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Forecasters say relief may be on the way for Yakima Valley's smoky haze
 Phil Ferolito  / 

Air quality officials are hoping expected light winds this weekend will clear out the smoke-filled Yakima Valley skies.

Yakima and Kittitas counties are under an air advisory until noon Friday, Nov. 8.

Cold, still air at ground level with a warm air mass above has trapped pollutants on the Valley floor, said Mark Edler, administrative division supervisor with the Yakima Clean Air Agency.

For the past week, Yakima County skies have been congested with stagnant air that’s allowed pollutants to build up.

As a result, Clean Air issued a countywide burn ban Nov. 1 that prohibited all outdoor burning and the use of uncertified wood fuel burning heating devices unless they’re the only source of someone’s heat.

The ban was increased Monday to prohibit all fuel burning heating devices — unless it’s the only source of heat — until further notice.

The Yakama Nation initiated a ban of its own on the reservation prohibiting all outdoor burning. Ceremonial burning is exempt.

But relief may be on the way. After experiencing pollutants at unhealthy levels for much of the week, skies countywide improved Thursday to moderate air quality, Edler said.

“Our projection is it may be early next week until we get anything moving through the Valley,” he said. “It’s kind of dependent on getting some air through to move things out.”

Weather forecasters say there’s a chance that light winds this weekend could begin to clear up the skies.

Those winds are expected Friday afternoon and should continue through Saturday, according to the National Weather Service in Pendleton, Ore.

“It should open it up for the rest of the weekend,” said assistant meteorologist Ann Adams.

Patchy freezing fog is expected Friday morning, with temperatures reaching the mid-50s during the day and overnight temperatures dipping to the mid-30s, she said.

Temperatures are expected to rise slightly Saturday and through the rest of the weekend, she said.

An increase in air pollutants sometimes causes a rise in patients at local hospitals suffering respiratory illnesses.

Virginia Mason Memorial Hospital has seen a slight uptick in people complaining of asthma-type symptoms, said hospital spokeswoman Rebecca Teagarden.

This story has been changed to report that Rebecca Teagarden works for Virginia Mason Memorial Hospital.

CWU journalists protest school's interview requirements
 Janelle Retka  / 

More than 100 Central Washington University students protested what they say is media censorship on campus Thursday.

Representatives of The Observer, CWU’s student newspaper, and Central News Watch, a student-operated broadcast, say they have been required to submit questions to departments to be approved by administrators before interviews will be coordinated.

School officials say the request for questions is not intended to limit the scope of interview questions, but to guide staff to the best sources for the article and help sources prepare for interviews. They also say each department has its own media policy.

Student media representatives say this is a breach of an agreement between student media and administrators made in April to provide context, but not questions, ahead of interviews. They equate the request to censorship.

Students gathered at the center of campus from roughly 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to demand free press and transparency from administrators.

“We are just trying to get out there to say, whether or not we’re student journalists, we are still journalists,” said Observer Online Editor Mariah Valles. “We don’t need to send in interview questions before an interview, no matter what the reason.”

Valles said there were as many as 40 students gathered at one time during the protest, with at least 100 attendees over its duration.

In response, CWU student government President Jasmin Washington said she was planning a meeting between student media and administrators to find a resolution. She said she expected it to take place next week and it would likely be a public forum that would be recorded on video to ensure an agreed resolution.

Where the issue began

The issue arose in April, when an Observer reporter requested an interview with an official from the university’s Wellness Center and was told to submit questions before the interview would be confirmed.

Kremiere Jackson, CWU vice president of public affairs, said around that time the Student Success Department, which encompasses the Wellness Center, was getting several calls from reporters toward the end of the work day, stating they were on deadline. She said this gave staff little time to coordinate an interview. In some cases, reporters were not able to communicate what kind of source they were looking for, she said. At times, they were unprepared for the interviews, she said.

Staff from the Observer met with Jackson, the dean of student success, the associate dean for health and wellness, and the associate dean for student living in April.

Valles of The Observer said Thursday that in the meeting, both parties agreed that questions would not be required to be submitted ahead of interviews, but context for interviews would be provided.

Jackson said more context on what their stories were about and “maybe some of the questions” had been agreed upon to help the Student Success Department better identify the appropriate source and ensure sources were prepared for the interview. She said she believed they had come to an agreement, and had not heard any complaints from the student media until the demonstrations Thursday.

In the Wednesday opinion piece, The Observer staff outlined two instances since the April meeting in which Wellness Center staff requested questions ahead of interviews. In one case, further context was provided and the interview was conducted. In another, The Observer wrote the article without the interview, rather than submit questions, it said.

In a separate instance, The Observer said it was denied interviews with current and former athletes by the Athletic Communications department because a reporter declined to submit questions ahead of interviews.

In an official statement Thursday, the university said it was not censoring students.

The Observer responded by publishing screenshots of emails from the Wellness Center requiring questions be “approved” before an interview was scheduled.

Jackson said Thursday the intent was “not to tell a reporter what they can or cannot ask.”

“To be honest, every interview that they have asked for, they have been granted access to every single employee,” Jackson said of the student success department. “I would venture to say there were no questions that were not answered, ever. But I will say that the goal is always to make sure that whoever is talking to a reporter, they are getting the right person ... in front of them so they can have the right information.”

In regard to the interviews with athletes that were allegedly canceled, Jackson said that each department at the university has its own media protocol.

Asked if the various departments’ media approaches fulfilled the university’s obligation of transparency as a public institution, Jackson said: “Do I think that there’s censorship taking place on this campus? No, I do not, if that’s your question.”

Director of Athletic Communications Will McLaughlin declined to comment.

Trend on campus

Student media policies that limit access to experts is an issue seen on campuses nationwide, said Lindsie Rank, program officer for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a national civil liberties organization.

“Just these last two weeks, I’ve gotten at least three other instances where we’re seeing similar policies that we’re keeping an eye on,” she said.

Rank said she had seen more instances in recent months, which could be because of increasing instances or more awareness of media suppression.

“Student reporters have the First Amendment right to ask tough questions and conduct really quality journalism, and … shouldn’t have to face large obstructions along the way,” she said. “We really commend the students in this situation for standing up for their rights and for engaging with the campus community to solve this problem.”

John Baule, community recognized at Yakima chamber event
 Mai Hoang  / 

John Baule wasn’t shy with the wardrobe changes during the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce’s annual Chamber Awards on Thursday.

Baule, the retired director of the Yakima Valley Museum, was honored with this year’s Ted Robertson Community Service award. He donned a turban and then a Carmen Miranda hat to celebrate as speakers talked about his sense of community and love for travel.

Baule said that when he first came to Yakima in 1992, he didn’t think he’d be here long, but people were so welcoming and nice he ended up staying. Baule was recognized for his extensive volunteer efforts for organizations such as the Downtown Association of Yakima, Yakima Valley Tourism and the Yakima Rotary Club.

The award, named after late Yakima Herald-Republic Publisher Ted Robertson, was established in 1989 to recognize a community member who shows inspiring leadership and commitment to improving the Yakima Valley.

“I feel a real responsibility even though I’ve been blessed with movie star looks and musical and artistic talent,” he said, joking. “I figured I wasn’t going to make my fortune on either one, but I could help in the ways I can, and I hope to continue doing that for a very long time.”

Herald-Republic Publisher Bob Crider said Baule has been a great steward of the museum and is a shining example of how to work with others.

“John Baule is the epitome of how to get along with people,” he said. “Not just with the people in this room tonight, but hundreds, thousands of people who have come in contact with John over the years.”

Recent recipients of the award include Jack and Connie Bloxom, Rick Pinnell, Steve and Anne Caffery and Lloyd Butler.

About 300 people gathered at the Yakima Convention Center to celebrate the outstanding achievements of businesses and community members at the ceremony. Other award recipients:

  • Freehand Cellars, a Wapato winery, received the Emerging Business of the Year award. Healthy Eats and Waterfire Restaurant and Bar were nominated.
  • Fatbeam, a regional Internet service provider, received Business of the Year award. McKinney Glass and Valley Mall were nominated.
  • Tree Top, the Selah-based fruit processing company, was named Member of the Year. Field Group Marketing and GESA Credit Union were nominated.
  • Matt Uhlman was named Volunteer of the Year. Linda DiLembo and Robbie Bustos were nominated.
  • Rod’s House, the Yakima-based nonprofit that works with homeless youths, was selected for Nonprofit of the Year. Entrust Community Services and Wellness House were nominated.

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Washington apple growers produced a big crop, report says
 Mai Hoang  / 

This year’s Washington apple crop will be one of the largest in history, according to the latest figures from the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.

The crop is estimated at 138.2 million 40-pound boxes, up from the 137.3 million box estimate in August, according to the association’s Nov. 1 apple storage report.

That figure is also well above the 116.7 million boxes harvested a year ago. But this year’s crop is below the record 141.8 million crop size from 2014.

The statewide harvest was mostly completed, according to the report, but harvest of a few additional orchards could boost the overall crop size. The crop estimate includes all apples expected to be packed and eventually sold fresh, rather than sent to a processor.

Harvested apples are moved directly to retailers or put in storage until they are shipped over the next several months.

“Although late-season cold weather decreased totals for some later harvested varieties, larger totals on earlier varieties and excellent quality are contributing to strong pack-outs and keeping the projected overall fresh crop close to the earlier forecast,” Jon Devaney, president of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, said in a written statement.

As expected, Gala was the top variety, making up 23.5% of the overall Washington crop. Red Delicious, once the state’s dominant variety, remains in second at 19.7%.

Rounding out the top six varieties are Fuji at 13.1%, Granny Smith at 12.8%, Honeycrisp at 12.5% and Golden Delicious at 5.5%.