6. Federal study points finger at Lower Valley dairies
A long-awaited federal study released in September pointed at five Lower Valley dairies and several farms, calling them “likely” sources of nitrates contaminating private drinking water wells.
But federal officials cautioned that the study doesn’t prove a larger trend of nitrate contamination by dairies across southeast Yakima County. Earlier testing showed about 20 percent of wells in the region have nitrates in excess of the federal safety limit.
The five dairies have leaked millions of gallons of manure into the underlying soil each year, according to the report, which was subsequently lambasted by the Washington State Dairy Federation. The EPA is drilling new monitoring wells to try and bolster its case as it seeks binding agreements with the dairy owners on ways to stop contamination and ensure clean water for downstream wells.
7. Privatized liquor sales Hard liquor, once sold only at state-operated liquor stores and at a few state-contracted independents, is now available at virtually all supermarkets and other outlets.
The state got out of the liquor business on June 1, following voter approval Initiative 1183 in November 2011.
Some worried the new law would make it easier for minors to obtain liquor, while some small business owners feared market dominance by larger stores. Supporters argued the state shouldn’t be in the liquor business and that new competition would lower prices and generate new revenue for public safety and education.
The state Office of Financial Management estimates the change will result in up to $253 million in general fund revenue increases while total local revenues will increase from $186 million to $227 million over the next six fiscal years.
8. County jail woes
What’s left to say about Yakima County and its jail woes? As the bed-rental business went bust, the jail became a money pit that the county has yet to climb out of. Commissioners meekly asked voters in August for a one-tenth of a cent sales tax increase to cover a shortfall in the jail budget and to pay off a debt for improvements needed for housing an increasingly violent inmate population.
The tax idea failed miserably, forcing the commissioners to take money from the road fund, which means maintenance on rural roads will suffer. The bleeding continued this month, forcing commissioners to impose $1.6 million in cuts to the sheriff, prosecutor, clerk, courts and juvenile justice, and shifting those funds to cover jail operating costs. The jail will cut its $23 million operating budget by $1.2 million, forcing the layoff of 11 staff, the latest layoffs atop of 90 over the past two years.
9. Tied: Gaub death and retail changes
• Dan Gaub dies amid questions of financial improprieties
Flimflam man or failed forex trader, the curious case of Dan Gaub was not only one of the top stories of 2012, but figures to be in 2013 as well.
The story began May 4 when Gaub, the 53-year-old son of evangelist Ken Gaub and a self-described “living legend” in high-risk foreign currency trading, was killed in a motorcycle collision with a semi truck on Summitview Road west of Yakima.
The blogosphere quickly began to buzz with rumors that Gaub had perpetrated an enormous Ponzi scheme.
Then on May 23, the FBI raided Gaub’s West Valley home and undertook a forensic accounting investigation that is still ongoing. Within a few weeks, claims from investors began to build against his estate and have now surpassed $30 million. Among the claimants: Gaub’s own father.
Although state troopers were aware at the scene of the crash that Gaub was under intense pressure as a result of his trading business, a report in October reached no firm conclusions about what caused him to swerve into the side of the truck. Meanwhile, the FBI investigation continues.
• Shifting retail landscape
The retail landscape saw a major growth spurt with two national chains opening within days of one another in Union Gap.
Vacant for nearly five years, the former Costco property at 1400 E. Washington Ave. saw both J.C. Penney and Cabela’s open in early October. Hundreds waited, many overnight, for Cabela’s opening. J.C. Penney’s opening served as a homecoming of sorts: The chain had closed its store in the former downtown Yakima Mall more than a decade ago, but there were always hints and rumors of its pending return to the upper Yakima Valley.
Meanwhile, hardware giant Lowe’s announced it would relocate from 2500 Rudkin Road in Union Gap to a new site near the corner of West Valley Mall Boulevard and Longfibre Road in Yakima.
Plans for two smaller operations in downtown Yakima stirred up controversy. Plans were announced for a McDonald’s restaurant at the very center Yakima — the corner of Yakima Avenue and North First Street. And plans for development less than two blocks away on Yakima Avenue, reported to be Starbucks, fell apart when the city rejected the proposal due to the location of a its proposed drive-thru.
10. Latino majority legislative district The state Redistricting Commission took the historic step of making the 15th Legislative District the state’s first Latino-majority district, but results didn’t meet supporters’ expectations.
Advocates, such as the Seattle-based OneAmerica, argued that previous district boundaries split the Latino vote in Yakima County, therefore marginalizing their ability to elect Latinos to legislative office.
The Redistricting Commission agreed Latinos were a sizeable community in a concentrated area and deserved to be recognized with a Latino-majority district.
But only one Latino candidate, 21-year-old Zillah resident and Central Washington University student Pablo Gonzalez, ran for a 15th District House seat in November.
Gonzalez, who ran as a Democrat, was hammered by incumbent Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee, losing with 39 percent (13,957 votes) of the electorate to Taylor’s 61 percent (21,904 votes.)
No one challenged the district’s other incumbent who was up for re-election, Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger.