Friday, January 25, 2013

‘Keeping it real’ in Mr. Gustin’s biology class

Orofino High School science teacher, Jim Gustin, demonstrates one of the school’s new high-tech microscopes. which has a display screen on top. The microscope can be connected to a laptop computer with the results viewed by many students at once. The microscope can also take digital photographs of the slide display, allowing slide pictures to be shared among users.
By Alannah Allbrett

“Keeping it real” is what Mr. Gustin is all about, and he has been doing that for kids for 20 years in his Biology, Human Biology, and Environmental Science classes.

In warmer weather, 80 sophomores got to attend an “Aquatic Day” at Tunnel Pond and, with the assistance from the Nez Perce Tribe, were able to collect water samples there and study the environment. They were getting hands-on experience instead of just traditional textbook studying.

The students recently visited Orofino and Riverside’s water and wastewater treatment plants to conduct their own tests. Mr. Gustin said the emphasis for students this year has been on learning about Source Water Protection; where we get our water; and the issues and problems associated with protecting the sources for our drinking water.

“Some kids, when they start taking biology, don’t understand where our water comes from and need reminding that it is the bases of all life,” said Mr. Gustin. This program gives them the chance to study water quality firsthand, in a meaningful way, and using the latest technology.

OHS is in the second year of utilizing a $90,000 grant from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) which Mr. Gustin named the “Report Card for Streams.” He maintains that he is not an environmentalist, in the strictest sense. “It’s important that the kids understand how to use, not abuse, our natural resources, however.”

The high school provides the facilities, in an in-kind contribution for the grant which provides students with a Swift N10 digital light microscope and a National Optical digital dissecting microscope – two important tools. Most people know that by the time something is placed on a slide for examination, it begins to deteriorate. When two classrooms (100 students), need to view something interesting under a microscope, either because of time, heat, or other conditions – the organism on the slide may no longer be viable.

An HP laptop computer is part of the new technology package at OHS, allowing Mr. Gustin to connect it to the microscope so many students can view a slide at the same time.

Mr. Gustin prepares slide samples from the lagoons at Riverside (near Hidden Village) and said the kids get to find out about the interaction and interdependence of science and technology while learning “the marvels of the unseen world.”

Another invaluable tool has been the purchase of ground water model for students to be able to study ground water pollution and the various purifying aspects of aquifer layers. It resembles an ant farm, displaying different types of sediment layers compressed between glass walls. It demonstrates how water percolates through soil getting filtered in the process.

In partnership with Texas A & M University, Orofino students will be providing digital images of microorganisms to the Orofino and Riverside treatment plants and several universities. With their saved images, students were able to demonstrate their findings to their parents, at their last parent teacher conference.

Mr. Gustin was able to write into the grant, provisions for bussing students to field trips which, otherwise, have been curtailed by budgetary cuts. He extends thanks to Lon Blades (retired), Ben Jenkins, and the whole bus barn crew for helping get kids get to these outings. “They have been really great to work with,” he said.

He also acknowledges Anna Moody, of the Lewiston DEQ office and Trina Snyder, of the school district, who help administer the grants that make this kind of learning experience possible. Lastly, he wants to thank Michael Martin and his staff at the Orofino Water, Wastewater facilities; Chris Marvin, Scott Hasselstrom, Nancy Dawson, and Tracy Lubke of the Riverside Water & Sewer District; and Elmer Crow of the Nez Perce Tribe – all for helping “make it real” for the next generation of scientists.

Local science experts such as Entomologist, Richard Whitten, have been guest lecturers in the biology lab, bringing his knowledge of the insect world to life for the students.

Although Mr. Gustin says it is a work in progress, the students have a Facebook page which is appropriately entitled Orofino Maniac Biology. To see OHS biology students in action, visit their blog at: – a trip worth taking!
Jim Gustin shows off the school’s LaMotte Smartlink® Chemical Test Kit which students use to test water samples as part of OHS’s Report Card for Streams program. Mr. Gustin, who teaches Biology, Human Biology, and Environmental Science, was instrumental in obtaining a IDEQ grant to keep Orofino’s students up-to-date in technological advances.

Resembling an ant farm, this groundwater model allows students to study sediment layers and the manner in which water percolates through them. They can study groundwater pollution and the various purifying aspects of aquifer layers.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Superintendent and police chief discuss school safety

By Alannah Allbrett

School Superintendent, Bob Vian, spoke out about one of America’s biggest concerns right now, the safety of our children in the public school system. Mr. Vian brings with him many years of experience in leadership and administrative roles in both the Idaho and Oregon school systems as well as that of having been a teacher.

Mr. Vian said when he came to Timberline Schools (TLS) as Principal, he brought with him the emergency plan used in Oregon but found it was not applicable here. “The schools are so dissimilar,” he said “that it had no basis here.” In Klamath Falls, Oregon, where he was the principal, they had one single building with a single entrance. Joint School District #171, which consists of Orofino, Timberline, Peck, and Cavendish schools, are diverse structures. Both Orofino and Pierce high schools have outer shop buildings – separate from the main buildings. Neither school has an out front office entrance, separate from the main building. At OHS, for instance, one must enter double doors in front, go up several steps, and proceed down a hallway to enter the office doors inside the school – not the best setup for school security.

As Mr. Vian pointed out, when our schools were built, security was not the issue that it is today because shootings at schools were unheard of. “Nowadays,” he said, “school safety is something we always think about. Things are better today than they were a year ago, however. The buildings are significantly more secure. But you have to realize these buildings were built at a time when no one could anticipate this” he said.

He added, “This year, we’ve attempted to lock as many outside doors as possible, directing the public to enter in only one or two areas.” When asked what communication systems are in place he said that nowadays everybody carries a cell phone, and Orofino Police Officer Monte Toombs works closely with the school. He has thought of the possibility of getting prison staff involved in the event of an emergency, in securing the facilities, as they are close and already trained in security issues.

Speaking of crises training in the schools, Mr. Vian said they have begun to practice “lockdown drills.” During a lockdown drill, rooms are locked, and children are pulled out of the hallways and instructed to stay away from windows and doors where they would be visible to anyone outside. Police are notified when schools are conducting a drill, and Officer Toombs has been present to watch the drills take place. Vian said that Toombs attended a meeting Wednesday morning, Jan. 9, with the principals of both OHS and OES. “Drills took place at least twice here,” he said, “before the recent shootings in Connecticut occurred.”

Vian said that ultimately, safety issues are their number one concern “Any security measures need to be done building by building. As the Superintendent, it [responsibility] comes back to me, but I task that out to the principals because each building is different. Our motto here is ‘slow an intruder down,’ put as many obstacles in the way as possible.” With that in mind, the schools are now attempting to keep outside doors locked where possible – a big undertaking considering OHS alone has 12 outside doors and students, and staff alike, are not used to having locked doors.

Vian said things are a little different in Pierce, being situated in Clearwater County, not Orofino proper. Sheriff Deputy, and School Resource Officer, Dave Koontz, maintains an office at Timberline. “He spends a couple hours a week up there. Sometimes, he just catches up on reports, but he’s in the building so that the kids get to know him,” said Vian. “Peck, though part of our school district, is in Nez Perce County. In the event of an emergency Orofino Police Department and Clearwater County Sheriffs would, no doubt respond. As they have mutual response plans.”

Police Chief Jeff Wilson corroborated: “It is very possible that Clearwater County and Orofino PD would respond to Peck. We are often closer to Peck than any Nez Perce County deputies so if any serious incident occurs in the Peck area we may be requested by Nez Perce County to respond and we would do so upon that request.”

“Video recording systems are in place in both Timberline and OHS” said Mr. Vian. “We were able to get good video of the guys walking down halls when the school burglary took place” [last year]. “Although they had masks on, we could tell other important details that helped identify them” said Mr. Vian.

When asked if students understand the purpose of lockdown drills, Vian said, “The kids, fifth grade and above probably do, and we just tell them we’re going to have a drill. The younger kids don’t need a reason and usually respond better to directions.” Different kinds of drills are held, for example, if an angry parent shows up wanting to remove their child versus someone seen entering the school with a gun.

“We’re required by law to have a fire drill every month, and two earthquake drills a year,” said Vian. “We should be doing safety drills once a month and we’re working towards that. We’re trying to determine what the best safety drill is. Officer Toombs is putting a drill together now.”

Orofino Police Chief, Jeff Wilson, said they partner with the schools in assisting them with the lockdown drills and have, for years, made safety recommendations as to what kinds of access the public should or should not have to the schools. He stated that the schools should have the ability to lock people out, but it’s costly to carry out the safety measures which should be undertaken. He stated, “At the present time there is no way to know for sure if an intruder has entered a school building.”

Wilson said, “Locked doors may give a false sense of security, however, as an intruder can throw a rock or break glass to get inside a building.” Wilson elaborated on the difference between a Code Red versus a Code Yellow Drill Procedure. Without going into details about the procedures themselves, he said the nature of a Code Red drill covers steps students, teachers, and administrators are to take in the event of an intruder being INSIDE the school building. Code Yellow covers steps to be taken if an intruder is OUTSIDE the building.

Wilson said, “There has been a tremendous amount of money that has been put into fire safety – from the cost of the school structures being made out of non-flammable materials, to sprinkler systems." He went on to say, “To my knowledge, over the last 30 years, no student in the United States has ever died due to a school fire. But we’ve lost hundreds of children in schools due to lack of school security. Comparing the amount of money spent for fire safety protection to dollars spent on school security for the safety of students and teachers,” Wilson said, “we haven’t even scratched the surface.”

Mr. Vian stated that the schools’ main job is to provide a safe school environment. “If kids don’t have a safe environment,” he said, “then no learning takes place. There are some things we could do, but it would take a million and a half dollars to make all our schools safe.” When asked what measures he would take if money were no object, Vian said that he would build a new office in front of OHS. On his dream list would be, connecting the shops with the main buildings at both high schools so that the students never had to leave the building. “That would take a few hundred thousand dollars,” Vian said. He would like to see an entry system in place, at the elementary level, where a visitor would step into an entry hall, and have to be ‘buzzed’ through at the second door. “That could be done relatively cheaply,” he said. The very least that could be done at this time would be to provide all schools with doors which may be locked to the outside, but still provide rapid exit from the inside. Mr. Vian stated that, as a private citizen, he is a gun owner himself, but that today’s safety issues in schools do not revolve solely around the use of guns but also stem from poor mental health care programs in this state. Chief Wilson concurred that Idaho has consistently had one of the least effective mental health programs in the U.S. due to lack of funding dollars allotted to that area.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Finalists for Youth ChalleNGe Director interviewed in Pierce

By Alannah Allbrett

Four final applicants for the National Guard Youth ChaleNGe director’s slot were interviewed in Pierce Jan. 3.

Loren Whitten-Kaboth, Coordinator of the Clearwater Economic Development Program in Orofino, provided an update on the hiring schedule before the program gets underway in Pierce in 2013. The official interviewing and hiring process has begun for the program, starting with the position of Director. Many applications were received for that position, and were narrowed down to 10 applicants and, subsequently, four finalists were chosen.

Major General, Gary L. Sayler, had the four candidates for directorship drive to Pierce for final interviews so they could get a real time taste of what life in the small community might be like. Two of the candidates took extra time to stop into City Hall to meet with staff and ask questions firsthand. Mayor Carmen Syed made herself available during the entire interview process. 

Volunteers needed

Ed Hildebrand, former custodian of Pierce Elementary, has been working at the school, getting things ready for the NGYCP. New lighting fixtures have been installed. Mayor Volunteers are needed to help with cleaning the lighting covers before they can be installed.

Please call city hall for more information: 208-464-2222.

Rocky Mountain regions enjoying lower gas prices than rest of U.S.

Motorists in the Rocky Mountain region are enjoying considerably lower gas prices than the rest of the U.S. and it’s due to healthy gasoline inventories; the availability of cheap Canadian crude and refineries that operate exceptionally well.

“The Rockies region is doing very well as they are insulated from the higher price of West Texas Intermediate crude oil and can capitalize on the less expensive crude from Canada. On the last day of 2012, WTI closed at $91.82 per barrel while the Canadian crudes averaged $72.11 on the same day,” said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst,

“From a supply perspective the Rockies gasoline inventory has increased by 17% in the past month while the U.S. inventory increased by 11% over the same period. At the same time the region’s refinery output during the month of December was 95.2%, while nationwide (including the Rocky Mountain region) refineries operated at 90%. Today’s report from the Dept. of Energy has the region’s refinery utilization rate at 96.9%, so it really doesn’t get much better than that,” he noted.

“Consequently, 60% of gas stations (2,848 out of 4,712) in the Rocky Mountain region have gas below $3 per gallon. Only 24 percent of stations in the rest of the U.S. are below $3,” said Gregg Laskoski, another senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy. (For all 50 states, 26.1% are below $3 today.)

How long will the party last? “The logistics of the region create a lag effect that keeps gasoline price trends there about two weeks behind what we see in the rest of the country,” says DeHaan.

GasBuddy operates over 250 similar websites that track gasoline prices at over 140,000 gasoline stations in the United States and Canada. In addition, GasBuddy offers a free smartphone app which has been downloaded over 25 million times to help motorists find the lowest gasoline prices in their area.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Deep in Dworshak (Part I)

This photo is of one of the many tunnels in Dworshak Dam’s interior. With pumped in air to breathe, maintenance workers walk on a narrow concrete pavement. Sometimes one has to step over stalagmites on the flooring and above one’s head stalactites hang. The mossy granite walls display holes that were drilled for explosives. Many of the plugs taken from the holes are now in a pit at Dworkshak Fish Hatchery below.

By Alannah Allbrett

A huge lichen-covered boulder guards the entrance; moss and ferns grow beside the mysterious portal. Granite surrounds us as we step into the dank tunnel with a noticeable aroma somewhat like a fishy/earthen basement. A string of dim lights, like dusty pearls, precedes us as we descend along a narrow concrete walk with water on either side of it trickling along the granite facing. I reach out at one spot to touch the wall and pull my hand back quickly from the squishy, wet surface. I guess I wasn’t expecting my fingers to sink into the green ooze.

I am reminded to ‘watch my step’ as we gingerly step over the occasional green slick area. Periodically, a cold droplet of water smacks me on top the head just to keep me humble. I, with my guide, Lead Park Ranger Deb Norton, am being lead to what looks like Gollum’s [of Lord of the Rings fame] cave.

We walk for what seems like a quarter of a mile, to where the pathway takes a sharp turn right, and we proceed, ever downward. I hear water dripping, echoes from my own questions, and the sound of a blower Deb turned on that provides air to would-be travelers to the nether regions. I am on a mission to view what only a handful of people ever see – the diversion tunnel of mighty Dworshak Dam, the highest straight axis, concrete gravity dam in the U.S. and the states’ third tallest dam (as opposed to Hoover Dam which is curved or arch gravity dam).  

The diversion tunnel was built before the dam, by blasting through solid granite, to make a passage for the clear, pure waters of the North Fork of the Clearwater River, known to locals merely as the North Fork. The headwaters of this magnificent river begin in the Bitterroot Mountains, along north central Idaho’s Montana border, and flow 135 miles and are captured behind Dworshak.

I am using the handrail, mainly because I don’t want to make an idiot of myself by tripping. Deb is used to this kind of thing and marches confidently before me. We keep going downward, and I make a mental note to myself to try to keep up on the return to daylight and outside air – I know it’s going to be like being on an inclined treadmill machine. She assures me that her knees are younger than mine – how does she know that? I wonder as I puff along.

As we get to the bottom, I look upward and all around me as I stand at a guardrail, over what appears to be water. I’m not quite sure. The water is so clear I think I’m looking at the ground floor of this immense cavern in which one could put an airplane or two.

This is it! I am officially in Gollum’s cave. Look there’s his boat – a little two Hobbit craft tied up at the dock. Though we have an electric light above us, the light gets lost in here – it fades off into the distance and gets swallowed by the walls which know it doesn’t belong. The light and we are intruders in the belly of some huge beast.

I strain my eyes to try to see into the far reaches of blackness. Deb points out the water below and says that with no current, it stays crystal clear. This is the place where engineers rerouted a whole river so that they could construct the dam; the water had to go somewhere. They keep the boat there so they can inspect the tunnel and follow it end-to-end for any maintenance that might be needed.

It’s time to leave, and Deb turns to go back up the passageway the way we came in; I take one last look knowing I will probably never return here again.

Over my shoulder, it turns black inside the cavern. “I didn’t do it” says my guide. The lights are obviously on some kind of timer or motion detector – who knows? But it’s black in that hole, that much I can say for sure. We have, of course, the lights along the walkway which show the pathway back to the entrance. Gollum’s sanctuary and secrets are safe once more from intruders into this quiet place that time has forgotten – the place where men sweated, set dynamite caps, removed acre feet of rock, risked their lives – all so that a dam could be built.

The building of Dworshak, would also build-up the little logging town of Orofino that hosted hundreds of workers with their families, taught their children in school each day, the town that expanded in every way to encompass the construction of this massive structure which was dedicated in 1973 to Henry Dworshak (1894-1962), an Idaho State Senator who was very helpful in finding funds for the project.

My tour includes standing atop the dam, looking out across the huge reservoir, looking down the face of the structure, and on down the canyon ravine where the river is the delight of fishermen who come to the “steelhead capital of the world.” Speaking of fisherman, Deb points toward the base of the dam and tells me ‘x’ number of people are fishing down there on “Fisherman’s Wall.” I don’t see any – not a one, until she points out what appear to me to be fence posts. The height of the dam, at 717’ high, is deceiving. It really doesn’t seem like that far down until one mistakes human beings fishing as fence posts, then one realizes that this is one BIG puppy of a dam.

As a child, my father was a dam keeper in Oregon, where I spent an enterprising summer selling grasshoppers as bait to the fishermen there. Each morning, at 4:30 a.m., my dad radioed the water measurements to the dam below us. He would be told the amount to lower or raise the dam gates – which he did by hand, cranking them manually. This ain’t that!

Dworshak can hold 3 ½ million acre feet of water at “full pool” when the reservoir is at its highest. Each acre foot is similar to a football field filled with one foot of water. And, if you aren’t impressed by that, there is enough concrete in this concrete gravity dam to build a sidewalk 5” thick and 36” wide around the world at its fattest part – the equator.

As my guide and I drive across the top of the dam to what’s known as the North Tower, the way ahead is blocked by workers’ vehicles. Apparently there is some kind of problem with a pipe that supplies water to Clearwater Fish Hatchery below which – gets the water – to grow the fish – that fill the waters – that bring the fishermen/women – to take home the fish – for smoking, or trophies – that hang on their walls – that come from the house that the Corps built. So, Deb stops her vehicle and proceeds to make a five point turn – it’s on top of a dam after all – it takes a little maneuvering.

Deb takes me inside the tower that houses an interesting exhibit. It is nearly a floor-to-ceiling glass-fronted display case (8’ x 15” diorama) with a mock-up miniature display of the dam site under construction. Someone had the smarts to construct this instructional replica which I wish everyone could view. In order to supply the concrete, an onsite quarry had to be built first. After rock was blasted free, it was loaded into dump trucks and hauled to a hole called the “Glory Hole” where it was put into a rock crusher.

The rock crusher was able to reduce four foot boulders into six inch fragments at the rate of 2,000 tons per hour. Without going into a lot of statistics, the crushed rock went into Dworshak’s own concrete plant. The first bucket of concrete was poured on June 22, 1968, and the last on January 26, 1973. The dam is the largest one ever constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains it today.

Come back next week, as Paul Harvey used to say for, “the rest of the story,” wherein we continue my tour, include the Visitors’ Center, and hit you with more fun facts about one of the most amazing structures in North America – Dworshak Dam.

A lichen covered boulder stands sentry duty at the entrance to Dworshak’s Diversion Tunnel which was built prior to the dam to divert the waters of the Northfork of the Clearwater River.

Just inside the entrance to the Diversion Tunnel, one meets with a biosphere of live ferns growing in the cave like interior.

The “Glory Hole,” as it was called, was constructed to drop broken rocks into the rock crusher below. The rock crusher was capable of reducing four foot boulders into six inch fragments at the rate of 2,000 tons per hour.

In a picture, dated June 22, 1968, dignitaries drop the first official bucket of concrete, beginning the construction of Dworshak Dam in north central Idaho. The dam was completed in January of 1973. It took four one-half years of pouring concrete continuously 24 hours a day, seven days a week, averaging 10,000 cubic yards per day to complete this massive project.

A look upward at Dworshak’s spillway. The dam’s height at 717’ is deceptive. People at the bottom look like tiny little twigs. The width of the dam across the base is 550’ and houses an elevator, and many hallways and tunnels.

This photograph shows the Diversion Tunnel under construction. Air lines went in to operate the jack hammers.