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Gateway Cinema opens in Olds

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Movie fans got their first peek of Sun Basin Theatres’ new Gateway Cinema 14 north of Wenatchee when it opened May 20 for midnight showings of “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” the fourth installment in the swashbuckling franchise and likely one of the summer’s biggest blockbusters.

In the week prior, construction crews scrambled up to 20 hours a day to finish the massive remodel of Olds Station’s former Kmart building into a high-tech show palace and the region’s largest multiplex.

It was aformidable task, said Bryan Cook, Sun Basin’s general manager, because the $8.5 million facility includes cutting-edge technology surrounded by the latest comfort amenities in theater design.

Cook said he expected 12 of the 14 auditoriums would be operating by opening day. The other two would be completed in coming weeks.

Cook said he chose the $200 million “Pirates,” a Disney production, as a first feature because it was likely to draw big crowds of all ages. “It’s the perfect way to introduce the theater to the public,” he said. “I may be biased, but I think this will be a new era for movie-watching for the region.”

The new multiplex, the region’s largest, features:

• A spacious, upscale design using an earth-tone color scheme and hundreds of accent lights “to set a comfortable mood before people even take their seats,” said Cook.

• Fourteen auditoriums, all with digital projection, Dolby surround sound, rocking-chair stadium seating and handicap access.

• A VIP lounge serving beer, wine, appetizers and light meals, such as salads and panini sandwiches. Movie-goers can order food — say, the chicken wing platter with sweet potato fries — and be served in their plush, leather loveseats in the auditorium.

• Healthier fare — smoothies and fresh-squeezed fruit and veggie juices — served at a franchise juice bar called JuiceZone.

Wrap-up of the $8 million project comes two years after Sun Basin bought the 107,000 square-foot Kmart building from the state Department of Natural Resources. The agency obtained the building following closure of Kmart in 2006 but never developed the property or found a tenant.

The building sits on 9 acres in a shopping center on Easy Street that includes Food Pavilion, Big 5 Sporting Goods and other businesses.

The multiplex’s opening caps Sun Basin’s expansion strategy for showing movies in the Wenatchee Valley — a three-year plan to finance Gateway Cinema by closing and selling the five-screen Columbia Cinemas, East Wenatchee’s only movie theaters, and the Vue Dale Drive-In, one of the last drive-in theaters in eastern Washington.

In July, Sun Basin sold the 2.95-acre parcel that includes the Columbia Cinemas to a Spokane developer that, soon after, announced Walgreens would be its first tenant. A construction start date for the new drug store has yet to be announced.

The two-screen, 11-acre Vue Dale closed Oct. 3 after 57 years of showing movies outdoors. The property remains on the market.

And downtown’s Liberty Cinemas will remain open and unchanged by its new sister facility in north Wenatchee, Cook said. His long-term movie plan is to show a wide variety of movies on as many screens as possible, with no duplication of movie features between the Liberty and Gateway cinemas.


It’s off to the Big Apple for downtown director

Sarah Dempsey, executive director of the Wenatchee Downtown Association, announced her resignation May 9 after leading the promotional group for nearly three years.

Dempsey, 30, will leave her post July 8 to join her husband, Shon, in New York City, where he’s accepted a new job in graphic design.

We’re relocating to the other ‘apple,’ ” said Dempsey. “It’s sad to leave, of course. But it’s exciting to start a new adventure.”

The WDA board immediately began the search for Dempsey’s replacement. President Mike Teaney said the board would like to hire a new executive director as soon as possible to provide a short period of cross-training before Dempsey departs.

Dempsey joined the WDA in May 2007 as assistant director. She was named executive director in October 2008.

In her final two months, she’s worked to plan several of the association’s downtown events, including the group’s annual dinner — themed Downtown Is Hot — on June 1 and the Taste of the Harvest on Sept. 18.


Hydro, wind power fight for grid space

When the region’s hydro and wind power plants are producing more electricity than customers need, which should have to power down to ensure the grid’s mandatory balance of supply and demand?

Depends on whom you ask.

Local PUD officals say it should be wind because:

Hydropower is also clean, renewable and cheap by comparison — $20 per megawatt hour at cost versus $100 for wind.

Hydropower receives no federal subsidies for generation.

PUDs have federal requirements to protect fish. Water not used to generate electricty has to be “spilled” — sent through the dam, but usually not past the turbines. Spilled water fills the river with nitrogen bubbles that can harm or potentially kill fish.

Wind producers and wind advocates say coal, natural gas, nuclear and, even traditional hydro should power down first because:

These other generation sources are either dirtier or aren’t otherwise officially classified as “renewable” energies that count toward state green energy quotas.

Wind farms that don’t generate lose federal production subsidies of around $41 per megawatt hour. This is money that wind companies are counting on to help recoup their investments.

Wind farms have contractual obligations to holders of tradeable renewable energy credits backed by their clean, renewable power.

The colliding regulations add fuel to the debate and challenge the politics of keeping the region’s power grid in balance when both the wind is blowing and flows are the Columbia River are strong.

This is the unintended consequence of not thinking through all these federal laws,” says Gregg Carrington, director of energy resources for the Chelan County PUD, which holds federal licenses to operate three dams on the river. “It does not make sense to shut down, so someone can pay $100 a megawatt hour.”

Don’t be so fast to dismiss wind, just because it costs more, says Rachel Shimshak, executive director of Renewable Northwest Project.

This Portland-based advocacy group seeks to replace with renewable wind, solar, geothermal or tidal energy the small but growing share of the Northwest’s market supplied by dirtier sources like coal and natural gas.

In December, the Bonneville Power Administration issued a policy proposal that would have required non-hydro generating plants, including wind, to shut down in times of extreme overgeneration. This would allow federal dams to keep generating to reduce the dangers to fish from overspill.

Bonneville markets the power produced by 31 federal dams on the Columbia and operates and maintains about three-fourths of the high-voltage transmission in the western U.S.

As the region’s largest “balancing authority,” it’s the gatekeeper, charged with ensuring blackouts don’t happen because of an overtaxed transmission grid.

Supply and demand have to balance. We cannot take lightly or jeopardize any of our environmental constraints,” said Kevin Nordt, director of power management at Grant County PUD. “Bonneville is working very hard to try to come up with a fair and equitable solution.”

Bonneville has backed off its hard-line stance following months of public comment, which included strong opposition by wind advocates, and pledged to order temporary wind shutdowns only as a last resort.

Since 2008, the agency has made big investments in equipment and staff to become better at predicting when and how hard the wind will blow.

This year, it’s rescheduled maintenance on its transmission lines, sought additional spill from some federal dams, negotiated an earlier refueling shutdown at the Tri Cities nuclear plant — all to make way for the expected seasonal glut of wind and hydro power and keep its grid in full service.

But experts say these are band-aid solutions for the costly and politically charged real fixes of higher capacity transmission lines and energy storage projects.

There is a surplus at the moment,” Shimshak said. “Everyone contributes to a surplus when the economy is poor. The bottom line is that the system is changing.”

She added, “Bonneville will do what its going to do. We just want them to do everything else first.”


Mathison’s legacy lives on

He died three years ago, but Tom Mathison and his influence on the fruit industry haven’t been forgotten.

Mathison was honored posthumously May 6 with the 2011 Stu Bledsoe Leadership Award from the Washington Agriculture and Forestry Education Foundation, a statewide ag industry leadership program.

Mathison, a fruit industry pioneer and founder of Stemilt Growers, was selected as a Bledsoe Award recipient for his “lifetime of leadership and commitment to … working together for the betterment of our natural resources,” according to his daughter, Lavonne van Someren Gréve. She accepted the award on his behalf.

The foundation, better known as Ag Forestry, presents the award through nominations and selection by each of its leadership classes. This year’s award was presented by Ag Forestry Class 32, which included Mathison’s relative, Noel Mathison.

Mathison, who died in 2008 at age 82, founded Stemilt in 1964 with the goal of building consumer demand for fresh fruit. He spent most of his life working to advance the tree fruit industry and was a driving force in bringing Washington fruit to the global marketplace. Stemilt is now one of the largest fruit companies in the world.

Stu Bledsoe was a well-known ag leader who served as executive director of the Washington Forest Protection Association from 1978 to 1988.


West heads east to testify in D.C.

Stemilt Growers president West Mathison, grandson of founder Tom Mathison, traveled May 3 to Washington, D.C., to speak on behalf of the state’s agricultural community.

He testified at a Congressional hearing on the importance of agriculture (especially tree fruit) to the state’s economy, the farmer’s role in crafting solutions to help the environment and his family’s own legacy in the community.

The hearing was titled “At Risk: American Jobs, Agriculture, Health and Species — the Costs of Federal Regulatory Dysfunction.”


More than 1,000 look for Stemilt jobs

Hundreds of job seekers were already in line by sunrise May 10 to snag seasonal warehouse positions during Stemilt Growers’ annual job fair.

By 8 a.m., organizers estimated that nearly 1,000 hopefuls had formed a line over three blocks long around the Wenatchee Convention Center to apply for work during the giant fruit company’s upcoming cherry harvest. Even more lined up later in the day.

We had people camping out here last night,” said Liz Leon, a specialist for WorkSource, the state job agency helping organize the fair. “The total numbers of people are fairly typical, but the huge mass arriving here this early — waiting overnight — isn’t typical at all. It’s pretty exciting, though.”

Last spring, the Stemilt Job Fair drew upward of 1,300 job candidates, said Brian Anderson, a Stemilt line supervisor. Hiring for hundreds of positions in all types of warehouse jobs — sorters, packers, forklift drivers — draws a wide variety of people with a wide variety of skills, he said.

This year, for the first time, jobs will be filled on a first come, first served basis, Anderson said. That convinced serious job hunters, many who have worked at Stemilt before, to get in line early for the prime positions under their favorite supervisors.

That crowd out there?” said Leon. “It’s all about getting your first choice for the jobs you like best.”

Stemilt decided to shift to first-come, first-served to help make the huge task of filling nearly 1,000 positions more efficient for the company and more satisfying for the candidates, said Pat Lucio, Stemilt’s human resources director.

In previous years, people were arriving late in the day to find the jobs and shifts they wanted already filled,” she said. “This gives them a chance to be first for the jobs they really want.”

Rigo Salgado of East Wenatchee arrived at 2 a.m. to be sixth or seventh in line. “I knew I’d have to be here early, really early, to be sure of getting a job,” he said. It’d be his second year working for Stemilt, and he sees it as good training for helping his father, Delfino Salgado, run family orchards in the Palisades and Ephrata.


Pollinators boost blossoms from back of four-wheeler

It’s sexy work for Harry and Vicki Malloy, and business is blooming.

We’re talking plant sex, of course, and the fertilization each spring of millions of fruit blossoms by the application of nature’s critical ingredient for flower fun — pollen.

The Malloys, owners of Harry’s Pollen Service, mechanically pollinate up to 2,500 acres of prime orchard lands for more than 110 clients scattered across the Wenatchee Valley and beyond. The couple operates one of the area’s only commericial pollinating companies, providing carefully timed dustings that can reportedly double, even triple, an orchard’s yield per acre.

This isn’t magic, but it’s definitely a blend of science and nature,” Harry said. “If all the factors of growing fruit are in place — good weather, good orchard practices, good timing and bees — then pollinating should increase success for most growers.”

Working from late March to mid-May, the Malloys ran their Honda four-wheelers — decked out with back-end pollen blowers — up and down local orchard rows. In good weather in a well-kept orchard, one operator can zip along at 10 mph, a cloud of pollen billowing behind, and dust up to 60 acres per day.

First to unfold, cherry blossoms usually receive two pollen applications — one at 20 to 30 percent bloom, another at 70 to 80 percent — for maximum effectiveness, said Harry. Pollination of pear, apple and plum crops follow not far behind.

Harry admitted some fieldmen argue against mechanical pollination as an expensive, useless activity, and call the pollen mixture “fairy dust.”

But, he said, the widespread practice has won over many orchardists, even large commercial growers who’ve become reluctant to leave such an important process to the vagaries of wind and weather. The Malloys service both big and small growing operations or, in some cases, sell them the equipment to pollinate the orchards themselves.

In fact, lots of orchardists pollinate their own crops using a variety of methods, including pointy applicators, pollen brushes and hand-held blowers, to name just three. Those requiring blanket applications for larger orchards usually give the Malloys a call.

Harry, 59, retired in 2002 from a 32-year career as a Washington state parks manager. For 16 years, he ran the Sun Lakes State Park south of Coulee City near Dry Falls. Vicki, 54, raised in Wenatchee, worked in the insurance business for more than 25 years. Both are active in local and state Farm Bureau groups and have served as officers and board members.

In 2002, the couple took over an 8.5-acre cherry orchard in Malaga owned by Vicki’s father, Bob Jeffrey. “Vicki had helped plant the orchard back in the early 1970s,” said Harry, “but I had absolutely no orchard experience. Everything I knew about cherries came from eating them.”

But patient, knowledgeable fieldmen helped the Malloys learn the orcharding business, said Harry. For three years, they tweaked growing practices to improve the crop but never reached the yields they believed were possible. Then they mechanically pollinated in 2005 and nearly doubled their acreage’s output.

It was an eye-opener for us,” said Harry. “Not long after, we bought the business.”

Since then, the Malloys have quitely spread the word among orchard owners that mechanical pollination is one of the keys to achieving high production.

So, how’s it work?

Vicki pointed to a long list of pollens, available from national suppliers, that can be mixed with a nutrient base to form the perfect pollinator for a specific crop. For example, Bing cherries might be fertilized with a mixture of pollen from the Van, Chelan and Sweetheart varieties to encourage genetically diverse and healthy offspring. Vicki noted that kind of this cross-pollination does not result in hybrids or mutations.

Pollen isn’t cheap. It sells for about $1.50 per gram, said Harry, hefting a one-quart plastic bag containing about 750 grams. “Well, you can do the math.” Thankfully, it only takes about 20 grams to pollinate an acre of orchard.

According to the pollen service’s price list, the total application fee (including pollen) is about $65 per acre for cherries and about $78 per acre for pears and apples. Prices are slightly higher for orchards farther than 50 miles away.

After mixing, the pollen blend is loaded into the blower on the back of a four-wheeler and — whrrrr! — puffed in a cloud along orchard rows. The pollen settles over the blossoms, leaves, branches and, said Harry, “just about anywhere a bee might land.”

Ah, the bees. Mechanical pollination doesn’t eliminate the need for bees, said the Malloys, it just facilitates matching the insect with the pollen grains. The bee still climbs down the blossom’s ovule in search of nectar, but it’s likely loaded with much more pollen than Mother Nature would normally supply.

We mix and spread the pollen,” Vicki said, “but in the end, the bees — those amazing creatures — still do the real work.”


Miniature horses coming to a restaurant near you

If a disabled person with a miniature horse enters your restaurant, it now would behoove you to let them in.

Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill into law last month that prohibits restaurants from declining service to a disabled person accompanied by a service dog or miniature horse.

The new law reads, in part, “A food establishment shall … permit the use of a miniature horse by an individual with a disability … if the miniature horse has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of the individual with a disability.”

Guide or service dogs are also still allowed, but no other kind of animal.

The new law is more in line with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which narrowly defines “service animal” as either a dog or miniature horse.

Miniature horses usually measure less than 34 to 38 inches at their withers — the highest part of a horse’s back, between the shoulder blades. By comparison, a “pony” measures 56 inches or less at the withers.

Restaurants that fail to attend to disabled customers accompanied by a service horse risk court action for discrimination.

The new state law doesn’t require the restaurant to make any structural changes not already required of other laws that govern access.

The news that guide horses could appear in their waiting areas caught some local restaurateurs by surprise.

This is the first I’ve heard about it,” said Corey Mikkelsen, dining room manager at Visconti’s Italian Restaurant in Leavenworth. “It would surprise many diners. I guarantee you that.”

Miniature horses would fit right in with the western theme at Country Boy’s BBQ in Cashmere.

We didn’t know about it,” said Anitra Drew, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Tom Drew. “We would handle it as we would a service dog. We’d only hope they’d extend the law to other farm animals, the way the price of pork, chicken and beef has gone up.”

It might be hard to bus the tables,” Tom Drew joked.

Kerry Skibicki, manager of Gustav’s in Leavenworth expressed such disbelief that she immediately began surfing the Internet for proof.

I’ve never heard of the service horse thing,” she said. “Until I’ve had my first or second one, then I’d say, ‘Oh yeah, bring the horse in.’ ”

She added, “I hope they can do stairs if they want to sit on the patio.”

Jerry Sargent, owner of Prospector Pies on North Wenatchee Avenue, knew all about the new law.

His initial reaction?

If somebody tried to bring a horse in, I’d say absolutely not,” he said, but then softened his stance a bit.

I’ve been in business 30 years, and I’ve never seen a miniature horse, so I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”

Jimmy Sahlbom, owner of Jimmy’s Diner in East Wenatchee, had a similar reaction.

I wouldn’t appreciate a horse in my building,” he said. “I just had the carpets cleaned and new upholstery put on.”

He added, “I don’t mind service animals, dogs and stuff like that. … But no horses!”


Arena board satisfied with food upgrades

Town Toyota Center management would like to offer a three-year contract to its current food vendor, saying the company has made improvements in food quality and service over the last year.

The arena’s governing board gave General Manager Mark Miller the go-ahead May 12 to draw up a contract agreement with AMAcore Food Services of Amarillo, Texas, which has served up hamburgers, pizza and other fare since the arena opened in 2008.

The company has offered to share 30 percent of its gross sales and make a one-time payment of $25,000 to the Greater Wenatchee Events Center Public Facilities District.

Last year the PFD and city of Wenatchee issued a request for proposals for food vendors for the Town Toyota Center and Wenatchee Convention Center. After several months of reviewing proposals and negotiating, city staff recommended hiring Philedelphia-based Savor. The PFD board voted to offer a contract to the company, but the Wenatchee City Council in September rejected the proposal, saying they didn’t know if it would save any money.

As a result, AMAcore continued to provide the service under a month-to-month contract.

In a public survey commissioned by the PFD in December to gauge opinions on the center, just 25 percent of those polled rated the food service as above average.

Last month, AMAcore asked the center for a longer-term contract, so Miller again sought proposals from companies interested in providing food service, but only at Town Toyota Center. He received four bids, including Savor and AMAcore, along with Sodexo, a French service company, and Premiere, which provides concessions for the Oregon State Fair.

Miller recommended AMAcore because it not only shared a larger percentage of its sales but also offered the one-time cash payment. He also said the company has made improvements in its food quality and service, including hiring Richard Kitos, owner and chef at IvyWild Inn in Wenatchee, as its master chef.


Chelan PUD’s finance team sees a surplus

For the first time since late 2008, Chelan County PUD financial trackers have abandoned their figurative black, hooded cloaks and scythes.

Commissioners learned May 9 that this season’s expected abundant river flows, three years of bare-bones budgeting and careful financial planning have the utility beating most of its projections and heading toward an expected year-end surplus of nearly $9 million.

The forecast would break a grim two years of drought and low market prices that left budget shortfalls of $15 million in 2009 and $13 million last year.

Kelly Boyd, the PUD’s chief financial and risk officer told commissioners that:

• Early forecasts show $56.9 million in revenue from surplus power sales — about $6.4 million more than budget.

• Revenue from local, retail sale of power, water, wastewater and fiber-optic services is virtually on target through March and expected to end the year at almost 98 percent of the forecast, due to slightly slower growth projections.

• Operating expenses are expected to end the year at $114 million, about 97 percent of budget.

• The year’s capital costs of $49.7 million should come in at 77 percent of budget, due to last month’s decision to reject a federal grant for fiber-optic expansion. The expected expenses remain in the budget.

• Unrestricted cash reserves totaled $175 million through March, $25 million above the commission-established minimum.

Boyd advised caution, because this year’s abundant runoff forecasts still coincide with low market prices.

Increased production by wind farms, more river flow for increased hydro generation and recessionary lower demand for power could cause a supply glut that keeps prices low for surplus power.

We don’t want to overdo,” Boyd said of the rosy forecast, “but we’re cautiously optimistic.”

Forecasts have the utility on track to beat its targets for paying down some of its $1.04 billion in debt by 2015, but the pay-down comes with a consequence — a ratio of revenue to debt service that fails to hit targets.

This is a caution area, but it’s not necessarily a bad result,” Boyd said. “We made the decision to pay down debt because we think it’s in the best interest of our customers over the long term.”

She said the debt-coverage ratio would rebound in the years following 2015, when the current push to pay down debt subsides.