Butch T. Cougar and some of the Crimson Girls get down with Snap Fitness Zumba Instructor SungYee Yang, front, and Facility Director Megan Hammer, at left, at a Zumba flash mob Saturday during Pullman’s 2015 National Lentil Festival. Snap Fitness had several flash mobs throughout the afternoon, drawing large crowds and even getting some festival-goers in on the action. The festival also drew crowds with the parade, lentil cook-off tasting and performances thoughout the two-day event.
By Kara McMurray Gazette Reporter Blue skies could be seen in the Palouse area last Thursday after more than a week of smoke-filled skies, but the smoke quickly returned and worsened the air quality throughout the weekend. Early last week, smoke from nearby wildfires across the state and in Idaho reached the area and created a smoky haze, prompting the Department of Ecology to rank the area’s air quality as poor and unhealthy at times. The ranking warned that members of sensitive groups such as people with heart or lung disease, older adults and children were more likely to be affected by the poor air quality, with the general public not being at great risk. The ranking returned to good Thursday as the skies cleared and the sun became visible again, though several wildfires continued to burn. By Friday night, the air quality had reached very unhealthy as winds pushed the smoke from the nearby wildfires back to the Palouse. The Department of Ecology describes the very unhealthy ranking as “emergency conditions” where “the entire population is more likely to be affected.” The ranking kept athletic fields at Washington State University closed and also prompted cancellation of several events through the weekend, including the Tour de Lentil 50K, 100K and 150K bike race on Saturday, the Color Me Coug 5K at WSU and the Backyard Bash at the Student Recreation Center Sunday. The Lentil Festival parade and 5K Fun Run occurred as planned on Saturday morning. The Color Me Coug 5K has been tentatively re-scheduled for Sunday at 9 a.m. Tour de Lentil registrants are eligible for refunds. By Tuesday, the air quality had improved slightly again, lowering from very unhealthy to unhealthy. The public is still advised to remain indoors when possible and to avoid long exposure periods outdoors. As the wildfires continued to burn paths of destruction across the state and region, President Barack Obama declared a State of Emergency for the state Friday, which authorizes the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate relief efforts for those affected by the fires. Fire crews from Australia and New Zealand arrived Sunday to help battle the blazes, and several states have also sent resources. With the state’s fire fighting resources being tapped, the Department of Natural Resources is turning to the public for help, asking for citizen volunteers to help with several wildfires burning in the region. An Aug. 20 DNR press release asks for interested citizens to show or call at one of two locations in the state to determine where their volunteer efforts could be of the most use. Centers are located to the north in Omak and Colville. The Omak location is located at 2 Ash St. N, Omak City Hall. The Omak center can also be reached at 509-826-2546 or CRC.Omak@gmail.com The Colville location is on the second floor of the Washington State Department of Transportation building at 440 N Hwy 395. Staff can also be reached at 509-675-7847 or CRC.Colville@gmail.com. The press release states that volunteers who can operate equipment such as backhoes and bulldozers are needed, and staffers will determine how their time and energy will best suit the needs of the current wildfire situations. “Coordinators will review citizens’ offers for resources and direct them to where they can be most beneficial and without jeopardizing the safety of firefighters and the public. “Even if a member of the public has sufficient credentials, deployment to a wildfire will depend on the availability of professional firefighter staff to accompany, direct and ensure the safety of everyone concerned.” According to the press release, training in wildfire safety will be provided where appropriate. The request for citizen volunteers marks the first time in state history that the DNR has asked for help from residents in fighting fires.
Construction equipment sits on the Kammerzell land along the South Fork of the Palouse River which is being converted into wetlands. By Kara McMurray Gazette Reporter The first phase of the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport (PMRA) Runway Realignment Project began Aug. 16 with wetland mitigation along the South Fork of the Palouse River east of Colfax. The land being converted to wetlands is owned by Tom and Cheryl Kammerzell, owners of Maple K Farms, who sold the development rights of the land for the wetland conversion. The wetlands are being constructed here to mitigate the loss of the current wetlands at PMRA where the new runway will be built. A transfer tax affidavit filed July 30 in the treasurer’s office lists sale of a grant deed of conservation for Maple Enterprises, LLC, to Palouse Land Trust, Inc., Moscow for $284,000, July 30. The selected location was chosen off-site from the airport because wetlands attract wildlife that can be hazardous for airport operations. Airport Manager Tony Bean said the wetlands particularly attract birds. “Birds and airplanes are a bad deal,” he said. “They don’t mix.” The mitigation on the 113.6 acre plot will create 9.4 acres of new riverine wetland and will include 19,000 native plantings. According to a press release from earlier this month, the initial phases of this project include 20,000 cubic yards of excavation that will improve the flood storage capacity on-site and expand the wetlands. A well will also be installed to support the new plantings. Once completed, PMRA will monitor and maintain the wetland site for a 10-year period to ensure the site develops as planned, and the Kammerzells are in compliance with the stewardship agreement, which permanently protects the land with a conservation easement held by Palouse Land Trust. Construction at the airport is not scheduled to begin until early 2016, and expected completion is late 2019. The airport will remain open and operational during the construction. “The physical construction is to start in 2016, and we’re going to continue to operate the existing runway during the construction,” Bean said. “The construction crews will work from west to east. The idea is to keep shutdowns minimal.” Construction includes extension, widening and realignment of the runway with taxiway infrastructure to meet the new specifications, new lighting and more, to bring the airport up to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards. “The project is to meet FAA standards. It is correcting a standards deficiency,” said Bean. Bean said the target cost of the project is $89 million, and it could reach as high as $119 million depending on factors such as gas prices and construction inflation over the next few years. Funding has been received via a $1 million donation from SEL and another $1 million donation from SEL founder Ed Schweitzer and wife, Beatriz. Moscow, Pullman, the University of Idaho and Latah County have also pledged funds for the project, and WSU is expected to make a pledge as well. Bean said the airport plans to have discussions with the Port of Whitman County soon regarding the airport and to seek funding from them. “We’re going to have a discussion with them here shortly. The Port has been a contributor in the past,” he said. “We’ll see what they can determine out of their 2016 budget cycle.” Port Executive Director Joe Poiré said the airport board is on the agenda for the next Port meeting on Sept. 3, and he expects them to seek funding at that time from the 2016 budget cycle. “The Port is not an active member on the board,” Poiré said, “but the Port has been a long time supporter of the airport. Aviation is the Port’s mission. Any mode of transportation is the Port’s mission.” Bean said they have not sought funding from the Port before now because the Port is currently tied up with the Colfax airport construction and other projects and because of a potential conflict of interest with the wetland mitigation site on Port Commissioner Tom Kammerzell’s property. “That’s why we’re not asking for money at this point,” he said, “because we don’t want it to seem like the Port is passing money to one of their commissioners.” The wetland construction is expected to conclude in December, before the 2016 budget cycle. Poiré said he hopes to see the Port commissioners and county commissioners come together to support the project as one entity from Whitman County, rather than separately.