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News, factoids, and insights from KUOW's newsroom. And maybe some peeks behind the scenes. Check back daily for updates. And read the Today So Far newsletter here.

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  • Burning through containment confusion: Today So Far

    KUOW Blog
    caption: Smoke continues to rise along Highway 2 near the Bolt Creek fire, Sept. 30, 2022.
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    Smoke continues to rise along Highway 2 near the Bolt Creek fire, Sept. 30, 2022.
    Credit: John O'Brien / KUOW
    • Bolt Creek fire is 28% contained. What does "contained" mean?
    • There will soon be a hate crime hotline in King County.
    • Viet-Wah Supermarket closes for good today, after 40 years of service in Seattle.

    This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for September 30, 2022.

    The Bolt Creek fire was 97% contained about a week ago. Then it was 13% contained. Now it's about 28% contained. What is going on? According to officials on the ground, there was some confusion between management teams, which led to the range of numbers. There has also been some confusion among KUOW's audience about what exactly "contained" means when reporting about wildfires.

    Think of it this way, when my pot contains water, the water is inside the pot. Saying it is "contained" doesn't mean the water is no longer there, or has boiled away. When a wildfire is contained, it basically means that crews have dug fire lines and are using rivers or other natural barriers to stop the spread of the fire in an area — the fire is contained within those borders, but the fire is still there. Just as the Bolt Creek fire is still burning today. "Contained" doesn't mean "put out," as in a fire has been X% extinguished.

    All that rain La Niña is supposed to bring this October can't come soon enough. It's rain that can hopefully knock our wildfires down. Read more here.

    There will soon be a hate crime hotline in King County. The County Council approved a plan to develop the hotline and a web portal this week. A workgroup is tasked with developing how to implement it and will present its plan to the Council by May 2023. The move comes after a recorded rise in such incidents, locally.

    King County's Coalition Against Hate and Bias has recorded 560 reports of hate crimes since mid-2020. Reported hate crimes in King County peaked at 157% in February 2021, according to the County's Prosecutor's Office. Read more here.

    It's the end of an era. The Viet-Wah Supermarket will close for good today, when the final shift is over at 7 p.m. If you want to make one last visit to the store in Seattle's Little Saigon, today is the day.

    Viet-Wah has been a go-to source for Pan-Asian products for nearly 40 years. Generations have grown up going there, such as Leeching Tran, daughter of Duc Tran, who founded the store. She is vice president of Viet-Wah today, and has come to know the regulars throughout her life there.

    "You know, it's familiar faces, people you know, and recognize and you look forward to seeing every time you come here, so that's gonna be hard I think," Tran told KUOW.

    Viet-Wah's owners say that business went considerably downhill during the pandemic, and amid a recent rise in hate crimes targeting Asians. Now, the land where the market is located is slated for new development — housing, retail, and parking.

    My family usually goes to the Viet-Wah location in Renton. That location will remain open. Read more here.

    Continue reading »
  • Mayor Harrell names LA parks executive to lead Seattle's Parks and Recreation department

    KUOW Blog
    caption: Mt. Rainier is seen from Seward Park on Monday, March 18, 2019, on Lake Washington in Seattle.
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    Mt. Rainier is seen from Seward Park on Monday, March 18, 2019, on Lake Washington in Seattle.
    Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

    Another executive officer from Los Angeles is set to lead a Seattle department.

    Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced the nomination of Anthony-Paul “AP” Diaz to be the next head of Seattle Parks and Recreation.

    The mayor made his announcement at Yesler Terrace Park Thursday morning. Diaz said he’s ready to get to work, and to illuminate what he calls “the Seattle Shine.”

    “We reject the notion that this is a city of insulation,” Diaz said. “It is not. It is a city of progress, of openness, of innovation, and of light.”

    Diaz currently heads the parks department in Los Angeles. He has worked for the city for 20 years. Previously, he was the department's general counsel before becoming its executive officer. He said he shares the mayor’s vision for the city’s park system: a place for respite, health and wellness, and equity, among other things.

    “Seeing the status of parks during the pandemic as they became one of the few options for gathering spaces and vitality, only reinforce my commitment to amplify our park system, and the narrative of what parks [do] and what they are in the future,” Diaz said.

    If confirmed by the Seattle City Council, Diaz will lead the department that manages a park system of more than 6,000 acres.

    This is Harrell's second nominee from LA. Greg Spotts was recently confirmed as the new head of the city's Transportation Department.

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  • Bolt Creek fire continues to burn past 'contained' confusion

    KUOW Blog
    caption: Smoke from the Bolt Creek fire lingers over Skykomish, Wash. Sept. 30, 2022. 
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    Smoke from the Bolt Creek fire lingers over Skykomish, Wash. Sept. 30, 2022.
    Credit: John O'Brien / KUOW

    Drivers along Highway 2 and residents around Skykomish are still being affected by the Bolt Creek fire, despite recent confusion over the status of the wildfire and how much of it is "contained."

    At one point, reports stated that the Bolt Creek fire was 97% contained. This week, that number went down to 13%. Current reports state that the fire is 28% contained. Incident Commander Kent Stanford says a change in management teams is to blame for the confusion.

    "The prior team had a strategy of confinement," Stanford said. "What they were trying to relay with the 97% was 97% of that work was done to confine the fire to a certain geographic area."

    Stanford says the fire continues to spread within that confinement area, mostly to the north. He adds that the only thing that will significantly knock down the fire is substantial rainfall, which is not expected any time soon.

    The fire has frequently shut down Highway 2 through the area. Crews have been working to remove trees that are at risk of falling onto the highway. Firefighters are asking drivers to slow down in the area as they work.

    According to a status update on the Bolt Creek fire sore Sept. 30, 2022:

    "Fire resources, utility crews and WSDOT finalized work along the US 2 closure area on Thursday and the road was reopened on Thursday evening. Two days of moderated fire conditions contributed to mostly minimal fire spread from Wednesday through Thursday night, though the fire has continued to burn up to containment lines on the west, south and east edges of the fire. Very few pockets of unburned vegetation remain along the road, and most of the fire’s continued spread will be to the north and into the Wild Sky Wilderness area. Humidities will remain relatively high through the next week of sunny weather, which should help to moderate future fire spread. Fire resources will continue to monitor and reinforce firelines today and through the weekend."

    Continue reading »
  • King County begins work on 'Stop Hate Hotline'

    KUOW Blog
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    The King County Council has approved a plan to create a new hate crime hotline and web portal that people can use to report incidents.

    County Councilmember Reagan Dunn says the Stop Hate Hotline is needed following the surge in hate crimes seen throughout the course of the pandemic.

    “If we are to more fully respond to the unprecedented surge in hate crimes we’ve seen in King County, we need to provide more pathways for victims of these dehumanizing crimes to report them,” Dunn said in a statement. "Without boosting reporting rates, we only allow crimes of hate and bias to proliferate — and no one in King County should live in threat of retaliation or even danger due to their race, religion, beliefs, appearance, or any other differences that exist among us.”

    The County's Coalition Against Hate and Bias says it has received 560 reports of hate crimes since it was formed in mid-2020, and those were just the incidents that were reported.

    In February 2021, reported hate crimes with the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office peaked at 157%, considerably higher than the pre-Covid average.

    A workgroup will convene in November to develop a plan for the reporting system, as well as awareness. That plan will be presented to the County Council in May 2023.

    Continue reading »
  • Seattle's Viet-Wah supermarket closes permanently

    KUOW Blog
    caption: Viet-Wah Asian Supermarket in Seattle's Little Saigon neighborhood in 2022. 
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    Viet-Wah Asian Supermarket in Seattle's Little Saigon neighborhood in 2022.
    Credit: Jason Pagano / KUOW

    When their shift ends at 7 p.m. Friday night, owners and employees at the Viet-Wah store located in Seattle's Little Saigon will close its doors permanently.

    The Asian food supermarket has operated at this location along South Jackson Street for nearly four decades . The land is now slated to be developed to make way for housing, retail, and parking.

    The countertops at the store show the wear of almost 40 years of customer service. Leeching Tran is the Vice President of Viet-Wah Supermarket, and the daughter of Duc Tran, founder of the grocery store. Tran grew up at this store and says she’ll really miss the regulars.

    “You know, it's familiar faces, people you know, and recognize and you look forward to seeing every time you come here, so that's gonna be hard I think," Tran said, adding that one of the unique things about Viet-Wah's Seattle location is the range of languages that can be heard among the aisles.

    “Not just English or Vietnamese, but you hear Mandarin, Cantonese, Taishanese, my family speaks Teochew," she said. "We have customers from all different nationalities and ethnicities, which is really cool.”

    Tran’s aunt June Huynh hasn’t been able to sleep for the past two days, saddened by the store's closing. Huynh has worked at the location since 1989. Between the pandemic and hate crimes, Huynh says they’ve seen a dramatic drop in customers.

    The owners say they’ve lost a lot of business due to the pandemic and the increase in anti-Asian hate crimes.

    After the store closes, Tran says staff will go out to dinner at a local restaurant to mark their decades in the area.

    Viet-Wah’s Renton location will remain open.

    Continue reading »
  • The uncomfortable, guilty, amazing experience of 'Choir Boy': Reporter's Notebook

    KUOW Blog
    caption: AJ and Pharus
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    AJ and Pharus
    Credit: Tracy Martin

    Let me start by saying “Choir Boy” was an amazing experience. The writer, Tarell Alvin McCraney, crafted a story that takes audiences into the world of Pharus Young, a 17-year-old queer Black boy in his senior year at the fictional Charles R. Drew school for boys. It depicts Young’s struggle to balance school, relationships, and his love of singing in the choir — all while being targeted by peers due to his sexuality.

    RELATED: 'Choir Boy' explores life, love, and queer identity for Black teens

    Seattle’s ACT Theatre provides a unique experience for this play. Due to the stage being circular, and situated in the middle of the audience, the action takes place in an arena that director Jamil Jude likened to a “boxing ring.” But for me, sitting in the front row, my attention would often drift to the audience members sitting across from me. We were close enough for me to see their faces, and when the characters on stage — all except one being Black — hurled racial and sexual slurs at each other, I was often reminded that I was one of few Black spectators in the audience.

    This experience was different than being at a concert where white people rap lyrics to songs that say the n-word. In those situations, which are also uncomfortable at times, the crowd blends together and its hard to decipher who specifically is saying the word. That night at the ACT Theatre, I was in a room full of white people, watching as a young Black boys call each other the n-word, and call one specific boy the f-word, in a very abusive manner.

    For me, these moments felt even more heavy seeing that the institution portrayed in the play and the actors involved, were all Black, and the audience in the fishbowl was almost exclusively white — and dead silent. So, every single slur cut like a blade and I couldn’t escape the feeling that the rest of the audience was now allowed into a space that would typically be exclusive to Black folks.

    The Drew school was just like my school growing up. The way those kids spoke to each other is how we spoke to each other, and even when the n-word was used in a nonconfrontational way, it still felt wrong to have it used so freely in the presence of that many people who were not Black, people who may have never been privy to these types of conversations. But I couldn’t stop my eyes from gazing across the crowd and looking into the eyes of all the people who, perhaps for the first time, were getting a glimpse into my childhood, which made me feel like I was in the fishbowl and on display along with the actors.

    I must also admit that the play made me feel guilty. Maybe that’s why the mixed-crowd got to me in the way that it did.

    I spoke to director Jamil Jude, who is also a heterosexual Black man, about how he processed elements in the play. Like me, Jude didn’t have a gay friend until college. I knew gay people existed, but I never had a relationship with a gay person until I was able to escape the false-teachings of my youth. Looking at the youth on stage, and seeing how bad Pharus needed a friend, needed a peer to be in his corner, made me feel guilty for the times when I could have been that friend but never stepped up.

    The relationship between Pharus and his newfound friend AJ was one of the most important in the play. It showed how valuable it is to have a friend — someone you can talk to, someone who can see past differences and accept the person you are.

    For many people, the takeaway from this play will be a reminder to allow Black boys to be boys; to not force manhood on us too soon, but to allow us space for adolescence, curiosity, and self-discovery. My takeaway is an additional reminder to be present in the life of young Black boys, especially queer Black boys. It’s our responsibility to destigmatize their existence.

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  • Gas prices back on the rise in Washington

    KUOW Blog
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    Something for drivers to consider while idling along their Western Washington commutes: gas prices.

    Gas prices had been falling for a record 14 weeks earlier this month. GasBuddy reports that trend is over, and they are on the rise.

    The average price for regular gas in Washington state is $5.17 per gallon (higher than the national average of $3.78), according to AAA. That's up 52 cents from a week ago.

    The Seattle/Bellevue/Everett average is $5.34, which is up about 50 cents from a week ago.

    It's a similar story in Tacoma where the average is $5.26, up 63 cents from a week ago.

    In short, gas is already expensive, and it's getting more expensive. Perhaps it's best to start thinking long term — lifestyle, work style, where to live — to rely less on our cars, because we're not Cruisin' anymore.

    This segment on gas prices originally appeared in the Sept. 29, 2022 Today So Far newsletter.

    Continue reading »
  • Getting around Seattle is no Fantastic Voyage: Today So Far

    KUOW Blog
    caption: Rush-hour traffic along Interstate 5 on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019, from Northeast 92nd Street in Seattle.
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    Rush-hour traffic along Interstate 5 on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019, from Northeast 92nd Street in Seattle.
    Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
    • Transportation around the Seattle area is likely to get a little rough with construction projects on the road ahead.
    • 520 Bridge will be closed this weekend. Expect delays.
    • Gas prices are on the rise again.
    • Seattle aims to revamp Third Avenue ... again.

    This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for September 29, 2022.

    The Seattle area has ambitious goals when it comes to commuting, transit, and generally getting around. But let's be honest, getting around our region is no Fantastic Voyage. It's not so much Rollin' With My Homies, and more like C U When U Get There ... eventually.

    While speaking with KUOW's Seattle Now, Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center, says things in our region aren't likely to get better any time soon. We are looking at a lot of construction down the road.

    “Congestion will keep happening ... We built much of our freeway system starting in the 1960s, it hasn’t done a lot of replacement of those things, so they are 20-30 years past their design life. That’s a great thing ... but the bad news is we’re going to have to do construction. Construction on major freeways often is accompanied by congestion — get used to it.”

    On top of all that, our region's work habits have changed. More folks are working from home. That means the morning commute has actually gotten better, according to Hallenbeck. Basically, instead of a traffic snarl at 5:30 a.m., it now happens at 6:30 a.m. Afternoon/evening traffic, however, hasn't improved and has gotten worse in some cases. Hallenbeck says remote work is partially responsible. Folks are commuting in the morning, and some of those folks used to take the bus to work. Now, those people are looking to run errands after work, or go to dinner, etc. That means they aren't hopping on a bus, they're getting into a car in the afternoon. That volume is placing a strain on roads.

    “Our trip-making behavior has changed to take advantage of this telecommuting that a lot of people are now doing …. as our work schedules kind of settle down, I think you’ll see traffic settle down, and transit will adjust to when people are going to work and not.”

    Hallenbeck also notes that our region doesn’t do well when it comes to transit, which is mostly designed to get people to and from work, not so much to the store, dinner, etc. Transit also doesn’t do a good job for commuters coming in from outside Seattle (so I’m not the only one who noticed that).

    “Everyone has to compromise a little bit,” Hallenbeck said. “We cannot afford to give everyone a free, fast drive from anywhere they want to live, to anywhere they want to go. There aren’t enough resources to do that, there isn’t enough space to do that. So be prepared to compromise … part of that compromising activity is mixing up our land uses. We need to make it easy for you to go from your house to a medical center to a restaurant, and that means those things need to be closer to where you live. The only way to do that is to put them closer to where you live. So try not to object too much when people put retail relatively near your housing developments … the village of old times are coming back and those are really good things.”

    For more insights into our evolving traffic, and current trends, check out Hallenbeck's full conversation with Seattle Now here.

    Since we're on the topic, it's probably a good time to remind drivers that the 520 Bridge over Lake Washington will be closed in both directions this weekend. As I heard KUOW's Kim Malcolm report last night, crews are realigning some lanes, which is part of the Montlake lid project. The good news is that the bike and pedestrian lane will still be open. The closure starts at 11 p.m. Friday. The lanes reopen at 5 a.m. Monday.

    If you recall, the I-90 bridge across Lake Washington was down last weekend for repairs and that really snarled traffic. The I-90 bridge will be open this weekend, but with the 520 bridge down, you can expect that traffic won't be so Coolio.

    Continue reading »
  • Electric history takes flight in Washington: Today So Far

    KUOW Blog
    caption: Test pilot Steven Crane emerges from the Alice prototype after a successful maiden flight on September 27.
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    Test pilot Steven Crane emerges from the Alice prototype after a successful maiden flight on September 27.
    Credit: NW News Network
    • The test flight for an all-electric airplane, designed by a Western Washington company, was a success.
    • Seattle Library employees will now be able to administer Narcan.
    • Man gets five years in prison after scamming hundreds of thousands of dollars from Washington's unemployment department.

    This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for September 27, 2022.

    Electric vehicle history was made in Washington state this week. An electric airplane named Alice made its maiden flight out of Moses Lake on Tuesday. Electric aircraft have flown before, but this plane is designed for commercial use by a Washington-based company. In other words, Alice is meant to carry passengers from place-to-place.

    The all-electric flight is impressive, especially considering the shift to electric vehicles we are in the midst of. But there is still more work to be done before you can buy a ticket. Eviation is the Western Washington-based company that makes Alice. It's waiting for a few advancements in battery technology to get a 200-mile range out of the plane. It also carries nine passengers. So this plane will be good for trips between Seattle and Portland. Think of this plane like Sandpiper Air in the 1990s hit sitcom "Wings" (kids, "Wings" was like a prequel to "Monk").

    As Tom Banse reports, this is a significant step in our evolving travel infrastructure, but it won't likely be the only one. Biofuels, for example, are also being looked at as a more climate-friendly option (compared to jet fuels) for air travel. Remember when I wrote about Washington's potential to grow sugar kelp? Kelp can also be used to make biofuels. Read the full story on this evolution here.

    Staff at Seattle Public Libraries will now be allowed to administer Narcan to patrons suspected of overdosing on opioids. As KUOW's Diana Opong reports, the library had a previous policy barring staff from using the overdose-reversing drug. Instead, they were instructed to call 911. After staff prompted officials to review the policy (and someone looked into the legal liability of it all), staff will now be allowed to take action themselves. Read more here.

    One final thing: Remember how scammers pounced on Washington's Unemployment Security Department in the early days of the pandemic? They got away with millions. One such person just got five years in prison for the scam, among other crimes. Abidemi Rufai, 45, is a Nigerian citizen who pleaded guilty to federal charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in the spring. Rufai used stolen identities to file fraudulent applications for economic relief when disasters struck the USA. The Department of Justice says he did the same con after Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. He hit up Washington state for unemployment relief when Covid struck and got more than $350,000. Read more here.


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  • BIPOC homeownership would have to increase by 140K in Washington to reach parity, report says

    KUOW Newsroom
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    A new report says the home ownership gap in Washington state is so large that Black, Indigenous and people of color would have to purchase more than 140,000 houses to achieve parity with white homeowners.

    Breaking it down by county: 49,494 homes would have to be purchased in King County, 9,645 homes in Snohomish County, and 17,550 in Pierce County.

    “This report is key to starting the process of removing barriers and improving access to homeownership. And, there is more work to be done," said Dr. Karen A. Johnson, director of the Washington state Office of Equity. "Now is the time for action. Every individual who plays a role in the homeownership process has work to do to achieve equity and justice for all.”

    Among the findings that the Homeownership Disparities Work Group found over its 10-month lifespan is that the homeownership gap between Black and white households is worse today than it was in the 60s.

    The report states:

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  • Proposed city budget emphasizes safety, affordability, and homelessness

    KUOW Blog
    caption: Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell introduces his 2023-24 budget proposal while speaking to a crowd of city employees at the Charles Street Vehicle Maintenance Facility, Sept. 27, 2022.
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    Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell introduces his 2023-24 budget proposal while speaking to a crowd of city employees at the Charles Street Vehicle Maintenance Facility, Sept. 27, 2022.
    Credit: Seattle Mayors Office

    Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell has provided a first look at his 2023-24 budget plan. He told city workers Tuesday that one big focus of the $7.4 billion proposal is public safety.

    "Too often, residents feel unsafe on the streets," Harrell said. "So I believe that in One Seattle, every person has an absolute right to safety, no matter where you live, where you go to school, who you are."

    RELATED: King County leaders propose a tax levy for behavioral health clinics

    Mayor Harrell spoke about forming a third public safety department, but didn't offer many details. He did say that he plans to return traffic enforcement duties to the Seattle Police Department. Those duties were previously shifted to the city's transportation department after the 2020 summer protests against police brutality.

    Harrell also aims to reestablish the park ranger program to help maintain parks.

    Other points outlined in the budget proposal:

    • Quarter of a billion dollar investment for affordable housing.
    • $88 million for regional homelessness authority.
    • $5 million to support bonuses for child-care workers in the city.
    • $8 million for Vision Zero projects.
    • Funding for tiny homes and safe lots.
    • $17 million in small businesses support and economic revitalization programs.

    Harrell introduced his proposed budget Tuesday while speaking at Seattle's Charles Street Vehicle Maintenance Facility.

    The full city council will vote on the proposal in November. There will be three public meetings prior to that vote.

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  • On a low tide, two stories collide: Reporter's Notebook

    KUOW Blog
    caption: A hand-built rock wall for a clam garden takes shape on Kiket Island, on the Swinomish Reservation in Washington state, on Aug. 12.
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    A hand-built rock wall for a clam garden takes shape on Kiket Island, on the Swinomish Reservation in Washington state, on Aug. 12.
    Credit: KUOW Photo/John Ryan

    It’s funny how stories collide sometimes.

    I was out covering a joyous, muddy gathering that was hand-building a traditional “clam garden” — likely the first to be built in the United States in nearly two centuries — on the Swinomish Reservation. On that sunny summer day, one of the year’s lowest tides exposed acres of tideflats, making it possible for air-breathing, rubber-booted humans to build the garden and give local seafood production a boost.

    While I was recording people schlepping boulders to revive an ancient Swinomish tradition, that same low tide was creating trouble for a Swinomish fishing boat just 6 miles away.

    That boat, the Aleutian Isle, would sink 24 hours later.

    The Aleutian Isle, a purse seiner about to join a tribal fishery for sockeye salmon, was leaving a marina in Anacortes on that super-low (-2.6 foot) tide when it apparently ran aground.

    Eyewitness Brit Reese was meeting a friend on the docks and saw the whole thing, including a smaller boat having to tow the Aleutian Isle to deeper water. It’s unknown what damage, if any, the incident did to the Aleutian Isle.

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