Today we greet a new year and a new decade with mixed emotions shaped by the ill winds that blew through the past 10 years and the hope of better days to come.
So much of the dreary news of the past decade lingers into the new year like a bad hangover. It’s hard to make a fresh start with so much unfinished business still in play.
Are we truly emerging from the Great Recession, which wreaked havoc in the past two years on our once strong South Sound economy and blew huge holes in the state budget? A healthy state government is critical to the economic well-being of South Sound. State employees are our parents and neighbors, our brothers and sisters. When there jobs are lost, the community loses, too.
Will the high unemployment rates, sluggish housing market and skittish consumer spending override the indicators of economic stimulus and recovery, including the redevelopment of East Bay, a new Olympia City Hall and Union Avenue mega-buildings?
Only time will tell for sure.
And what about the former icon of South Sound industry — the Olympia Brewery? Has it really been more than six years since the once-mighty bastion of high-paying, blue collar jobs closed its doors for good? The broken promises of brewery redevelopment are taking their toll on the property as the weeds in the warehouse parking lot give way to small clumps of alder, signs that Mother Nature and the Deschutes River floodplain will have the final say if a new use for the property doesn’t sprout soon.
A few hundred yards downstream of the brewery, another dramatic story from the past decade unfolds into the new year.
Will man-made Capitol Lake remain a lake or will it be returned to a river estuary? The science and finances suggest the estuary is a better option, but the community attachment to the lake as an extension of the Capitol Campus and distinctive feature of the downtown Olympia landscape cannot be ignored. The community remains sharply divided on the best course of action and the state Legislature, which holds many of the purse strings for lake maintenance or estuary restoration, has yet to weigh in with an action plan.
Above the roiled waters where the river meets Budd Inlet stands the handsome Fourth Avenue Bridge, born of the Nisqually Earthquake of 2001.
The old bridge cracked and teetered in the quake, providing impetus for the new span linking downtown to west Olympia. Earthquakes of this magnitude are nothing new in South Sound — think 1872 and 1949 and 1965. But when they happen, the fear and destruction they cause rise above the more commonplace floods and windstorms that complete the natural disaster portfolio of every passing decade.
Violence against law enforcement officers dominated the news near the end of 2009. Six police officers — five in Pierce County and one in Seattle — were gunned down in cold-blooded assassinations and fits of rage. The total number of officers shot and killed nationwide surged to 48 in 2009, a 23 percent increase over the previous year. Sadly, the spike in numbers hit far too close to home.
There is so much to hope for in the new year, and the new decade.
Will the two wars spawned from the 9/11 terrorist attacks finally come to an end, allowing the thousands of troops deployed from Fort Lewis and other military bases across the nation to return home from Iraq and Afghanistan? New policies are in place to bring closure to those conflicts. They must succeed.
Here in South Sound, those of us still fortunate to have our jobs and our health must continue to care for the needy. This has always been a decent, caring community, a trait that has served us well during these difficult economic times.
Let the new year and the new decade mark the beginning of a resounding economic recovery and a renewed commitment to peace at home and abroad.
Let’s find a way together to have a happy new year.