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SEWING SUCCESS Islander’s quilt accepted into prestigious contest. Page 12

COMMUNITY | New foundation supports care center. [4] COMMENTARY | Pot poses problems for teens. [6] NEWS | Heavy rains trigger [3] landslides.

THE MAKINGS OF A CHAMP McMurray wrestler takes first at state. Page 15



Vol. 59, No. 11


VARSA reassesses GRISLY SCENE AT CAMP IS A DRILL FOR YOUNG VOLUNTEERS efforts with youth, works to keep funding

Camp Sealth turned into a disaster scene last weekend, when five fire department Explorer and cadet groups from around the region gathered for team building and training exercises that sharpened their emergency medical skills. The Washington Association of Future Firefighters organized the event, which brought 30 high school boys and 12 high school girls together for a weekend of emergency drills that included lost families, a plane crash in a nearby meadow and a massive earthquake that trapped four people under a nearby cabin. Each scenario carried a high degree of realism, according to Lieutenant Rick Brown, one of the advisors of the Vashon Explorers group. The lost family exercise required the students to locate the families, treat their injuries and transport them. The plane crash included staged explosions and six actors as victims — many made to appear gravely wounded — all in the pouring rain and darkness of Saturday night. On Sunday morning, in the midst of class, a loud “earthquake” caused an interruption, complete with two people injured nearby and others with gruesome crush injuries under a cabin up the hill. The students were called upon to stabilize the structure, treat the wounded with materials at hand and get them to safety. Brown and his wife Deborah Brown, also an Explorer advisor, said the training went extremely well. “We saw skills in the Explorers we did not know were there,” Deborah said. Rick Brown, who has co-led the Explorers for 16 years, noted it is an excellent program for teens to determine if they have what it takes to become a fire fighter or emergency medical responder. The exercises can be hard, he added, but the teens always focus on helping those who need it. “I have yet to see someone who was not able to get through this,” he said. At left, Vashon Explorers Ellen Chappelka and Alexander Wright, with an off-island student, attend to a group leader from Bald Hills, who played a severely injured earthquake victim.


The group working to tackle Vashon’s high levels of teen substance abuse is coming out of an ongoing dispute with Vashon Youth & Family Services (VYFS), and volunteers say they are now working to refocus their efforts in order to maintain their funding. The Vashon Alliance to Reduce Substance Abuse (VARSA) announced last week that it will delay reapplying for the highly competitive federal grant that provides about half of its funding. Instead, the volunteers will take a year to focus on handling their other large grant, strengthen their efforts and get more volunteers and young people involved. Doing so, they believe, will help their chances of garnering the second five-year phase of the federal Drug Free Communities (DFC) grant. The grant, which VARSA was first awarded in 2009, has the potential to bring $1.25 million in funding over the decade for island efforts to address the environmental and cultural norms behind teen substance abuse. The first five-year phase of the grant will end in September. According to VARSA coalition member Robin Blair, only about 3 percent of coalitions around SEE VARSA, 21

Photo and story by Susan Riemer

Businessman reflects on decades in septic work Vashon’s only septic pumping service has changed hands By NATALIE MARTIN Staff Writer

His business has taken him to thousands of homes on the island and dubbed him Vashon’s number one exporter. It has been difficult, smelly and sometimes messy, but Larry Niece still calls pumping septic systems his “true calling.” “I loved being in business for myself,” said Niece, 75, in a recent interview. “And I was doing something people needed to

have done.” Niece recently retired after 40 years in the septic business. And earlier this year he sold Niece Pumping, a septic pumping service he built from the ground up and the only business on Vashon that currently offers such service. “I’m comfortable with it,” Niece said of handing over his longtime business. “I’m less comfortable with leaving the island. … It’s been a great place to live.” Niece, a bespectacled man with a full head of silvery gray hair and a short gray beard, moved from Chicago to Vashon in 1977 with his family, leaving behind a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry. With a master’s degree in business and a

PhD in chemistry, Niece set to work designing septic systems for island homes, running the new business with his wife. Niece Design Group, as the small company was called, did well on Vashon, a place where many more homes had septic systems than were connected to the sewer system. After a few years the company began installing and repairing island septic systems as well. By the 1990s, however, new construction had slowed. At the same time, the demand for pumping existing septic systems was high. Niece, who is now divorced, invested in some new equipment and shifted his focus to pumping. SEE SEPTIC, 14

Larry Niece

Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber, March 12, 2014  

March 12, 2014 edition of the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber

Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber, March 12, 2014  

March 12, 2014 edition of the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber