Decade Brings Change to
by Michelle Dupler
caption: (Paul Erickson photo) Former President George W. Bush assures a crowd above Ice Harbor Dam in 2003 that the dams on the Snake River were not in jeopardy of being breached while he was in office. During the decade, Bush and most Republicans were embraced by a strong majority of Mid-Columbia voters.
The Tri-Cities has emerged from the first decade of the 21st century with expanded options for education, health care, entertainment and leisure.
High points included the completion of trails and nature preserves, the expansion of local hospitals and clinics, construction of two new high schools, a new four-year university and a new convention center.
The decade also was one of shifting political attitudes when Republicans planted even deeper roots in the region, and a time when communities were shocked by unthinkable crimes.
Here's a look at some of the major ways the area has changed in the past 10 years.
Standardized tests were a hot topic during the past decade as the federal No Child Left Behind law required schools to bring all students up to uniform standards.
The Washington Assessment of Student Learning tests were Washington's controversial answer to No Child Left Behind, but parents and educators alike complained the test was too expensive, inefficient and that requirements to pass the WASL before graduation were unfair.
Newly elected Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn announced after taking office in January that he planned to replace the WASL with a series of shorter tests that would save time and money while keeping high standards.
Bilingual classes and English as a Second Language programs have been on the rise as the region's minority population increased.
Population growth also triggered construction of two new high schools -- Southridge in Kennewick and Chiawana in Pasco.
Opportunities for higher education increased as Columbia Basin College expanded facilities and programs until 2009, when state budget cuts forced the closing of some vocational programs.
Washington State University Tri-Cities began offering four-year degrees in 2007, giving students a chance to earn a degree closer to home.
Both schools saw record enrollments through the decade's last few years.
Health care options expanded, allowing Tri-Citians to get more kinds of care closer to home instead of traveling to Spokane or Seattle.
Kadlec Regional Medical Center added cardiac and neurosurgery specialties, a new pediatric center and built five floors of what eventually will be a 10-story tower on its Richland campus. A sixth floor is under way.
Kennewick General Hospital acquired a sleep lab, opened new senior health and endoscopy centers, and the area's first after-hours pediatric clinic. And KGH is planning a new hospital in the Southridge area.
Lourdes Medical Center in Pasco started the decade struggling financially but turned around by becoming designated a Critical Access Hospital in 2005, which allows special reimbursements under Medicare.
All three hospitals have opened new clinics and are seeing a growing number of patients.
But at the same time options have increased, the number of people without health insurance in Benton and Franklin counties has risen beyond the state average.
And the community lost an agency dedicated to helping connect the uninsured with health care when Benton-Franklin Access to Care went under in 2008 because it lacked funding.
Crime and courts
Murders are always shocking, but two during the past decade especially rocked the Tri-Cities.
Beloved Kiona-Benton football coach Bob Mars was stabbed to death in 2004 as part of a gang initiation. He was 44. Jordan E. Castillo, then 14, and Robert A. Suarez, then 16, were convicted of the killing.
The horrific slaying of pregnant Araceli Camacho Gomez made national news in the summer of 2008. Camacho Gomez, 27, was found dead in Kennewick's Columbia Park, her stomach ripped open and her baby gone. Phiengchai Sisouvahn Synhavong was charged with aggravated first-degree murder. Her case is still pending.
Parents were shocked in 2007 to learn two longtime teachers had been charged with having sex with students.
Retired Kennewick High School teacher William B. Pickerel was charged in Benton and King counties on sex charges involving teenage boys. A King County judge in 2008 sentenced him to 10 years behind bars.
Allan W. Eve resigned as Richland High School's instrumental music director after being accused of having sex with a female student. He pleaded guilty in May 2009 to communication with a minor for immoral purposes, a gross misdemeanor.
A felony charge of first-degree sexual misconduct with a minor previously was dismissed when a judge ruled it was not a crime for the teacher to have sex with an 18-year-old student. That resulted in the state Legislature passing a law criminalizing sexual relationships between public school employees and students aged 18 to 21.
For seven years of the decade, the disappearance of a 4-year-old Kennewick girl has remained a mystery. Sofia Juarez went missing from her home a day before her fifth birthday. Detectives still get tips about her and continue to investigate it actively as a missing and endangered child case.
Fugitive Kenneth Freeman was caught in Hong Kong and extradited to Washington in 2007 to face charges of child rape and child pornography.
The former Hanford Patrol officer had fled the country in 2005 after being accused of raping his daughter and posting photos and videos of her on the internet.
He's now serving 50 years in federal prison on child pornography charges and a 20-year sentence on child rape charges.
The political winds shifted as the Mid-Columbia moved more to the right. The region became solidly Republican with the defeat of Democratic state Sen. Valoria Loveland in 2000 by Republican Mike Hewitt in the 16th legislative district.
That trend reached its culmination with the death of Rep. Bill Grant, D-Walla Walla, to cancer in early 2009, and the defeat of his daughter Laura Grant -- the last Democrat in rural Eastern Washington -- by Dayton Republican Terry Nealey in November.
Following the 2008 election of Democrat Barack Obama, conservatives flocked in droves to TEA parties to complain about federal deficits and taxes. Its activists claim to be nonpartisan, finding fault in the job performance of elected officials from both major parties.
The Tri-Cities lost a strong advocate with the death of Sam Volpentest in 2005 at age 101. Volpentest had a legacy of lobbying for Tri-City issues in Washington, D.C., and bringing back money for roads, bridges, Hanford work and other projects.
But the area gained a pair of advocates in Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell as the Democratic Party rose again in 2006. Murray was instrumental in securing $2 billion in federal stimulus money for Hanford cleanup in 2009.
Life and leisure
Tri-Citians gained opportunities for recreation and entertainment with construction of a convention center, a movie theater in Pasco, dozens of new restaurants, a park preserving hundreds of acres of Badger Mountain and the 23-mile Sacagawea Heritage Trail linking all three cities.
The region's history and heritage have taken center stage in several projects, including the new interpretive center at Sacajawea State Park in Pasco and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Overlook next to Bateman Island.
Yet to come is a national Ice Age Floods Trail, with interpretive centers, scenic overlooks, displays and roadside signs to tell the story of the Ice Age floods that carved the region's unique landscape.
Also on the books is the proposed Hanford Reach Interpretive Center, a $40.5 million project intended to be a visitor and heritage center where people can learn about the natural and cultural history of the Hanford Reach National Monument and Columbia Basin.
The project has been stalled because the region's native tribes objected to its proposed location at Richland's Columbia Point South -- a historical gathering place sacred to the tribes.
Alternative sites for the building are being considered.
Listen President Discusses Salmon Recovery in Washington State by George W. Bush, Ice Harbor Dam, 8/23/3
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