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Today So Far Blog

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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  • NW has dodged wildfire smoke this summer (so far), but fires still being fought across Washington

    Today So Far Blog
    caption: Wildfire smoke drifts through Snoqualmie Pass in 2017.
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    Wildfire smoke drifts through Snoqualmie Pass in 2017.

    Wildfire smoke around the Seattle area hasn't caused too many problems this year, compared to years past.

    Except in Southern Oregon, it's been a quiet summer for smoke monitors, with about a month left in the regular fire season.

    The Pacific Northwest is still reaping the benefits of the cooler-than-normal spring and delayed mountain snowmelt. Wildfire smoke drifting north from California only affected Oregon a few days. British Columbia has also been a source of heavy smoke in the past, but it received more rain than usual this summer.

    Washington State Climatologist Nick Bond says while there have been some wildfires locally, the lungs of most of us in the Northwest have dodged a bullet, so far.

    “There still is plenty of time left in the fire season. We’re not out of the woods yet, pun intended," Bond said.

    Bond says the fire season shifted this year — it started later, but could also end a little later. According to the Washington Department of Ecology, that means you still have time to research how to improve the air filtration on your home air conditioner, if you have one.

    Despite the light season, so far, there are still some blazes being monitored in Washington state. Check out current wildfire conditions across the state here.

    Lightning strikes are being blamed for a couple of fires that have forced evacuations in central Washington.

    Both the White River and Irving Peak Fires were sparked last Friday, about 15 miles northwest of Plain, Wash., which is north of Leavenworth. The White River Fire has burned approximately 340 acres and the Irving Peak Fire has charred 143 acres.

    Over the weekend, Chelan County officials issued a level 3 evacuation order (which basically means "leave now") for people along Sears Creek Road.

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  • Washington State Ferries looks to the next generation to staff — and bring diversity to — future crews

    KUOW Newsroom
    caption: A ferry is shown on Monday, June 10, 2019, in Seattle.
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    A ferry is shown on Monday, June 10, 2019, in Seattle.
    Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

    Young students of color from around Seattle are checking out what life is like working onboard a Washington state ferry.

    The ferries need more employees, plain and simple.

    "We’re hiring!” said Bryn Hunter from Washington State Ferries.

    The service has been short on crew since the Covid pandemic began in 2020.

    And a lot of the crew, Hunter says, looks the same.

    “Traditionally we've only had a lot of white and men as a part of it and we need more women, we need more diversity, and that's a really key thing that we're trying to reach out to," Hunter said.

    Recently, Hunter gave a tour of a ferry to high school students who were mostly Black or brown — students who may have an interest in a future on a boat.

    Omari Brown, 18, said he enjoyed seeing the inner workings of the engine room.

    “I like the technical side — how it makes you have to have a lot of knowledge and you have to know what you're doing, because one wrong move and everything can go bad," Brown said.

    Brown and others said they’re interested in attending the Seattle Maritime Academy when they’re old enough.

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  • Seattle police warn Kia drivers after TikTok trend prompts spike in thefts

    Today So Far Blog
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    The Seattle Police Department is sending a message to Kia owners: watch your cars closely and get extra anti-theft protection. A TikTok trend is being blamed for a recent rise in Kia thefts.

    The TikTok videos provide instructions for how to break into a Kia and start it using a unique hack — a USB charging cable. SPD says a recent rise in Kia thefts across the city may be inspired by online tutorials which are being called the "Kia challenge," and have gone viral on TikTok.

    According to SPD:

    "In July, police investigated 36 reports of stolen Kias (compared to five in July 2021) and believe suspects may be using a method learned from TikTok, using a USB drive or cable and other tools, in place of a key, to start a vehicle. The vehicles stolen in July—Kia models Optima, Soul, Sorrento, Forte, and Sportage—were all manufactured between 2014 and 2021."

    Seattle police point to an incident in August as an example. A group in a stolen Kia were caught attempting to steal another Kia on Capitol Hill. Two of the suspects were caught, a 17-year-old boy and a 16-year-old boy. Police allege that the 16-year-old is linked to another Kia theft in July. He reportedly learned how to start the cars from videos on TikTok. The two teens were booked on charges of possession of a stolen car and unlawful possession of a firearm (a ghost gun).

    The Puget Sound Auto Theft Task Force (a partnership between King and Pierce Counties), has issued its own warning, noting that 2011 or newer Kias, or a 2015 or newer Hyundais are "at risk."

    What the Seattle Police Department reports appears to be part of a national trend. ABC News reports a dramatic spike in thefts of Kias nationally. ABC focused on Cook County, Illinois — covering Chicago, it's the most populated county in the state. In Cook County, there were 74 thefts of Kias in July and part of August in 2021. During that same time in 2022, there have been 642 Kia thefts. The local sheriff is also blaming instructions on TikTok for the rise in thefts.

    Portland's KGW8 reports that a multistate lawsuit has been filed against Kia and Hyundai, alleging that the companies produced cars that are easy to steal.

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  • 1 dead, many wounded after weekend of shootings across Seattle area

    Today So Far Blog
    caption: Police investigate after a shooting near a nightclub in Seattle's SoDo neighborhood.
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    Police investigate after a shooting near a nightclub in Seattle's SoDo neighborhood.

    A series of shootings across the Seattle area left one man dead and many others wounded over the weekend.

    The Seattle Police Department reports that the incidents started late Friday night and took place through Sunday night.

    • Friday, 11:24 p.m.: Two people were found with gunshot wounds in an alley near the 4200 block of South Orcas Street. The victims told police the shooting happened around the corner from where they were found. Police collected shell casings from the scene.
    • Saturday, 12:18 a.m.: A 14-year-old girl was shot in the leg near Occidental Avenue South and Edgar Martinez Drive South. SPD reports that the gunfire came from outside a nearby bar. Private security guards exchanged fire during the incident. Police collected more than 80 rifle and handgun rounds. Nearby vehicles were damaged. Following the shooting, a man showed up at Harborview — his head had been grazed by a bullet — and said it was from the SoDo shooting.
    • Saturday, 12:33 a.m.: People called 911 to report a man had been shot near Seattle's Cal Anderson Park in Capitol Hill. Bystanders attempted first aid. Police and medics arrived, attempted life saving measures, and declared the man dead at the scene.
    • Saturday, 3:17 a.m.: A man was shot twice in Pioneer Square (3rd Avenue South and South Main Street).

    The Seattle Times reports that four more people where shot at Renton's Regis Park shortly before midnight on Friday.

    Two more people were shot on Sunday, including a 16-year-old boy along Seattle's Seward Park Avenue South. Police found bullets from that shooting lodged in the side of an apartment building. No one was home at the time.

    Later that same day, a 28-year-old man was shot in West Seattle after a group of men reportedly approached his car; one person fired out the car window. Police recovered shot gun shells at the scene. Both individuals shot on Sunday were injured in their shoulders and were taken to a hospital.

    None of the shootings are known to be related at this point.

    The weekend's shootings come almost a month after another notable weekend of shootings that happened across Western Washington. The rise in shootings around Seattle is part of a growing trend, according to the King County Prosecutor's Office.

    Interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz addressed the rise in shootings, and violence, in SPD's Aug. 15 newsletter:

    "The disturbing trend of increased gun violence in Seattle continues. Two weeks ago, there were 29 shootings in Seattle in a single week, the most we’ve seen in a single week all year. So far in 2022, there have been over 460 shots-fired incidents in our city, 27 of them resulting in fatalities. By this time last year, there had been 330 incidents with 19 fatal victims. Since 2020, we have seen a 100% increase in all shots fired."

    Chief Diaz also noted two fatal shootings over Seafair weekend, and other recent violent, deadly incidents that did not involved firearms.

    This week, Seattle City Council members are expected to further discuss a proposal that calls for offering hiring incentives to bring in more officers to the SPD. Police staffing levels in Seattle are at a 30-year low with roughly 954 officers. Between January and July 2022, the city lost 109 officers and only hired 35.

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  • Why the entire board of Seattle's ACT Theatre just stepped down

    Today So Far Blog
    caption: Eagles Auditorium, also known as Kreielsheimer Place where Seattle's ACT Theatre is based.
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    Eagles Auditorium, also known as Kreielsheimer Place where Seattle's ACT Theatre is based.

    A Contemporary Theatre — Seattle’s ACT company — has announced that its entire board of trustees has voluntarily stepped down.

    The only exceptions are three positions required by law — the chair, secretary, and treasurer.

    This board overhaul is the result of three months of “deliberation and difficult conversations,” according to ACT’s Artistic Director John Langs. He said the changes are meant to bring the board more in line with the goals of the theatre.

    The change was sparked when board members read an article in American Theatre Magazine by Michael Bobbitt titled "Boards are broken, so let's break and remake them." Bobbit is Langs' counterpart at the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown, Massachusetts.

    In the article, Bobbitt argues that nonprofit boards are broken, and need to be dismantled and rebuilt. He notes that most boards don’t represent the communities they serve, and points out the tension between creative vision and fiduciary responsibility. That further raises questions around who should direct a theatre's creative vision — board members or artistic staff?

    Langs said ACT board members then decided to reevaluate their hierarchal structure and dissect inequalities within the board.

    “The question we asked most pointedly was: ‘If you can do this all over again, what would you have done differently?’” Langs said. “And from there, we prepared a roadmap through a committee of governance and a couple other key board members and staff members collectively to talk about what we could do. And the outcome of that meeting was: We have to disrupt the status quo.”

    Now that the Board has voted, and members have resigned their positions, ACT is ready to rebuild the board from the ground up. Langs said a new committee comprised of executive leadership, representatives selected by staff, representatives selected by artists, and the three remaining trustees will lead the new selection process.

    ACT plans on creating a new board with 12-15 members. This group will not use the former “committee” structure. Instead, all trustees will be involved in all aspects of board responsibilities to provide fiduciary oversight, strategic guidance, and risk management.

    Once a new board is in place, the three remaining trustees will step down and re-apply for appointments if they wish to resume their positions.

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  • Washington has new hotline for monkeypox information

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    Washington's Department of Health has set up a new hotline to answer your questions about the monkeypox virus, aka MPV.

    The number is 1-833-829-HELP.

    The hotline will be operational from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays, and between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (outside of state holidays).

    “As we navigate the MPV outbreak in Washington state, we cannot underestimate the need for our community members to address their questions and concerns,” said Dr. Umair A. Shah, MD, Washington's secretary of health. “We are pleased to partner with 211 to meet this crucial need.”

    RELATED: Monkeypox outbreak in Washington state 'is not under control'

    Operators will answer any questions about risk factors, vaccine information, testing, and treatment. Just be aware that they won't be able to schedule any appointments for you.

    Language assistance will be available in 240 languages.

    Approximately 40,000 people in King County are deemed at high risk, but so so far, only about 5,000 of them have been vaccinated against MPV.

    There have been 265 confirmed cases of monkeypox in Washington state, the majority of which have been found in King County (225).

    Officials say another 4,400 vaccine doses are being distributed this week.

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  • Seattle considers fixing equity gap in cannabis industry

    Today So Far Blog
    caption: Marijuana plants are shown in the flowering room on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, at Grow Ambrosia in Seattle.
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    Marijuana plants are shown in the flowering room on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018, at Grow Ambrosia in Seattle.
    Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

    Seattle officials are trying to fix a glaring problem in the cannabis industry: a lack of Black owners.

    Mayor Bruce Harrell has put forward a suite of bills to address the issue. They are now up for council consideration.

    “While these policies alone cannot solve generations of injustice, they are critical first steps and a clear commitment to a One Seattle approach, where we make progress through partnership, working with state and federal leaders, industry stakeholders, and store workers to continue moving forward," Harrell said in a statement.

    One measure would remove the city cannabis license fee for people in communities hit hardest by the war on drugs, such as the Black community.

    One idea is to replace the current license with a social equity license, according to council staffer Brianna Thomas.

    "We recognize the loss of Black wealth and Black business and Black ingenuity in this space and this suite of legislation does not undo that harm, but it is a step in the right direction," Thomas said.

    City reports show that when Washington legalized cannabis in 2012, none of Seattle’s existing Black-owned medical marijuana businesses received licenses for recreational shops.

    The City Council is scheduled to take a first vote on the bills Aug. 17.

    Harrell's cannabis suite contains a total of three bills that would implement a range of approaches, including:

    • Require that owners who buy a cannabis store keep the same staff for 90 days.
    • Create a cannabis advisory committee.
    • Work with King County and community groups to expunge convictions for cannabis-related crimes prior to 2014.
    • Speed up the work of expunging past cannabis convictions.
    • Develop a state and federal legislative agenda promoting cannabis equity, as well as safety improvements, capital investments, and access to banking services.
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  • Take two for Seattle's social housing initiative

    Today So Far Blog
    caption: Housing is the Cure banner.
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    Housing is the Cure banner.
    Credit: Courtesy of House Our Neighbors

    This is going to be the last weekend that backers of Seattle’s social housing initiative can try to gather enough signatures to get on the February 2023 ballot.

    House Our Neighbors is backing Initiative 135. Supporters initially aimed to have it on the November ballot, but failed to get enough signatures to qualify. Now they’re aiming for the next election in February and are gathering more signatures to make it happen.

    “And we have a bunch of events coming up this weekend, and have no doubt with those and everyone that’s gonna turn in their petitions, that we’ll reach our goal of 10,000 signatures," said Tiffani McCoy with House our Neighbors.

    The 10,000 signatures McCoy mentions is the number left for the group to reach the roughly 27,000 signatures required to appear on the ballot.

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  • Garden or a Band Aid? New anti-encampment tactic in Seattle

    Today So Far Blog
    caption: Tents line South Weller Street near the intersection of 12th Avenue South on Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in Seattle.
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    Tents line South Weller Street near the intersection of 12th Avenue South on Tuesday, May 19, 2020, in Seattle.
    Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer
    • Neighbors in Seattle have put up a garden in place of a swept encampment. But the idea doesn't smell like roses to everybody in town.
    • Washington farm workers are now supposed to be provided protections from hot weather ... supposed to.
    • It's been said that Trump's revenge on GOP candidates who voted to impeach him would play out over this recent primary, and in the November election. But is it possible this "revenge" could backfire?

    This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for August 12, 2022.

    Could Trump's revenge backfire in Washington state?

    That's the question KUOW's David Hyde poses in his recent coverage of the 4th Congressional District. I've talked a lot about Washington's 3rd District, and the drama over Trump-backed Joe Kent surviving the primary election, ousting incumbent Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler (who voted to impeach Trump). But a similar story was at play in the 4th District where incumbent Republican Dan Newhouse, who also voted to impeach Trump, survived the primary over Trump-back candidates like Loren Culp.

    But this dynamic among the 4th's GOP is giving Democratic candidate Doug White some hope. Basically, if the Republican vote splits, it could offer the Democrat a way to win, and in turn, prove himself to the heavily GOP district. Then again, how likely is it that this very red district will favor a Democrat just to spite Newhouse? There's more to this story here.

    We may complain about stretches of hot weather in our corner of the state. But the truth is we have little room to complain when considering the people who are working outside in the heat to bring us our food.

    There are new protections in Washington state for farmworkers, and others who brave hot weather. Employers are now required to provide cool water and shade to workers. When temps hit 89 or higher, workers are entitled to paid cool-down breaks every two hours. Employers are also now required to check on employees, regularly, to ensure their health and safety.

    But some are saying that the new protections are not being followed and workers are being left in the scorching heat. The state's Labor and Industries Department essentially waits for a complaint to arise around the issue. Then it will look into it, and by "look into it," I mean someone from L&I will email the company and ask them to look into it. If the complaint is of high concern, L&I will send someone out. But the policy has left some farmworkers uninspired to submit a complaint in the first place. KUOW's Eilis O'Neill has the full story here.

    Here's what happened at 96th and Aurora in Seattle. There was a shooting at an encampment along the street. The city responded by sweeping the encampment, and neighbors followed up by creating a garden in the camp's place to deter future tents from settling there.

    KING5 reported this story this week. Neighbor Liza Javier told the TV station that the neighborhood was “absolutely terrified” and concerned about safety when the camp was there. The neighbors got a permit from the city to establish the garden, and there are now flowers growing in the camp's place. Nearby businesses say they are pleased with the development, like Sam Sebuwufu Seruwu, the manager of Auto Link Seattle. He told KING5 that seeing the flowers is "a sign of hope.”

    But this story is not all roses to everyone. KUOW's Seattle Now brought in Seattle Times columnist Naomi Ishisaka and writer Geraldine DeRuiter to weigh in on this gardening tactic.

    "What they are doing there is similar what business owners are doing with the eco blocks," Ishisaka said. "It's less a gardening project and more of a 'how do we block encampments or tents from showing up in our communities' .... I think there is a lot of room for empathy and compassion to go around, but obviously this is not a long-term strategy. We can't just keep blocking people from housing, wherever that might be and expect that to solve a problem ... it just puts a Band Aid on this one block, which will then be another block, and another block."

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  • Behemoth moth lands in Bellevue, alarming agriculture officials

    KUOW Newsroom
    caption: The Atlas moth, nearly 10 inches wide, that turned up in Bellevue, Washington, in July
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    The Atlas moth, nearly 10 inches wide, that turned up in Bellevue, Washington, in July
    Credit: Courtesy Patrick Tobin

    One of the world's largest moths showed up in Bellevue, Washington, to the astonishment of the homeowner who found it basking in the sun on the side of his garage — and the alarm of entomologists.

    How did an Atlas moth, with massive orange wings wider than an outstretched hand and wing tips resembling a pair of cobras, get from Thailand to the Seattle area?

    An advertisement on eBay reveals that someone in Bellevue has been illegally importing and selling live cocoons of the tropical insects online.

    Atlas moths are a federally quarantined pest in the United States. It is illegal to buy, keep, or sell live moths, including their eggs, caterpillars, cocoons, and paper-plate-sized adults.

    In July, Patrick Tobin got an email from a homeowner in Bellevue who wanted to know what insect was basking in the sun on his garage.

    “As soon as I saw it, I knew exactly what it was. Because I teach about this moth in my insect ecology class,” said Tobin, an entomologist at the University of Washington.

    “It's an incredibly beautiful moth,” he said. “The snake head on the wingtips, it's just an amazing design, and it's such an incredible example of mimicry.”

    Entomologists believe the wingtips serve to fool potential predators into thinking a cobra, also native to the Asian tropics, is poised to attack.

    “Even if you aren’t on the lookout for insects, this is the type that people get their phones out and take a picture of – they are that striking,” entomologist Sven Spichiger said in a Washington state Department of Agriculture press release asking for the public to report any sightings of the behemoth moth.

    “It's like if all of a sudden you saw a black rhino walking down I-5,” Tobin said of the tropical moth’s appearance in suburban Bellevue.

    Tobin asked the homeowner, who declined to comment for this story, to capture the insect. An hour or more after the homeowner first saw it — initially thinking it was a snake — it was still clinging to the wall. He trapped it in a zippered plastic bag, the kind you might store pillow cushions in, and took it inside.

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  • King County will propose new facilities to serve people in behavioral health crisis

    KUOW Newsroom
    caption: Kelli Nomura, director of King County's Behavioral Health & Recovery division, said "recovery is real," but the county's  resources are at a "breaking point."
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    Kelli Nomura, director of King County's Behavioral Health & Recovery division, said "recovery is real," but the county's resources are at a "breaking point."
    Credit: Courtesy of King County

    King County officials said Thursday that current resources for people in behavioral health crisis are at a breaking point, and they are seeking to open more facilities to serve them.

    The plan will include proposed walk-in facilities for people who need “urgent care” related to mental health or addiction, as well as longer-term residential options.

    King County Executive Dow Constantine said he has brought together a coalition including legislators, law enforcement and service providers to deliver policy proposals to the King County Council alongside the proposed budget next month. They will focus on adding more same-day care, more beds, and workforce development.

    Constantine said there’s currently no walk-in facility for people in crisis in King County, which forces people to go to hospital emergency rooms to seek care. He said King County has lost one-third of its mental health beds in the past five years and there’s just one 16-bed behavioral health crisis facility where hospitals and first responders can currently refer people.

    Leo Flor is the director of the King County Department of Community and Human Services. He said a coalition of stakeholders will flesh out details very soon. He acknowledged that changing the situation will not involve “a small amount of money.”

    “Our task over the next few weeks is to work with this coalition and others who are not in the room to get specific about how many facilities, where they should be, what more services they might need, and then to propose what it would cost,” he said.

    Flor said the county expects to award contracts to run the facilities. Officials didn’t address potential funding sources.

    Several members of the coalition said they were impressed by the crisis care facilities they saw on a recent trip to Arizona, on a tour organized by State Rep. Tina Orwell and State Sen. Manka Dhingra, and they hope to draw on that example.

    Naomi Morris is a nurse who works at the Downtown Emergency Services Center to keep people in crisis out of jail and emergency rooms. She said people in crisis can recover, but they need places to go and staff to help them.

    Morris said her uncle had schizophrenia and struggled until he ultimately found care later in life.

    “And the last 15 years of his life we got to watch him be stable and enjoy a beautiful end. And I would love to see that be the same for the people I serve," Morris said.

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  • What would you spend $38 million on? (It has to be ferries): Today So Far

    Today So Far Blog
    caption: A ferry crossing Puget Sound, seen from West Seattle.
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    A ferry crossing Puget Sound, seen from West Seattle.
    • Washington State Ferries just got some fresh federal funding. Now it has to decide what to do with it.
    • Washington has a shortage of 911 dispatchers.
    • Flooding and outages and chilly air. Seattle's new youth jail doesn't work too well.

    This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for August 11, 2022.

    You have $38 million, and you have to spend it on Washington state's ferries. How do you spend it?

    It could go toward delayed maintenance on a number of vessels. Then there's the staffing issues that Washington State Ferries has been suffering from over the past couple years. The state aims to upgrade boats to electric and hybrid systems. And, oh yeah, there's that ferry that just crashed into the Fauntleroy Dock and now needs millions in repairs.

    Such options are all on the table for our state, which just got a $38 million bonus from an infrastructure bill passed in DC. On today's Seattle Now podcast, KUOW's Casey Martin dives into what WSF could be considering when it comes to this fresh funding. Though, if you ask riders ... they just want the ferries to run on time.

    Whatever happens, it will be needed. The ferries are heavily relied upon, and not just for tourists. Don't tell the folks in Kitsap that I said this, but in many ways Kitsap is an extension of the Seattle side of the water — especially Bainbridge Island. I've often posed a question to people: If you had to choose between sitting in traffic for an hour (or more), or taking a scenic boat ride to work, which would you choose? A lot of folks in Kitsap have answered that question. The ferries carry crowds of commuters in and out of Seattle each day. They take their paychecks over the water to Bremerton, Silverdale, Poulsbo, and more. For them, any extra money to get the boats running smoothly is great news. Without those ferries, Seattle would lose a significant chunk of Kitsap workers (or just doctors and lawyers if we're talking about Bainbridge).

    And side note: If you ever want some cheap, local entertainment — take the final ferries out of Seattle in the early a.m. hours and just people watch. I've seen a passed out Iron Man, and groups singing "their song" that they heard at a bar ... but they were singing two different songs at the same time.

    Another sector of state services is also feeling some strain — 911 dispatchers.

    As Northwest News Network's Austin Jenkins reports, the Washington State Patrol has a dispatcher vacancy rate of 40%. WSP communication offices in Bellevue, Yakima, and Marysville are less than 50% staffed. This is happening after WSP closed its Wenatchee office this year.

    The centers are fielding emergency calls from landlines, cell phones, and text messages, and call volumes are up. Read the full story here.

    And another arm of law enforcement in Seattle is dealing with its own unique set of challenges — floods, chilling air, and power outages ... all in one building.

    There was a lot of controversy surrounding King County's youth detention center in Seattle (aka the Judge Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center). Now it's suffering from another controversy as the building doesn't seem to work. Workers noticed that parts of the building were freezing, so they plugged in portable heaters, which in turn tripped circuit breakers. Also, toilets didn't seem to flush. All that was annoying, but what really hit hard was the flooding.

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