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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Seattle finalizing plans for tunnel ... problems with Florida job placement offices ... and a failing water system in Ohio.
Good morning, it’s Monday, July 23, 2018. The duck boat tragedy near Branson, Missouri, and an update on the Highway 99 downtown “big dig” project in Seattle lead Route Fifty’s state and local government news roundup, which also includes stories from Phoenix, Arizona; Miami, Florida; Winona, Ohio; and Oklahoma City. Scroll down for more ...
PUBLIC SAFETY | Jim Hall, who headed the National Transportation Safety Board under President Bill Clinton, has joined the chorus of voices lamenting what they call loose regulations on the use of amphibious duck boats like the one that capsized Thursday in Missouri, killing 17 passengers. Hall told USA Today on Sunday that the popular sightseeing vehicles, which are part-car and part-boat, have escaped proper safety regulation precisely because they straddle transportation categories. Hall said the tragedy last week on Table Rock Lake near Branson was eerily similar to a 1999 accident in Arkansas that killed 13. He likened the vehicles to unregulated amusement park rides. “My feeling after seeing this [accident] is that the only thing to do in the name of public safety is to ban them," Hall said. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson noted that several probes have begun, cautioning it is too early to come to a conclusion about what happened. “It’s going to take time to know the details of everything that occurred,” he said. Representatives of the company that owned the duck boat told the Washington Post the storm that hit the lake came on suddenly and the vehicle was headed back to land when it capsized.
But safety officials for years have been recommending duck boat operators install better flotation equipment, with critics also calling for tighter regulations. Many of the vehicles have been modified to accommodate larger numbers of passengers and they often include attached all-weather canopies that can trap passengers when the vehicles sink. Duck boats are regulated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Coast Guard, as well as state and local agencies. Multiple agencies are now investigating the Branson disaster. The Associated Press profiled all of the people who lost their lives, including nine members of the same family who had been vacationing together. [Washington Post, USA Today , New York Times, NBC News]
INFRASTRUCTURE | It’s getting real in downtown Seattle commuterland. Officials are finalizing the tolling plan for the city’s long-coming two-mile, four-lane waterfront Highway 99 traffic tunnel. The tunnel is replacing the elevated and earthquake-damaged Alaska Way viaduct that runs along the Elliott Bay waterfront. The roughly 2-mile-long viaduct opened in 1953 and carries well more than 100,000 cars a day. It was damaged in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake. Demolition and removal started in October 2011. The proposed tolling plan for the new tunnel would set fees that vary by time of day, with a proposed minimum of $1 overnights and weekends and a maximum of $2.25 on weekday afternoons. Drivers will be allowed to use the tunnel for free for the first few months after it opens to traffic this fall. [Seattle Times]
FLOOD INSURANCE | The federal flood insurance program is set to expire on July 31, the latest in a series of deadlines since the fall. Now, lawmakers are looking at another temporary extension. Figuring out a long-term renewal for the program critical to many communities across the country has been difficult, with sharp differences of opinion in Congress about how to reshape the program, particularly in dealing with issue of properties that flood repeatedly. [The Advocate, Bloomberg]
Miami, Florida: An audit performed by the Miami-Dade County Inspector General found that the Miami branch of CareerSource, the state’s job-placement service, has been faking and inflating job-placement data. The news comes as little surprise. CareerSource offices in Tampa Bay and Pinellas were found to have done much of the same in a Tampa Bay Times investigation. The office in Miami also has been the site of multiple accusations of workplace harassment. [Miami New Times,Tampa Bay Times]
Winona, Ohio: The water system is failing in this unincorporated community in the eastern end of the state. The water is safe to drink, it just only trickles out of the ancient pipes. The EPA has slapped the system with violations, including one for the fact that there is no one in charge of the system—a problem that was solved until this week, when the latest water operator quit. Also, there’s no money to put into solving the town’s water system problems. There’s a community meeting planned to talk it out Monday evening. [Morning Journal]
Phoenix, Arizona: State Rep. Paul Mosley in March was pulled over for doing 97 mph in a 55 mph zone. In police video of the traffic stop, Mosley invoked legislative immunity to avoid getting a ticket. He also told the officer who stopped him that he was going more than 120 mph earlier in the day and sometimes drives as fast as 140 mph. The traffic video has made headlines since it was posted online last week. State House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said he was “disturbed” by the video. [ParkerLive, Arizona Republic]
Bangor, Maine: You can’t buy certified organic marijuana because the USDA provides the certification and the USDA is a federal agency and marijuana is, of course, still not legal on the federal level. If you live in Maine, however, you can now buy 100 percent certified “clean” weed under a new certification program. [Bangor Daily News]
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Libraries, churches, YMCAs. As summer temperatures hit record highs, news stations are publishing names and addresses of climate change-era “cooling centers,” or organizations with high-end air conditioning that are throwing their doors open to overheating residents. [KOKH]
John Tomasic is a journalist who lives in Seattle.