Mayor and County Executive Declare a Homelessness State of Emergency

The number of people sleeping on the street in King County increased by 21 percent between 2014 and 2015. KELLY O
The number of people sleeping on the street in King County increased by 21 percent between 2014 and 2015. KELLY O



By Heidi Groover, The Stranger


Seattle has become the third major West Coast city to declare that homelessness has reached a state of emergency.

Mayor Ed Murray today declared a state of emergency due to homelessness in Seattle—following similar moves in Los Angeles and Portland—and King County Executive Dow Constantine did the same in the county.

To address the emergency, Murray announced $5.3 million in new one-time money that will go toward homelessness services over the next few months. Constantine also pledged $2 million total toward services like law enforcement diversion, housing vouchers, and shelter beds, though some of that is already included in his budget.

Government officials often declare states of emergency about natural disasters in order to “highlight the gravity of the challenge and make formal requests for assistance from the state and federal governments,” Constantine said at today’s announcement at the downtown YWCA. “Homelessness is not a natural disaster. It is a human-made disaster.

The crisis is undeniable: During this year’s one-night count, 3,772 people were sleeping outside in King County and 2,813 of them were in Seattle. That was a 21 percent increase in the county and 22 percent increase in the city over last year. According to the mayor’s office, 66 homeless people have died in the county so far in 2015, 47 of whom lived on the streets or in homeless encampments, and 3,000 Seattle Public Schools students are homeless.

Constantine said 35,000 people in King County become “newly homeless” every year.

“Thirty-five thousand,” Constantine repeated. “That is the population of a city the size of Issaquah.”

YWCA CEO Sue Sherbrooke, who spoke in support of the declaration of emergency, said her organization provided case management or shelter for 7,500 people last year. She said homelessness falls “disproportionately [on] women, men, and families of color.”

Murray said he wouldn’t consider an end to the state of emergency until the region sees a “significant reduction in the number of people dying on our streets—and I mean significant—and a significant reduction in school-age homelessness.”

So, what exactly does it mean for the city to declare a state of emergency?

Declaring an emergency—a move usually reserved for “civil unrest, a natural disaster, or a terrorist attack,” the mayor said—allows the city to move more quickly to fund homelessness services and is basically a cry for state and federal help in addressing the problem. Service providers and local government officials have criticized the federal government for reducing the amount of money it spends on housing and homelessness services, leaving local government to shoulder those costs. As part of the emergency declaration, the mayor said he would also ask the federal government to make FEMA assistance available for homelessness.

“We must get this issue back on national agenda,” Murray said. “It’s foolish to believe cities alone in isolation can solve [homelessness].”

Both Constantine and Murray cited federal disinvestment along with increasing income inequality, a lack of services for mental illness, and a national heroin epidemic for worsening homelessness.

The new $5.3 million, which is a separate pot of money from the ongoing discussions about the mayor’s budget, will come from the sale of excess city-owned property on Myers Way South, according to the mayor’s office. It will be spent on a slate of servicesmostly focused on case management, outreach to people living on the street or in encampments (including illegal makeshift encampments), and 100 new shelter beds with limited hours for one year. The money will also fund some sanitation needs like Honey Buckets and trash removal, but where those will go remains unclear.

Technically, the property on Myers Way hasn’t yet been sold yet, according to the mayor’s office, so the city’s profit is estimated. That means the city is essentially lending itself the money for these homeless services and plans to repay itself after the sale of the property.

Murray called the declaration “risky” because “the orders you can issue under state of emergency are extensive,” including closing businesses or issuing curfews. He isn’t using those powers here, but did promise to consider bypassing zoning restrictions or speeding up permitting processes to create new shelter space for children.

The state of emergency declaration also allows the city to spend money more quickly by simply directing it toward service providers instead of going through the standard contracting process.

That puts most of the responsibility for figuring out the specifics—like where the Honey Buckets and new shelter beds will go or who will be hired for case management—on the city’s Department of Human Services. HSD Director Catherine Lester said after the mayor’s announcement that the shelter beds will be focused on a population that is currently unable to access already existing shelter, like couples, people with pets, or people with certain criminal histories. (Which population is yet to be decided.)

“We really want to make a dent on those things that are keeping people on the streets,” Lester said.

The city council will have to approve legislation authorizing how the $5.3 million is spent, which Council President Tim Burgess pledged to do quickly. Six council members, including Burgess, stood with the mayor at his announcement today. Council Member Mike O’Brien called homelessness a “tragedy in a city that can create so much wealth.”

The list of funding is largely focused on immediate needs—not that surprising for a state of emergency—rather than long-term preventative services, although both Murray and Constantine emphasized the need to address root causes of homelessness.

Constantine said he and Murray spoke directly with President Barack Obama about the issue when Obama visiting Seattle recently.

“He was very aware and concerned not just with increase of homelessness nationally…but also with the particular increase in homelessness in West coast cities,” Constantine said. “We are joining with other West Coast cities to say this time is different. Something different is going on here.”

Cariboo Regional District declares state of emergency after Mount Polley mine tailings pond breach in B.C.


Gordon Hoekstra, Tara Carman, Postmedia News | August 6, 2014 11:25 AM ET


Contents from a tailings pond is pictured going down the Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake near the town of Likely, B.C. Tuesday, August, 5, 2014. The pond which stores toxic waste from the Mount Polley Mine had its dam break on Monday spilling its contents into the Hazeltine Creek causing a wide water-use ban in the area.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan HaywardContents from a tailings pond is pictured going down the Hazeltine Creek into Quesnel Lake near the town of Likely, B.C. Tuesday, August, 5, 2014. The pond which stores toxic waste from the Mount Polley Mine had its dam break on Monday spilling its contents into the Hazeltine Creek causing a wide water-use ban in the area.


The millions of cubic metres of water that poured out of Mount Polley mine when the dam collapsed had failed provincial water quality guidelines for human and aquatic health in the past, according to the B.C. environment ministry and early Wednesday the Cariboo Regional District declared a state of local emergency.

Data sent to the ministry by Mount Polley as recently as Monday showed that selenium concentration exceeded drinking water guidelines by a factor of 2.8 times.

There have also been drinking water exceedances of sulphate over the last few years, according to information supplied to The Vancouver Sun by environment ministry spokesman Dave Crebo.

Aquatic water guidelines have also been exceeded in the past for nitrate, cadmium, copper and iron.

Al Richmond, of the Cariboo Regional District, said water tests were being expedited and results are expected by Thursday.

The Regional District declared a state of local emergency early Wednesday. The move will allow access to additional resources that may be needed to further protect the private property and government infrastructure in Likely.

The release of 10 million cubic metres of water — enough to fill B.C. Place more than four times — is also potentially contaminated with toxic metals such as arsenic and mercury, a concern for hundreds of area residents’ water supply and important salmon habitat.

According to 2013 data the company released to Environment Canada on disposal of chemicals, Mount Polley mine disposed of almost 84,000 kilograms of arsenic and its compounds through tailings last year, as well as about 1,000 kg of cadmium, 38,000 kg of lead and 562 kg of mercury.

Mount Polley, operated by Imperial Metals, is an open-pit copper and gold mine with a four-kilometre-wide tailings pond built with an earthen dam located in central B.C., west of Williams Lake and near the community of Likely.

Provincial officials are conducting tests of water samples from the area. Until results come back, the severity of the contamination remains unknown and a drinking water ban remains in effect for about 300 people in the immediate vicinity.

Imperial Metals president Bryan Kynoch apologized to Likely-area residents gathered at a community hall Tuesday afternoon, and said the company would do all it could to make right the effects of the dam collapse. “I know it’s going to take a long time to earn the community’s trust back,” he said. “This is a gut-wrenching experience, I know for you, but I can assure you it is for me.”



THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan HaywardA aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C. Tuesday, August, 5, 2014. The pond which stores toxic waste from the Mount Polley Mine had its dam break on Monday spilling its contents into the Hazeltine Creek causing a wide water-use ban in the area.


Making it right includes reclaiming the environment, but also compensating in areas such as potential tourism business losses, he said.

More than 150 townspeople crowded into the hall to hear from Kynoch, provincial Mines Minister Bill Bennett and regional district officials.

Kynoch said he did not know why the dam collapsed, but acknowledged it is not supposed to happen.

He said he believed there was not likely to be danger to people, fish and animals.

Asked if he would drink the water, Kynoch shot back: “Yes, I’d drink the water.”

The company would soon have boats in the water to ensure that the debris did not reach the bridge in the community, Kynoch added.

He said he couldn’t say whether the mine would reopen, but noted that he would do all in his power to ensure it did.

Al McMillan and Judy Siemens were skeptical about Kynoch’s assurances there was likely to be no serious effects from the tailings spill. They and their pets are suffering from the water ban, and are concerned the slurry spilled into Hazeltine Creek will pose a problem over time, as it could bleed into the lake during rains.

McMillan took his aluminum boat to view where the creek spilled debris into the lake, and said the water made a sizzling, fizzing sound similar to when a pop is opened, which he believes were substances in the water reacting to his boat.

“I’ve seen five or six fish float by my dock, and a family of otters were feeding on them. What’s going to be the effect on them?” he asked.

Anthony Mack of the Xatsull First Nation spoke up at the meeting, questioning Kynoch’s belief the tests would show the environment was not harmed. In an interview, he said they will be conducting their own tests. “We do not trust industry or government,” said Mack.

Imperial Metals said early water tests are encouraging, with no mercury detected and arsenic levels about one-fifth of drinking water quality.

Suspended in the water is another 4.5 million cubic metres of fine sand, which contains the heavy metals.

Of these, the most hazardous to human and environmental health are arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead and mercury, said John Werring, senior science and policy adviser at the David Suzuki Foundation.

These are materials that are deemed “priority pollutants” by Environment Canada because they are known to be toxic, cause cancer, birth defects or genetic mutations and accumulate up the food chain, he said. Mercury and lead affect the nervous system.

“Understand that this stuff is washing into a big lake and it will dilute, but as it’s closer to the source, depending on the concentration of those chemicals, they can be lethal. It would be less lethal but still harmful the farther away you go and the longer it is put into the environment, there’s a greater opportunity that over time, the food chain will absorb it.”

The same applies to highly toxic non-metallic chemicals present in tailings that are used to separate metals during the mining process, but companies are not required to report amounts of these substances to Environment Canada, Werring said.

“These chemicals are there and I highly doubt that even now with the kind of water quality testing that’s going to be undertaken … they’re not even going to look for those.”

This is a serious incident that should not have happened

The cause of the breach, which occurred at 3:45 a.m. Monday, remains unknown. Mine personnel and instruments detected no indication of an impending breach, according to a statement from Imperial Metals.

Officials from the provincial Ministry of Energy and Mines are investigating the site at Mount Polley, Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said in a statement Tuesday.

“This is a serious incident that should not have happened,” Bennett said Tuesday. “We are devoting every appropriate resource working with local officials to clean up the site, mitigate any impacts to communities and the environment, and investigate the cause of the breach. We will determine the cause of the event and we are determined to prevent an incident like this from happening again.”

In an interview in Likely, where Bennett spoke to the community, he said the last dam inspection was in September 2013. They also took a look at the dam’s water levels in May when the water was high, but found no problems, he said. “They’ve been in compliance,” said Bennett.

He said he expected to get water samples back in a day or two, which would be shared with the public.

The comprehensive investigation of the collapse would take longer, noted Bennett.


THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Cariboo Regional District

THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Cariboo Regional DistrictThe tailings pond of the Mount Polley mine, southeast of Quesnel, was breached, discharging waste water into Hazeltine Creek (shown ) on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014.


There remains a complete ban on drinking, swimming and bathing in the waterways surrounding the mine, including Polley Lake, Quesnel Lake, Cariboo Creek, Hazeltine Creek and the entire Quesnel and Cariboo Rivers systems right to the Fraser River.

The ban does not apply to people in Williams Lake or other towns along the Fraser.

Residents have been told not to allow pets or livestock to drink the water.

Likely resident Doug Watt said Tuesday that he was just starting to see the first debris from the breach float by his home on Quesnel Lake, where he gets all his drinking water.

Watt, whose water supply was cut off while his son, daughter-in-law and two small grandchildren were visiting on the weekend, stockpiled water from the lake as soon as they heard about the breach, knowing it would take several hours before any contaminants reached their area.

“We just filled up all sorts of containers.”

Watt said he is frustrated by a lack of information about water quality and availability. The first formal notice he received from authorities was a paper notice from the Cariboo Regional District taped to his door Tuesday morning warning people not to drink the water and directing them to the district’s Facebook page for more information, “which is fine if you have Internet. Many people don’t,” he said, noting that his Internet is unreliable.

“There’s a lot of confusion and I think a lot of people are very scared. People that are working at the mine have mortgages and kids to feed. They’re wondering what’s going to happen now … we can’t drink the water, but they don’t have the money to go buy the water.”

Important fish and wildlife habitat alongside Hazeltine Creek has been destroyed by the spill and is unlikely to recover as the fine sediment settles into the ground, Werring said. The full environmental impact won’t be known for decades, as animals that graze on any vegetation that grows back in the contaminated area will also be affected and the effects of toxins such as mercury is amplified as it accumulates up the food chain over time, he pointed out.

“Over a lengthy period of time, we can see long-term metal contamination of fish and wildlife in that area.”

We can see long-term metal contamination of fish and wildlife in that area

Consultants hired by local First Nations and mine owner Imperial Metals raised flags about the capacity of the tailings ponds as far back as 2011.

“The tailings pond was filling out and they needed to get rid of the water,” said consultant Brian Olding of the dam, which he described as “earthen.” “The walls were getting too high and the water was getting too high.”

In 2009, the mine applied to the B.C. Environment Ministry for a permit to discharge effluent into Hazeltine Creek. An amended permit was approved in 2012.

Watt, who worked at the mine as a metallurgist and shift supervisor nine years ago, said there were problems with the tailings ponds overflowing as recently as last winter, but the overflow was contained in retaining pools.

Werring, who is familiar with the environmental assessment process for mines, said tailings can be more safely managed by dehydrating them to make bricks, and then stacking them in such a way that water flow can be managed through them.

“It’s more expensive and it’s typically always written off,” he said.

State of emergency declared as fires threaten homes

by MICHAEL KONOPASEK / KING 5 News, July 16, 2014 at 6:43 AM

A state of emergency has been declared in 20 Eastern Washington counties as new and existing wildfires threaten several hundred homes, as well as businesses, infrastructure and natural resources.

The declaration allows officials to get help from the Washington National Guard and the State Guard if needed. It also directs state agencies to help local governments in responding to wildfires.

As of early Wednesday morning, a 40 percent perimeter was contained at the state’s largest wildfire, Mills Canyon, near Entiat. The fire is holding steady at about 35 square miles.

Conditions could be an issue for firefighters Wednesday, according to meteorologists. Highs in the 100s are anticipated. Added to windy conditions, that could challenge firefighters and homeowners.

State officials are worried extreme fire weather conditions and the lack of firefighting resources in the Northwest could hamper future firefighting efforts in the state.

Six other fires were sparked Tuesday. New wildfires, some started by lightning, are keeping crews busy in central Washington. A brush fire temporarily closed a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 90 Tuesday night in the central part of the state.

The proclamation of emergency covers Adams, Asotin, Benton, Chelan, Columbia, Douglas, Ferry, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Kittitas, Klickitat, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla, Whitman and Yakima counties.

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen signed the emergency proclamation late Tuesday.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources has put a burn ban in place for all state lands that is projected to last until September 30.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

State of Emergency on Navajo Nation as Assayii Lake Fire Exceeds 13,000 Acres

Donovan Quintero/APThis June 17, 2014 handout photo provided by the Navajo Times shows the Asaayii Lake Fire raging out of control at the ridge of the Chuska Mountains, west of Naschitti, N.M. Tribal agriculture officials say depending on the fire's intesity, it could be a while before sheepherders and cattle ranchers get to return to the hills outside of Naschitti and Sheep Springs.
Donovan Quintero/AP
This June 17, 2014 handout photo provided by the Navajo Times shows the Asaayii Lake Fire raging out of control at the ridge of the Chuska Mountains, west of Naschitti, N.M. Tribal agriculture officials say depending on the fire’s intesity, it could be a while before sheepherders and cattle ranchers get to return to the hills outside of Naschitti and Sheep Springs.


Indian Country Today

The Navajo Nation has declared a state of emergency regarding the Assayii Lake fire, which has burgeoned to 13,250 acres and growing.

It is zero percent contained, according to InciWeb.

On June 16, the Navajo Nation Commission on Emergency Management passed CEM 14-06-16, a resolution declaring a state of emergency for the Assayii Lake Fire, the Nation said in a statement. President Ben Shelly ordered tribal resources to assist with efforts to contain and extinguish the fire.

“I direct all Navajo divisions, departments and programs to commit resources to the Assayii Lake Fire. We need to do all we can to stop the fire from spreading further,” Shelly said in a statement.

As of Wednesday June 18, winds were still high at 18-22 mph and gusting at 32 mph throughout the day, according to InciWeb.

“With warming and drying, we anticipate another day of extreme fire behavior,” InciWeb said, adding that about 50 residences were threatened and an estimated four structures had been destroyed. “However, that is not a firm count. Personnel continue to assess the damages at this time.”

Hotshot crews from Arizona have joined the Navajo Scouts to battle the blaze, the Navajo Nation said.

The human-caused fire has been raging since Friday June 13.

RELATED: Wildfire Sparks Evacuations on Navajo Nation, 11,000 Acres Burned



Propane Shortage + Arctic Cold = State of Emergency on Standing Rock Sioux Reservation


Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

The Standing Rock Sioux have declared a state of emergency over a lack of propane gas for heating during the coldest of winter weather.

A national shortage has made supplies scarce and increased prices, making it difficult to procure propane and nearly impossible to afford, NBC News affiliate KFYR-TV reported on January 30. On the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, up to 90 percent of residents rely on propane for heating. Many are being displaced by the cold weather because they can’t afford propane that has in some cases doubled in price per gallon.

“They’re already on a fixed income, so they have to make a choice. Do we need heat or do we need food?” Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault told KFYR.

Tribal members are reluctant to lean on already strapped and overcrowded family members, so the tribe has set up shelters in Wakpala, South Dakota and Fort Yates, North Dakota. that some are staying in. The American Red Cross has been on hand as well, supplying emergency meals to the shelters, while its Black Hills Area Chapter has provided cots and blankets, the agency said in a statement.

As recently as a month ago, Archambault told KFYR-TV, $500 would have bought enough propane for more than a month of heating. But in current frigid temperatures that’s only lasting two or three weeks, he said.

States across the Midwest are dealing with the propane shortage, Reuters reported on January 24. It is compounded by its reliance on trucking for transport, as well as by the diversion of some supplies to normally temperate southern states such as Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, Reuters said.

Some relief is in sight, as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on January 30 released $439 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program nationwide, $3.4 million of which goes to North Dakota. American Indian tribes are slotted to get $817,000 of that, the Associated Press reported.  This comes on top of the initial funding of $2.9 billion nationwide allocated in November, the AP said.

Political representatives praised the release of new funds, which came on the heels of appeals to President Barack Obama for more funds from the governors of Iowa and Wisconsin. In North Dakota there was bipartisan support for the move as U.S. Senators John Hoeven, R-N.D. and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., issued statements praising the release of funds.

“Our Native American brothers and sisters, as well as families all across North Dakota, are feeling the pain of two sharp swords—a particularly brutal winter and sky-high propane prices,” Heitkamp said.



Government Shutdown Has Left North Dakota’s Indian Tribes in a State of Emergency

Source: Native News Network

WASHINGTON – US Senator Heidi Heitkamp, D–North Dakota, a member of the US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Friday spoke on the Senate floor about how the government shutdown is hurting struggling families across Indian country, and again called for an end to the political games in Congress.


During her floor speech, she offered many heart-wrenching examples of how the shutdown is putting too many North Dakota Native families in very difficult situations.

“The government shutdown has left North Dakota’s Indian tribes in a state of emergency,”

said Heitkamp.

US Senator Heitkamp

US Senator Heitkamp speaking on the Senate floor about the impact of the government shutdown on Indian country.


“The United States has treaty obligations to the Indian Tribes in this country. And this shutdown poses a threat to the basic services the federal government provides to Native Americans as part of its trust responsibility to tribal nations.”

“Because of the shutdown, BIA Law Enforcement at the Spirit Lake Nation is limited to one officer per shift, in charge of patrolling the 252,000 acre reservation. And because of the shutdown, when the Sisseton-Wahpeton community recently lost a three month old baby, the mother now has been turned away for burial assistance for her child.”

Because of the government shutdown, the vast majority of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) — which provides services to more than 1.7 million American Indians and Alaska Natives from more than 500 recognized tribes — is now shuttered. As a result, federal funding has been cut off for vital services, including foster care payments, nutrition programs, and financial assistance for struggling Native families.

posted October 12, 2013 10:57 am edt