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Top Stories of 2001

Events this year forever changed life in America and Federal Way. Though disaster struck in on Sept. 11 and in the form of an earthquake in February, communities like Federal Way rallied together.

Other changes in the city still are in the works. Two of the biggest are the city’s drive to create a downtown, which could result in a downtown City Hall, and the city’s struggle with the megachurch issue, which could bring the 4,500-seat Christian Faith Center to Federal Way.

Any way you stack it, news organizations had plenty to report this year. Here are the Federal Way Mirror’s top five stories of 2001.

Terror attacks

Topping virtually everyone’s list are the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Federal Way firefighters were in the thick of rescue efforts following the tragedy.

Lt. Gordie Olson, Tony Sirgedas and Pat Soper were sent to New York following the attacks.

Capt. Tom Thorson, Lt. Steve Hopf, Lt. Dave Michaels, and firefighters Sven Schievink and Roy Smith helped at the local level by working at McChord Air Force Base. They are all members of the Puget Sound Urban Search and Rescue Team.

The firefighters sent to New York said the experience was beyond compare.

In an e-mail home, Soper wrote:

“The enormity is beyond comprehension — probably 50 to 100 times larger than Oklahoma City. Forty-nine fire apparatus were crushed as well as the majority of the rescue team.

“...Last night we found the motherload of voids and we made it down six stories to the subway. How eerie, with no sounds and only twisted steel.

“‘The Pile’ is full of the rubble representing teeny pieces of people’s lives. Only the twisted metal of enormous sizes remain somewhat intact, and it’s piled and twisted like Pixie Stix. The once concrete (structure) is now flour and tint rocks.

“‘The Pile’ is still burning in many deep places. The smells I will never forget. The search dogs are smelling everything in ‘The Pile.’

I hope this never happens to anybody again in this nation. It is taking its toll on everybody...”

People in Federal Way are still sending money, donations and letters of support to New York. Most recently, New York firefighters received the benefit of Federal Way’s “Hearts For New York” project. About 2,000 children from 10 schools in the Federal Way school district participated, including Silver Lake, Star Lake, Twin Lakes, Valhalla, Woodmont, Meredith Hill, Mirror Lake and Nautilus Elementary schools, Kilo Junior High School and Brigadoon Preschool. They made a 1000-foot-long chain of hearts for the rescue workers in New York.

Federal Way residents also continue to fly flags, donate money to the Red Cross, and pray. Hundreds of Federal Way residents also donated blood.

In addition, schoolchildren in the city have conducted numerous fund-raising efforts, teddy bear drives, toy drives and letter-writing campaigns.

At Olympic View Elementary, where students conducted a letter-writing campaign, one student wrote:

“I’m sorry that a plane crashed in your state. It was scary to me and I live on the other side of the country. It was like I saw a movie, an action movie. Everyone was running away from the building and the dust cloud. The people that hijacked the plane were stupid. We shouldn’t be like them.”

Though the response to the attacks was positive in many ways, the attacks also seriously disrupted life in Federal Way and other communities.

On the day of the attack, SeaTac Mall closed its doors, as did several other local businesses. Things went downhill from there for many businesses, with the economy and airline industry taking nosedives.

Also, airports, military bases and public buildings throughout Washington state boosted security following the terrorist incidents.

“Travelers are definitely not going any place,” Janice Feroy, a sales consultant with Federal Way’s Select Travel American Express immediately after the attacks.

“...As far as travel in the future, it’s going to affect the world. Security measures will be beefed up. It’s a sign of the times. We’re waiting to see what unfolds along with the rest of the world,” Feroy said.

Megachurch proposed

One of the biggest dramas to unfold in Federal Way this year surrounded the megachurch issue. The issue has yet to be resolved.

The city’s most recent hearing on the issue, held in November, drew a standing-room only crowd that expressed heated objection to Christian Faith Center’s proposal to build a 4,500-seat megachurch in Federal Way. More than 130 people descended on City Hall to hear the city Land-Use/Transportation Committee consider whether or not to keep the megachurch proposal afloat, as the city Planning Commission had previously recommended in an unanimous vote. The church is seeking a zoning exception so it can build east of the intersection of South 336th Street and Pacific Highway.

After more than an hour of presentation, public comment and deliberation, the committee voted to direct city staff to draft a development agreement with Christian Faith Center. The agreement would allow the project to proceed, provided that traffic and other concerns are addressed.

If developed, the 51-acre church property would include a parking lot with nearly 2,000 stalls, a school and sports fields, but would also have environmental buffers to protect nearby wetlands. The church would be second in size in the Puget Sound region only to Overlake Christian Church in Redmond. Completion was originally slated for last summer, but progress was delayed in the face of heated criticism from neighbors and a traffic study.

That move in November followed two years of effort by Christian Faith Center and city employees to address the issue. Two years ago, the City Council considered a broad zoning code change that would have allowed the church to be erected at the site while leaving the property zoned for a light industrial use. After that effort failed, the church asked the city to change the zoning for the property it owns to multifamily zoning where churches are allowed.

People who live near the church remain adamantly opposed to it.

“What part of ‘No’ do they not understand?” said Shirley Gulbraa in November. She lives across the street from the site.

“Our neighborhood is still concerned about the traffic,” she said.

Church officials maintain the center would benefit the community. “Our community lives here and we want to build a church here,” said Morgan Llewellyn, Christian Faith Center spokesman. “This is a development the city would be proud of. We want to be the first environmentally friendly development in the city.”

EARTHQUAKE STRIKES

Federal Way escaped the Feb. 28 6.8-magnitude earthquake relatively unscathed, though local residents were shaken and many gained stories to tell their grandchildren during the experience.

In the first seconds of the Wednesday morning 6.8 magnitude earthquake, many people sought other explanations for the rumble they heard and the shaking they felt.

Those driving vehicles worried something was wrong with their cars or peered into their rearview mirrors to search for the semi-truck that must be fast approaching. People inside buildings thought the culprit was loud music, an airplane, children or a passing vehicle before recognizing they were in the middle of an earthquake.

Reaction here varied from fear to excitement to worry. Here are a couple of residents’ stories.

The 10:54 a.m. quake caught many workers in offices, including employees at the St. Francis Medical Clinic. While stunned patients looked about or ran outside, and workers at the appointment station dove below their desks, clinic employee Rose Lahue was rooted in the middle of the clinic’s foyer.

“I just stood there and everything was shaking and I felt like I was floating,” Lahue said. “This one felt like it was going to last forever until the building collapsed on me.”

Fortunately, the building held up and everyone was OK, said co-worker Jenny White, whose heart rate jumped as she huddled under her desk.

When 11-year-old Cole Bixenman of Federal Way, heard the grinding metal and saw sheets of dust and chunks of plaster falling inside from the capital building in Olympia, he knew an earthquake had struck.

“Once it just kept going and I heard everyone screaming I knew what it was,” he said. “All of Olympia, everyone was outside.”

Cole, who was on a field trip to the capital with his fifth- and sixth-grade class from Lakeland Elementary School, said he and most of his class kept calm during the 40-second ordeal.

Lakeland teacher Brenda Ely was halfway into the building tour and took her class up to the House of Representatives’ visitors’ gallery located above the chambers when the quake hit. Just minutes before the quake, a tour guide had talked about how a 1949 earthquake left the large chandelier in the rotunda rocking for two weeks.

“It started to rumble and roar all around us,” she said. “The kids thought I’d prepared some kind of simulation for them but I started telling them, ‘Get on the floor and cover your heads.’ ”

Lakeland fifth-grader Hillary Dirks said she and her fellow classmates hit the floor trying to get cover under wooden benches in the chambers but the space was so limited, no one fit.

“When I looked up at the chandelier and I saw it rattling and the plaster falling from the ceiling I didn’t know if I should run to the doorway or crawl under a bench,” she said. “Then people started scrambling for the benches, it was a tight squeeze.”

Sen. Tracey Eide also was in Olympia, close to the earthquake’s epicenter, when the quake hit. Sitting in a caucus on the third floor of the Capitol building, she heard a big boom and thought someone had bombed the building. The floor rose and fell as the entire Capitol building moved. Someone yelled, “Under the table.”

“I looked up and I saw marble and I looked down and saw this table,” she said. “It’s a beautiful table. It looks heavy. But you know what? It looks like I’m going to be hiding under a toothpick compared to all the marble above my head.”

As she crouched under the table, Eide prayed, terrified she would be killed by falling marble. As soon as the shaking stopped, security guards led the senators from the building. They ordered the women to remove their heels, afraid they would slip on sand-like marble granules that littered the floors. The damaged building remained closed for months following the quake.

There was damage in Federal Way as well.

Decatur High School sustained the most damage with a twisted truss in the gymnasium roof and a gas leak in one of the corridors.

Other quake-related incidents reported included:

• A sinkhole caused leaks in gas and water lines on 38th Avenue South, east of Interstate 5 between 304th and 308th streets, and closed roads there. In fact, the most widespread problem in Federal Way after the quake was the odor and leak of natural gas in several locations.

• Fire Station 61, 3203 S. 360th St., sustained cracks in the hose tower.

• Three people were trapped in elevators, one at Weyerhaeuser’s Corporate Headquarters and the others at a separate business location.

• Three people were treated at St. Francis Hospital, which was operating on emergency power following the quake. They all had minor injuries.

• Sea-Tac International Airport shut down until crews there built a temporary aircraft control tower. Six of eight structural supports on the main tower were damaged, and all but one of its windows were shattered.

City spokesman Derek Matheson added that police resources were stretched thin for three to four hours after the quake because officers had to manually direct traffic at major Federal Way intersections south of 320th Street where power was out. Power outages were most severe in the south-southwest part of the city.

Matheson said the Greater Federal Way Community Emergency Management Team performed well following the quake. The city’s public works director, Cary Roe, commands the team, which pools the resources of the city of Federal Way, its police department, the Federal Way Fire Department, the school district, Lakehaven Utility District and the Federal Way Amateur Radio Club.

GREEN RIVER charges filed

Law enforcement officials say they’ve potentially found the answer to of the state’s most grisly unsolved mysteries this year.

Gary Leon Ridgway, 52, was arrested in December and charged with four counts of aggravated murder in the Green River serial killings case of the 1980s.

It is perhaps the most notorious serial murder case in U.S. history, and Federal Way has a close connection to it.

Six women’s remains were found along Star Lake Road from 1983 to 1985 and the remains of Debra L. Estes — 15-years-old when she disappeared in 1982 — were found in 1988 near the intersection of South 348th Street and First Avenue Southwest as apartments were being erected in the area. Between 1983 and 1986, the remains of three more suspected victims were found near Mountain View Cemetery, about 20 blocks northeast of Ridgway’s present home.

Federal Way Deputy Police Chief Brian Wilson, a 21-year veteran of south King County policing, called Ridgway’s arrest “hugely” significance for local law enforcement.

As the year ended, King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng said he had not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty for Ridgway, a truck painter who lives in Auburn West Hill.

The case has baffled investigators since 1982, when women’s bodies were found in or near the Green River in Kent. In all, 49 women — most prostitutes or runaways missing in the SeaTac area — were believed to be victims of the serial killer.

Ridgway was charged in the deaths of Opal Mills, Marcia Chapman and Cynthia Hinds, whose bodies were found in the river on Aug. 15, 1982, and Carol Christensen, found May 8, 1983, in woods in nearby Maple Valley.

In September, investigators were finally able to link Ridgway to the crimes through DNA evidence. Ridgway had complied with a 1987 court order to chew on a piece of gauze, and investigators used new DNA technology to match his saliva to semen found on three of the victims.

The fourth victim, Hinds, was linked to Ridgway through circumstantial evidence, investigators said. She was found near Chapman in the river.

After the charges were filed, two friends of Mills and Hinds hugged Sheriff Dave Reichert, who was among the first investigators on the case in 1982.

“He’s been living through this with us,” said Tara Kinzy, 31, of Federal Way. “He’s gone to bed with this every night.”

Authorities won’t say whether they think the Green River killer is responsible for any deaths beyond 1984, but the arrest has prompted investigators in San Diego and Vancouver, British Columbia, to review files on scores of slain women for possible links.

DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT

The City Council began to actively pursue its vision of a changed downtown this year.

City officials rolled out a metaphorical red carpet in October, inviting regional business VIPs to take a long look at Federal Way — and to be part of its future.

More importantly, the guests offered feedback on adjustments the city could make to spur development of high-end office space, high-rise condominium buildings and other new features city leaders want in the designated downtown core.

Though Federal Way officials called the workshop a great success, it was apparent during the four-hour forum that not all attendees were convinced Federal Way was a capitalist’s land of milk and honey.

Following that, the city hired a consultant to help change Federal Way’s image, sparking conversations about changing the city’s name and other issues.

The name change idea was only one part of the city’s ongoing “branding” process, for which the city is working with Seattle design firm The Leonhardt Group. The city may pay as much as $90,000 to revamp its image with $40,000 from the 2002 budget proposal and $50,000 in targeted funds from lodging tax revenue.

However, it sparked the ire, and the enthusiasm, of many Federal Way residents.

“It should have been changed back in the 50s or 60s when it would not be such a hassle as it will be now,” wrote one resident in an e-mail to the Mirror.

But another resident disagreed in her e-mail.

“For 10 years periodically we have heard our name should be changed. As far as I’m concerned why did these people move here if the name was so undesirable,” she wrote. “There are a number of cities in Washington that have unusual names but people are proud of the history ... of their city.”

Council members also studied the idea of moving City Hall downtown, though nothing’s been officially decided yet.

Councilors on Dec. 18 began publicly discussing a recommendation to build a new City Hall downtown by a real estate firm that the city hired. The firm told the City Council that a downtown City Hall could provide easy access to city services and to boost development — despite it being the city’s most costly option.

Mike Hassenger of the Seneca Group presented the firm’s recommendations for a new hall at the council study session. His cheapest estimate was $15 million for a City Hall outside the downtown core. A downtown City Hall could have a price tag of more than $25 million, he said.

Not every councilor bought into the recommendation. Some members were concerned about the lack of public input in determining the criteria the group used in drafting its recommendation and the total cost of the proposal.

“The only reason to build in the downtown core would be if we considered the extremely weighted value of being located in the downtown core,” Councilman Mike Hellickson said. “The weights they put on those things made it so the study would come out looking like what they wanted it to look like.”

Hellickson said locating the new City Hall in the downtown core wouldn’t be worth the expense.

“It’d be nice if we could afford it. It’d be great,” he said. “We can’t afford it. I don’t think it’s going to bring the development they think it’s going to bring.”

However, Councilman Eric Faison said the return to the city in development that a downtown City Hall might spark could pay off.

“We should aggressively pursue a downtown location, if we can get it at a reasonable price,” he said.

That price might be higher than building outside the city core, but it would benefit the city if it attracted businesses to put their offices there. The point, he said, is to make businesses understand downtown Federal Way isn’t just mall space.

“The biggest challenge we face is changing the perception from retail to business-retail mixed,” he said. “The city is probably the only entity that can start that process. If we don’t change the perception of what our downtown is, there won’t be development. What have we lost?”

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