Travel conditions could turn from nice to naughty during Christmas rush

December 22, 2010

NEW — 6 a.m. Dec. 22, 2010

Conditions on state highways could turn from nice to naughty in the days ahead as motorists pack the roads for Christmas travel.

The state Department of Transportation alerted drivers to potential delays. Because Christmas falls on a Saturday, the number of vehicles using Snoqualmie Pass could be more than normal.

The agency predicts the highest traffic congestion to occur on westbound Interstate 90 from 3-6 p.m. Sunday, the day after Christmas, and again Jan. 2.

Meteorologists forecast more wet weather and snow in the Cascades. Department of Transportation planners said equipment is ready for inclement conditions.

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Issaquah High School graduate ‘Santa Al’ brings Christmas joy to ailing children

December 21, 2010

Al Krush, a.k.a. Santa Claus

Santa Claus faced a daunting task just before Thanksgiving.

Clad in street clothes, the holiday figure hurried to Seattle Children’s on a mission. Santa Claus had been summoned to the bedside of a cancer-stricken boy to celebrate Christmas early. Doctors said the boy seemed unlikely to survive until the holiday.

So, the plainclothes Santa Claus retired to a nearby hospital room and transformed into the familiar figure — all red and green, fur and velvet.

(The hospital has strict rules regarding costumed characters on campus due to security concerns and infection-control procedures. Hence, the need for Santa Claus to change inside the hospital.)

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Undercrossing opens to link north and south Issaquah

December 21, 2010

Crews completed the Interstate 90 Undercrossing last week and opened the north-south connector to traffic Dec. 16. By Greg Farrar

The link between north and south Issaquah opened to traffic Dec. 16, after years of planning and months of construction.

The long-planned Interstate 90 Undercrossing — Fourth Avenue Northwest — runs from a traffic signal at the post office along Northwest Gilman Boulevard, connects into the rail corridor behind Gilman Station, forms a T-shaped intersection at Southeast 62nd Street, continues along 221st Place Southeast and then terminates at Southeast 56th Street.

Crews experienced a last-minute delay last month, after the installation of bridge safety railings lasted longer than expected. The city planned to open the connector around Dec. 6, but the slowdown prompted planners to update the schedule.

The link supplements traffic-clogged Front Street North and state Route 900, the other connectors between north and south Issaquah. Both older crossings also provide access to the interstate, but the combination of local traffic and vehicles from the on- and off-ramps add to the gridlock.

Because part of the undercrossing is located within the King County East Lake Sammamish Trail Corridor, the link also serves as a multimodal facility.

Pickering Trail also crosses Fourth Avenue Northwest at a signalized crossing, and then connects to the East Lake Sammamish Trail.

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Police nab man and 149 pounds of pot

December 21, 2010

Police arrested a man near Issaquah last week, as investigators said he attempted to transport 149 pounds of marijuana to Chicago.

Eastside Narcotics Task Force officers arrested the 38-year-old Golden Valley, Minn., man on eastbound Interstate 90 between Preston and North Bend, Bellevue Police Department spokeswoman Officer Carla Iafrate said.

Investigators estimated the street value of the marijuana at about $500,000.

“This was a great case by a dedicated unit who made this arrest and seizure,” task force Capt. Steve Lynch said in a statement. “These types of drug trafficking cases are often tied to larger criminal enterprises.”

Investigators nabbed the man after receiving a detailed tip. Before the arrest, task force members staked out a hotel in Issaquah for two days.

Then, the task force obtained a search warrant. The arrest occurred during a traffic stop. The narcotics K-9 team from the Washington State Patrol assisted in the arrest.

Police said the man carried about $15,000 in cash at the time of the arrest.

The narcotics unit includes officers from the Bellevue, Kirkland, Mercer Island and Redmond police departments, plus the King County Sheriff’s Office and the state patrol.

“Anything we can do to make a dent in their profits and keep the product from getting to the street is well worth it,” Lynch said in the release.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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Prepare for ramp closures at state Route 900

December 21, 2010

The westbound Interstate 90 on-ramp — for traffic headed south on state Route 900 — closes from 9 p.m. – 5 a.m. Dec. 27-29 as crews install girders to support a trail connector.

Drivers should follow signs along the detour route to the Lakemont Boulevard interchange.

Crews poured concrete for the last piers in the trail connector at Interstate 90 and state Route 900 in mid-November. The project should be completed in April.

The completion marks a significant milestone for the project. The concrete-and-steel supports constitute about 30 percent of the total construction contract. Each pier is about 140 feet to 160 feet deep, and contains more than 18 tons of steel and 190 cubic yards of concrete.

The completed connector is to feature a 12-foot-wide pedestrian bridge across the westbound interstate on-ramps, plus a 10-foot-wide pedestrian crossing on the existing state Route 900 overpass.

The city awarded the $4.4 million construction contract to C. A. Carey Corp. in June. The total project price tag is about $6 million.

The project relies on grants — including $400,000 from Sound Transit — to offset most of the project cost. The city contributed about $341,000 toward the link.

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Noise from landfill gas-to-energy facility prompts complaints

December 21, 2010

Operator completed steps to reduce sound emissions

The stack of tanks at the Bio Energy Washington landfill-to-gas energy facility function as part of a complicated refining process. By Greg Farrar

The droning sound started about the same time a landfill gas-to-energy facility fired up to turn the byproduct of decomposing trash into fuel for power plants.

Rural King County residents, accustomed to the smells and sounds emanating from Cedar Hills Regional Landfill and nearby Cedar Grove Composting, noticed the latest addition not long after the gas facility entered operation last year.

Leaders had hailed the project as a milestone for renewable energy, but for many residents in neighborhoods south of Issaquah, the Bio Energy Washington gas facility turned out to be a headache.

“Before we built this facility, the county told us, ‘Look, sound is going to be a big deal here,’” Chuck Packard, Ingenco president and CEO, said at a meeting in Issaquah to address residents’ concerns.

Bio Energy Washington is part of Ingenco, a company specializing in renewable energy facilities.

The county had only received a couple of complaints about the gas facility until residents raised the issue in September at a routine meeting related to landfill operations.

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Windstorm downs trees, knocks out power for Issaquah residents

December 21, 2010

Strong winds downed trees and prompted road closures near Issaquah as a late-fall windstorm left thousands of residents across in the region in the dark early Dec. 18.

Puget Sound Energy said the storm knocked out power for more than 300 Issaquah customers as the storm swept through the region in the predawn hours. Crews completed restoring power to Issaquah customers just after 2 p.m. the same day.

The storm also toppled trees and forced transportation officials to close roads in the Issaquah area overnight.

The state Department of Transportation closed state Route 18 from Issaquah-Hobart Road Southeast to Interstate 90 at about 1 a.m. Dec. 18. The section reopened just before 8 a.m. the same day.

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City recreation facilities close for winter holidays

December 21, 2010

Prepare for closures at the Issaquah Community Center and Julius Boehm Pool during the holiday season.

The community center closed for maintenance Dec. 20 and reopens Dec. 27. In addition, the center closes early at 3 p.m. Dec. 30. The center is also closed Jan. 1-2 for New Year’s Day.

The pool is closed Dec. 24-25 for Christmas and again Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. Find a complete schedule for the pool at the city website.

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State closes offices Dec. 27 in order to pinch pennies

December 21, 2010

Forget about renewing or updating a driver’s license Dec. 27.

The state has ordered Department of Licensing offices and dozens of other agencies to close for the day as a cost-cutting measure.

The closure impacts the department and dozens of other state agencies and commissions.

The next closure day is scheduled for Jan. 28. The closures continue through June 2011.

Officials shield services critical to public health and safety — such as Child Protective Services and the Washington State Patrol — from office closures, although the shutdowns affect some business functions at the agencies.

The cash-strapped state hopes to save $70 million through the mandatory shutdowns. Legislators sent the measure to Gov. Chris Gregoire in April. The furloughs started in July.

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Instead of flushing found objects, artist crafts mosaic in downtown restroom

December 21, 2010

Catherine Thompson looks in on the mosaic mural she made in the new artEAST Art Center and UP Front Gallery — the old Lewis Hardware store — on a restroom wall with the mixed-media contributions of fellow artists. By Greg Farrar

Ever stared at a blank wall and thought how much better it would look with a piece of art on it? Catherine Thompson and other members of artEAST, did — and decided to make the whole wall a piece of art instead.

Thompson, a former graphic designer, worked long hours daily for two weeks, creating a mural in the new artEAST Art Center and UP Front Gallery in downtown Issaquah.

When the artEAST organization moved into this new space, in the former Lewis Hardware building, one of the requirements was to have two bathrooms that met ADA standards, but a group like this had no intention of stopping there.

“Since we are a group of artists, we don’t have to stop at requirements. We can do better than that, and we put our own artistic interpretation into them,” said Deby Harvey, an artEAST founding member who currently serves on the board. “They were nice before, but we wanted every part of the art center to say ‘art,’ so we made them into art.”

Two restrooms are available to men and women and both now contain mosaics that take up the entire wall in the bathroom, each are roughly the same height but vary in length. The mural Thompson created is located in the back restroom and the one in the front was created by two other artists, Judie Lee and Barbara Center.

Thompson said as far back as she can remember, she has always loved art; her mother was an artist, as well. But a piece this size was an entirely new undertaking.

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