inmate population receives Medicaid and we are paying for them.”

     There are a lot of reasons for declining revenues in Lewis County such as a loss of income from the bygone timber and mining industries, but rising health-care costs are consuming by far the greatest share of the county budget.

     According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, state prisons and county jails are constitutionally obligated to provide health care to inmates under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Medicaid doesn’t cover inmates while they're in jail, with one exception: health care delivered outside the institution, such as at a hospital or nursing home, when the person has been admitted for 24 hours or more.

     According to the Washington State Health Care Authority, “prior to July 2017, Washington Apple Health (Medicaid) was closed when a person receiving coverage became incarcerated. Following the passage of SSB 6430 Medicaid Suspension, the Health Care Authority was directed to suspend, not terminate Medicaid coverage for individuals in a correctional setting.”

     The Health Care Authority said “under current policy, an incarcerated individual can retain their Apple Health eligibility indefinitely, however, their scope of coverage will change. When an individual is incarcerated, the Health Care Authority suspends full scope coverage and limits it to inpatient hospitalization only. While incarcerated, the agency also suspends any payments to managed care organizations, behavioral health organizations, and any other Medicaid-related service authorizations.”

     Many members of this at-risk population will require continued medical care and substance-abuse counseling after being released from jail, and their successful rehabilitation into society could depend on their continued Medicaid coverage outside jail, according to Pew.

     District Court Judge R.W. Buzzard said the highest users of the court system are repeat offenders.

     “Once a person is determined to be indigent, they are indigent throughout the entire process, even if they get a job later on,” Buzzard said.

     The county is required to incur these legal costs without state reimbursement.

     “It’s wrong for the state to balance its budget on the backs of the counties,” said Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama. “We need to find a way of actually funding these mandates.”

     Lewis County is also struggling to find affordable healthcare coverage for its own employees. Commissioner Bobby Jackson said the county is facing a 68 percent increase in insurance premiums due to the relatively high median age of county employees.

     “Lewis County is the prime example of the national health-care crisis,” said county human resources director Archie Smith. “We are an aging employer and finding affordable health care is a growing problem. We desperately need to find a good insurance provider.”

 

     Contact Jake Morgan at jake.morgan@lewiscountytribune.com

Winlock Plans Community Building Update

By Jake Morgan, staff writer

     WINLOCK – Don Bradshaw has wasted no time approaching a wide range of projects and city improvements during the first month of his new term as mayor.

     Bradshaw announced that Winlock has started work on repairs to S.E. First Street, is planning a major overhaul to the city's wastewater treatment plant and is currently soliciting bids for bonded electrical, plumbing and carpentry services to overhaul the outdated systems in the Community Building.

     In stark contrast to previous city council meetings from 2016 and 2017 that often featured lengthly public debates and little action, Bradshaw addressed the near-capacity audience that filled the council chambers on Jan. 22 for nearly an hour with little input or comment from the public, city staff or other council members.

     The 76-year-old mayor said he hates hearing rumors and invited anyone with questions to stop by his office during the week, citing his open-door policy. Bradshaw said he spends 40 to 50 hours a week working as mayor.

     The city council will be interviewing five candidates to fill two vacant positions on the council at its next meeting on Feb. 12. There are enough council members to establish a quorum but Bradshaw said he would prefer to have a fully stocked council before proceeding with major policy initiatives. The council voted to have council member Dennis Korpi serve as mayor pro-tem for the year.

     Toledo Police Chief John Brockmueller reported that operations are normal and added that the city of Toledo has decided not to respond to Bradshaw's letter from early January regarding dissolving the police service contract between Winlock and Toledo.

See Lewis County’s Feb. 13 special election results at

http://results.vote.wa.gov/results/current/lewis/

Copyright © 2018 Lewis County Tribune. All rights reserved.

Contact us or send a news tip to editor@lewiscountytribune.com

Site designed and powered by Morgan Online Media.

Copyright © 2018 Lewis County Tribune. All rights reserved.

Contact us or send a news tip to editor@lewiscountytribune.com

Site designed and powered by

Morgan Online Media.