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CENTRALIA – Long awaited by local residents, grocery giant WinCo is working with the Port of Centralia on the purchase and sale of property to build a new store in Centralia. Specifying the exact 9.9 acres where the store will be built was key to moving the WinCo and Centralia Station project forward. Port Executive Director Kyle Heaton says, “One of the things holding up Centralia Station is without being able to identify succinctly their (WinCo) right of way, we are unable to identify other property lines and perform other (property) transactions.” Heaton discussed the latest agreement with WinCo with the Port commission Wednesday afternoon. Now the company will apply for the necessary permits to begin construction. WinCo expects about 120 new construction jobs and that many and more to be employed once the store opens. Commission chair Kyle Markstrom said, “There have been a lot of hurdles we’ve had to overcome. The partners in this, the City of Centralia, WinCo, and I appreciate the communities’ patience in this.”  Commissioner Markstrom says WinCo is seen as the anchor tenant in what has been called Centralia Station, a business development planned for an area southeast of the Mellen Street exit off I-5. In addition to the WinCo development, the Port announced Wednesday new and expanded development of three Port businesses, Ferguson-Schmidt, Lindon Camonsa and Plastic Services which plans to add 50,000 square feet to its Centralia operations.


CENTRALIA – Global green energy company Fortescue Future Industries Thursday announced it will evaluate the feasibility of converting the former Centralia coal mine into a green hydrogen production facility after entering into a binding exclusivity agreement with the Industrial Park at TransAlta in Lewis County. Green hydrogen is a zero-carbon, zero-methane fuel and unlike other types of hydrogen it does not require the burning of fossil fuels in the production process. The proposed FFI green hydrogen production plant would enable the decarbonization of hard-to-abate sectors of the North American economy and support the development of a Pacific Northwest green hydrogen hub, potentially creating hundreds of new local jobs. The Centralia coal-fired power plant adjacent to the IPAT project site is scheduled to close in 2025. Subject to the outcome of the feasibility studies, FFI’s intention would be to seek to employ the existing coal workforce for the proposed project, facilitating a transition into the emerging green energy economy. Chairman and Founder of FFI Dr. Andrew Forrest said, “FFI’s goal is to turn North America into a leading global green energy heartland and create thousands of green jobs now and more in the future. “Repurposing existing fossil fuel infrastructure to create green hydrogen to power the world is part of the solution to saving the planet. “The signing of this agreement is another important step in turning the corner once and for all, to implement the technologies carbon emitters need to reach net zero,” Dr Forrest said. FFI has been working with the Lewis County Energy Innovation Coalition and Lewis Economic Alliance to undertake due diligence efforts on the project to date. Richard DeBolt, Executive Director of the Lewis Economic Alliance said, “With the closing of the coal mine and the scheduled retirement of the Centralia coal-fired power plant, IPAT was formed to redevelop the site and attract investment that will support well-paid, long-term employment opportunities in the region. FFI’s potential project represents the opportunity to do just that.” The company says once land use permits, renewable energy contracts and finances are secured, it anticipates as many as 200 workers will be hired for construction of the facility. 100-140,  possibly coming from the Trans Alta workforce, will be needed when the plant is in full operation, planned for sometime in 2026. FFI also announced that it would apply for a portion of the $8 billion US Department of Energy Hydrogen Hub Program grant in collaboration with Pacific Northwest stakeholders. The Hydrogen Hub Program was enacted under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and is being implemented by the DOE. Chief Executive Officer of FFI North America, Paul Browning, said, “The electric power grid of the Pacific Northwest is one of the lowest carbon power grids in the world and can be used to produce green hydrogen, and could extend the region’s low carbon leadership to hard to electrify sectors like long-haul trucking, ports, aviation, and heavy industry.


CHEHALIS – Retired Centralia and Chehalis physicians and the current Lewis County Health Officers are applicants for the county’s future role in guiding health policy. Drs. Alan Melnick and Steve Krager were appointed two years ago at the height of the pandemic in a hasty decision to fend off the state making the appointment when the then health officer resigned. The Lewis County Commissioners  acting as the board of health decided to open the process to determine who else may serve the county’s particular health needs. Drs. Melnick and Krager of Vancouver, and retired doctors, family practitioner Dr. Michael Strohbach of Chehalis and pediatrician, Dr. Joe Wiley of Centralia have applied for the job. The Lewis county Health Advisory committee met Thursday to discuss their interviews with the candidates. Gaelon Spradley, the Chief Executive Officer of Valley View Health Centers said in regards to Drs. Wiley and Strohbach, “They have deep roots in the community and long term residency in Lewis County. On the other hand Dr. Melnick and Krager have a lot of experience understanding the needs of Lewis County having served as health officers in Lewis County, already having connections with school systems, with local health care providers, that are critical for public health.” Scoring the candidates on ten specific public health questions, on experience, communication and technical knowledge of the job, the team of Drs. Melnick and Krager ranked first among four of five advisory board members. Details of the interviews, including video, will be given to the Lewis County Board of Health at their Monday meeting. A decision on who will serve as Lewis County Health officer will be made within the next month.


CENTRALIA – Southwest Washington state legislators have, for more than a year, been calling for the restoration of laws permitting law enforcement to fight crime. The Governor and Democrat controlled legislature passed police reforms that handcuffed officers in their work toward maintaining public safety. In some cases police can not pursue those that violate the law, and the result has been an increase in criminal behavior. State Representative Peter Abbarno was the victim of a vehicle burglary Wednesday, when he discovered that his Jeep, parked outside his Centralia home has been broken into with banks checks, jewelry and other valuables taken by an unidentified thief. Rep. Abbarno saying, “I’m mad and sad, going from sympathetic to empathetic (as a victim of theft).” Lewis County Sheriff’s Operations Chief Dusty Breen updated the Lewis County Commissioners Wednesday on the state of public safety. “Some crimes such as stolen vehicles have been going up (in Lewis County). Part of the reason that we’re seeing this is that we’re not able to pursue them as effectively as before”, said Breen. Sheriff Rob Snaza confirmed, “We’re continuing to see a rise in crime and are continuing to navigate through the (state) legislation that has been passed.” The Sheriff noted that investments made by the county have helped, such as the use of cameras in patrol cars and on deputies, saying, “The body cameras have actually been a very great tool for us.” Sheriff Snaza and Chief Breen say that five new deputies are in the state training academy at this time, and one new deputy starts patrol in June.


CHEHALIS – The anticipated announcement in just over a week about a $600 million dollar investment in our community reportedly involving hydrogen production has brought questions from the community. Electricity and water usage, where the final product will be used and the financing of the project were part of an inquiry Monday by Lewis County Commissioner Lindsey Pollock. Her questions came during an open commission meeting and then addressed at a subsequent meeting Monday with the Economic Alliance of Lewis County. Little can be discussed until the company does so to protect it from competitors in the marketplace. Local officials have non-disclosure agreements with the company looking to Lewis County for their proposed growth. Economic Alliance Director Richard DeBolt clarified the upcoming May 12th public announcement with the county commission, “The company has chosen this location for this project, and it has all of the regulatory hurdles to go through. This is literally the first announcement that they have chosen Lewis County for this program.” DeBolt said Washington State has strict rules on future power production, and this proposal aims to create 100% renewable energy with no state tax breaks or use of local tax dollars. The company reportedly is looking to build five similar facilities in Canada.


COWLITZ COUNTY – The State Patrol warns of “significant delays” on I-5 southbound after two semi trucks crashed down an embankment and ended up in the Columbia River south of Kalama Tuesday afternoon. Trooper Will Finn says the driver of a car lost control in a heavy rain storm, causing a semi-truck to hit the rear of the car and then another semi truck. Finn says, “Those two semis actually went down the embankment. The driver of the car that caused the accident suffered a broken finger, and no one  else was seriously hurt.” “A fire did engulf one of the semis causing a total loss to the tractor itself. The other semi rolled onto its side and into the (Columbia River) water, and that semi trailer was loaded with metal shelving”, Trooper Finn added. The U.S. Coast Guard and Washington State Department of Ecology will assess the extent of the diesel spill in the river and any environmental damage. Trooper Finn says, “One vehicle had an estimated 100 gallons of diesel on board and the other had an estimated 200 gallons on board.” The state trooper added that anytime weather is not perfect we have to be mindful to slow our speeds, and whenever necessary pull off of the freeway until the weather passes. He also advised to always check before driving to assure that your windshield wipers and tires are good and that your vehicle is in good working order. Photo courtesy: State Trooper Will Finn
Troopers said fuel is leaking from two semis and the U.S. Coast Guard is en route to evaluate the situation. WSP first reported the crash around 2 p.m. on Tuesday
Image 1 of 3
photos from Washington State Department of Transportation.
Several lanes of interstate are closed as cleanup is underway from Kalama to Woodland on I-5.


CHEHALIS – An investment into arts and cultural programs in the city of Centralia, with Lewis County earmarking up to one-half million dollars in federal economic relief money for the continued renovation of the Fox Theater. Lewis County Commissioner Sean Swope says the Fox Theatre was “planning to open in 2020 and were shutdown and that evaporated all the funds that they had. Because of the (coronavirous related economic shutdowns) many of the citizens who had given generous donations, and to now ask our citizens to replenish that fund isn’t fair. I think that is hat ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) was intended to be used for.” Commissioners say that the funds are contingent on the non profit Fox Theater organization being eligible for the federal subsidies and on availability of funds from the overall $15.6 million that the county is receiving. _______________________________ A surprise at the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds, causing an all hands on deck for staff. Fair Manager Connie Riker says, “Part of the area near the community events building have had to be dug up in order to do some extensive water repair to have some water available for the Spring Fair next weekend.” Lewis County Internal services Chief Steve Wohld says issues have surfaced with the fairgrounds’ 100-year old underground water network and, “We’re doing some work this week where we’ve been losing 35,000 gallons (of water).” A $3,000 water bill alerted the county to a what turned out to be a crack in a section of 33 thousand feet of waterline on the fairgrounds. Wohld added, “It’s going to cost us a lot of money, but if we let the cost scare us away we’ll never get anywhere, but if we focus on the mainlines and valve it off correctly…that’s how we were going to attack this when we learned there was some funding available.” A state capital construction budget allocation for water systems, and federal tax revenues in the form of American Rescue Plan economic subsidies which the Lewis County Commissioners earmarked Wednesday. The commissioners are considering as much as $1 million dollars for the fairgrounds project. Already the county has allocated money for a countywide water study.


CENTRALIA – The creation and use of alternative energy resources has been a state and local effort that is now gaining momentum. The State Legislature last year afforded $2.5 million toward the state’s first hydrogen fueling station at the Port of Chehalis Industrial Park off LaBree Road. It’s the interest of the local Energy Innovation Coalition, made up of the Economic Alliance of Lewis County, Twin Transit and others. “We want to find out what kind of energy needs we have in our communities and the kind of growth we may experience and the kind of businesses we can attract, and out of that came a nexus with hydrogen”, Economic Alliance of Lewis County Executive Director Richard DeBolt told the Centralia City council Tuesday night. DeBolt added that next month an announcement will be made on an estimated $600 million dollar investment in the community. “These are high skilled jobs”, says DeBolt. The news was greeted with optimistic appreciation by Centralia Mayor Kelly Smith-Johnston. The Mayor says, “I have felt for a long time that our economic development council was sub-optimized, and what you’ve done in the last year is build a true alliance. Everything from a $600 million investment in our community to the Fox Theater (renovations).” More details on the new energy resource industry are forthcoming, and Lewis County Commissioner Lindsey Pollock is cautious about new hydrogen production potentially “causing permit offsets, first of all carbon offsets limit timber harvests that can restrict our timber sales and also increase the cost of building homes.” The Economic Alliance plans a May 12th public announcement on the new multi-million dollar development, along with a June 15th Post-COVID Economic Summit.


CHEHALIS – It’s becoming more evident that homeless people are taking up residence on local city streets. It’s unconstitutional to remove anyone from public spaces without offering emergency shelter. Currently a nightly shelter run by the Salvation Army next to their offices on Gold Street in Centralia is assisting handfuls of people who need an overnight place to stay. Salvation Army Capts. Steven and Gin Pack say it’s been working well in giving those in need a hot drink and a cot, and getting them connected with local social service agencies. What about a year-round shelter or other solutions for the homeless? 86 people gathered Thursday afternoon in Chehalis to discuss next steps. Lewis County Commissioner Sean Swope says, “We want to make sure that, for instance, when families go to the library, a mother and her kids can get from their car and into the library in a safe manner, protect all of the citizens of Lewis County and help those where we can help.” Lewis County Deputy Director of health and social services is Meja Handlen added, “Our community needs this (shelter) and our community needs to drive this. With inpuit from the entire community we can best make a program that fits us, Lewis County.” Chehalis Mayor Tony Ketchum, council members and staff are actively involved in the discussion. The Mayor shared Thursday, “We need to get a coordinated effort, bring in all agencies that can help. “ Addressing affordable housing for all is why Centralia Mayor Kelly Smith Johnston helped put on, along with Commissioner Swope, a recent Housing Summit. “We need to take care of the folks that don’t have anywhere to go to get onto a path of a stable life”, says the Mayor. Mayor Smith Johnston says we need to address all elements of the housing pipeline. The mayor concedes a solution is multi faceted and wants the city to partner with the county and all of its communities. Lewis County is currently accepting requests for proposals from local organizations that can best contribute to solutions on homelessness and the operation of a proposed permanent nightly shelter. The current shelter operation has been funded through state and federal funds through June.


CHEHALIS – More federal and state tax dollars are returning to Lewis County to continue paying for housing assistance and specifically eviction rental assistance for those in need. Lewis County Health Director J.P. Anderson says another nearly $43 thousand in federal funds to be used by Equity Institute to assist members of culturally diverse communities. Plus another $2.7 million for the Salvation Army’s programs. Money “designed to help address additional challenges in providing housing solutions for those trying to find housing”, says Anderson. Some of the finances that the county receives will be going toward the proposed permanent operations of the night-by-night shelter, which is now open through June. A community forum on the future of the nightly shelter for the homeless will be held beginning at 5:00 Thursday afternoon at the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds Blue Pavilion. Deputy Lewis County Prosecutor Eric Eisenberg is working with county social services staff on the Lewis County Housing Initiative to answer future demands for affordable housing in the county’s communities. Eisenberg says, “It’s not something you’re going to solve with one big solution. It’s an ongoing strategy that you need to have to help people in the community move out of homelessness and into something better.” As part of the shelter forum, the county is looking for proposals from organizations that want to assist in continuing to serve with a nightly shelter and companion social services. In Chehalis, Mayor Tony Ketchum and staff met recently with the community group, Experience Chehalis to get ahead of any growing homeless population. Then the city had a discussion with the Mayor of Seattle, which Mayor Ketchum said, “It’s just an open conversation on where we can work together to do something beneficial.” Lewis County has been asked to assist with the cost of a fence around the perimeter of the Lewis County Historical Museum in Chehalis to keep people from camping there. Photo courtesy: The Chronicle, photographer Jared Wenzelburger

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