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Saturday, December 31, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Catching up with newsmakers

Where are they now? | Remember the 7-year-old boy who climbed Mount Rainier last summer? The controversial "white elephant" ship that blocked Kirkland's marina for years? And what ever happened to that push to create a new, breakaway county in rural King County? Here's an update on some of the people, places and issues we wrote about over the past year.

Kirkland's "white elephant" destined for new adventures

Dan Stabbert first saw the 300-foot-long former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship more than eight years ago, and he fell in love with it.

The ship was built strong, with "good bones" and was perfect for exploring the world's oceans, Stabbert thought.

But for the short term, he knew it was better suited for his brother, Don Stabbert. From 1997 to 2005, the ship, named The Protector, was used as a breakwater to keep waves from smashing into smaller boats moored at the Kirkland Yacht Club Marina. Don and his son Brooke Stabbert run West Water Real Estate Services, which owns the Kirkland marina. But Dan Stabbert always hoped to one day buy the ship back. Earlier this year, he did.

Now named The Sahara, the ship is being turned into a luxury expeditionary yacht intended to one day transport the wealthy and adventurous around the world.

Quite a change for the "white elephant," as the ship was called while it sat off Kirkland's shores. Over time, some people grew to appreciate The Protector as a familiar landmark, saying it helped guide boaters as they sailed across Lake Washington. Others never stopped complaining that it was an ugly heap that marred Kirkland's waterfront view.

In early August, a tugboat pulled the ship away from the marina to make room for a permanent breakwater and a new, 101-slip marina, which should be completed in the spring. It was docked at Barnacle Point Shipyard in Ballard, where an extensive two-year, $45 million renovation is under way.

As an expeditionary yacht, The Sahara will comfortably house 30 guests and a crew of 30 while they explore the ocean depths in two- to three-person submarines or dive down to reef systems around the world. When the work is finished, The Sahara will have a helicopter pad, 500-square-foot suites and glass atriums where those on board can enjoy the view without being disturbed by the elements. "She'll be built for the more adventurous," said Dan Stabbert, who operates Stabbert Maritime Yacht & Ship.

"It's the ultimate hobby, a step above owning a private jet."

Rachel Tuinstra

Woman who inspired new law continues recovery

Maria Federici recently was fitted with eye prostheses and continues to regain her health and mobility after suffering severe injuries when a wooden plank fell off a truck and crashed through her windshield on Interstate 405 last year.

Thanks to lobbying by her mother, Robin Abel, Maria's Bill became law this year. It increases the penalties for failure to secure a vehicle load on a public highway.

Federici has relearned how to walk and is usually accompanied by Sam, her therapy dog. Her right eye was destroyed in the accident; her left severely damaged.

"They're like putting in big, thick contact lenses," Federici said of the new prostheses. "It is pretty darn easy to put them in every morning."

She hopes to become a volunteer at Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center.

Meanwhile, Abel continues to give speeches and talk to officials about the dangers of unsecured loads. She hopes to get a national law passed requiring people hauling loads to have them secured.

Sherry Grindeland

Katrina dog, owner staying in Northwest

Janice Hebbler and Heather Roux recently enjoyed their first Northwest snowfall together. Hebbler treasures such moments with her 13-year-old border collie mix since the two Hurricane Katrina survivors were reunited in October at a Redmond veterinarian's office. Both were rescued from New Orleans, but at different times. Hebbler fell and broke her hip after the hurricane hit and was rescued as floodwaters seeped into her rental home. She had to leave Heather Roux behind. Following hip-replacement surgery and rehabilitation, Hebbler moved to Marysville. Meanwhile, local volunteers from Pasado's Safe Haven rescued the dog during a house-to-house search for pets in New Orleans. Another volunteer drove the dog to Washington. "When we got home, Heather Roux laid down and hardly stirred until the next week," Hebbler said. "She still has bouts with a skin condition and arthritis problems, but she's plugging along." Although the cooler, damp weather had been challenging, the snow cinched things for Hebbler. It was so beautiful, she wants to stay in the Northwest. She just acquired a car and is looking for a job as a pharmacy technician. — Sherry Grindeland

Rescued beagles need home for 2

Beagle brothers Salt and Pepper remain in foster care in Bellevue awaiting a permanent home, three months after their owner, William Ross Taylor of Kirkland, drowned in Lake Washington trying to save one of them while boating. Judy Kaethler with Seattle Beagle Rescue said the group wants to keep the pair together. They're nice dogs, she said, but it has been hard finding someone willing and able to adopt both. "A young beagle is hard for anybody to keep up with on their own, but when there's two of them we're needing an extra-special family that has the time and energy that can keep up with them," Kaethler said. Salt and Pepper are 2 years old and have had obedience training. Go to www.beaglerescue.org for more information. — Karen Gaudette

Cascade County proponents plan petition drive

A group of mostly rural residents that started a movement last spring to create a new county out of the eastern section of King County says it will start a statewide lobbying effort next month.

The group, which said it had lost faith in county government, has been operating under the radar with few public meetings since announcing its plan. "We're alive and well and still kicking," said John Hearing, a Maple Valley resident and the group's chair.

The Cascade County Committee plans to gather 250,000 signatures for an initiative that would overrule a state Supreme Court decision and force the Legislature to create new counties if it received enough signatures from the affected area.

If the initiative passes, the group would still have to gather as many as 300,000 separate signatures from the prospective new county. Hearing said the group has about 700 people on its mailing list and hopes to join forces with statewide political groups and not use paid signature gatherers.

Ashley Bach

BAM thriving after reopening The Bellevue Arts Museum is attracting thousands of visitors to a new slate of craft exhibits, just six months after reopening.

About 45,000 people have visited the museum since the reopening in June, the same amount of visitors the museum had in the entire last year before it closed, said museum spokeswoman Barbara Jirsa. Fundraising also is within expectations, she said.

The museum closed in 2003 because of financial problems and a lack of public interest. Officials hired Executive Director Michael Monroe and shifted the focus to craft and design.

"It all paid off," said Jirsa. "We've had absolutely nothing but great success here."

An exhibit from bead artist David Chatt has been extended to Feb. 19 and has received national notices, Jirsa said. The museum also is showing an exhibit that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Northwest Designer Craftsmen artist group.

Ashley Bach

New Medina Grocery taking shape

Five years after the historic old Medina Grocery closed, a new incarnation is taking shape on the same spot since construction began in October.

The wood-and-steel frame of the new grocery, set to open this spring, is complete and looks similar to the old grocery, which was built in the early 1900s and torn down in August.

Some neighbors opposed the rebuilding plans of the grocery's owner, Hae Lee, for several years. But construction hasn't brought "a single phone call," said Floyd Hewitt, the general contractor. Five or six workers are on the site five days a week.

The new grocery will include a deli and coffee counter and be 7,500 square feet, compared with the old store's 4,800, but the added space will be underground and not visible from the outside.

Ashley Bach

Quadrant offers to buy back homes

Seven families in Snoqualmie Ridge who sued Quadrant Homes over what they say is unhealthy air in their homes can sell the homes back to Quadrant at market value, according to their attorney.

Quadrant's recent offer to buy back the homes will be accepted by some of the families, said the families' attorney, Lory Lybeck. According to the lawsuits, Quadrant, a subsidiary of Weyerhaeuser, negligently built the homes with fiberglass insulation installed in the heating ducts, a code violation that spread glass fibers and caused several health problems.

Since The Times reported the story in August, the families have expanded their lawsuits and say their homes also had poor ventilation that spread furnace fumes, bad wiring, leaky roofs, crawl spaces containing mold, rodents in the walls, poorly built porch columns and problems with siding.

Four other families have filed similar legal notices, said Lybeck.

Quadrant officials declined to comment on the lawsuits or any offers made to the families. But in legal briefs filed in King County Superior Court, the company denies all but one of the families' claims. It admits that seven homes were built with fiberglass installed in the return-air spaces leading to the furnaces. Some of the families' lawsuits are scheduled to be heard in May.

Ashley Bach

Soaring Society looking for windy site

The Seattle Soaring Society knows exactly what it wants: A large, flat open space on the Eastside with unique winds that move north to south and lift their model gliders high into the air.

But the society, whose 120 members include many from the Redmond-Woodinville area, does not expect to find a new home.

In October, a land deal was announced that would likely displace the group from its longtime site at Sixty Acres Park South in north Redmond. King County, which owns Sixty Acres, has already worked with the society to check out potential sites in the Snoqualmie Valley, to no avail.

"There's nothing remotely close to Sixty Acres South," said Jim Laurel, the society's vice president.

The land deal, which would give Sixty Acres South to the Lake Washington Youth Soccer Association, must still be approved by the King County Council, and building permits for soccer fields must be approved by the city of Redmond.

The society isn't ready to accept the deal. "This is going to be an angry fight to the end," Laurel said.

Ashley Bach

8-year-old climbs Alps, Himalayas

The Swiss mountain guides kept shaking their heads in refusal when Warren Gold asked them to lead him and his 8-year-old son, Aidan, through the Alps.

Gold produced a Seattle Times story from July about how Aidan, then 7, became one of the youngest people to summit Mount Rainier. The Bothell boy climbed Washington's tallest mountain the same day that an 82-year-old man from Richland became the oldest climber to reach the top of the 14,411-foot peak.

Shortly after Aidan's Rainier ascent, the Gold family, including younger brother, Janick, and mother, Julia, departed for a four-month sabbatical in the Swiss Alps and Himalayan Mountains. Warren Gold, an associate professor of ecology and environmental science at the University of Washington, spent the time studying ecosystems at high elevations while the family kept busy hiking and climbing. Aidan climbed to the 13,400-foot summit of Monch in the Alps, then made an ascent to the top of 20,300-foot Island Peak near Everest.

Aidan proved popular among the Himalayan Sherpas, who had never led such a young child to the top of such challenging peaks, Gold said. "I can still keep up with him this year," Warren Gold said. "I don't know about next year."

Rachel Tuinstra

Northshore Wellness Center making a difference

Marianne Jones turned 103 this week, but in recent months she has grown strong enough to cast off her wheelchair and start using a walker again.

Her improved condition has been helped in part by exercising with recreation therapists at the Northshore Health & Wellness Center, which opened in late summer. She is among about 40 people who attend the Adult Day Center operated by the new center, which serves seniors and adults with disabilities.

The day center offers one-one-one exercise programs, a computer center and group classes, providing a place for participants to socialize and keep active. The wellness center is part of the Northshore Senior Center, which serves about 8,000 seniors each year. It includes a fitness room with equipment that can be modified for wheelchairs and various disabilities and a life skills kitchen to help people who have had strokes regain independence.

"I haven't seen the degree of services we have here at any other senior center," said Marty Dennis, director of the senior center. "It's pretty impressive."

A sky bridge linking the nearby senior center with the wellness center is expected to be completed in the spring, said Dennis.

Rachel Tuinstra

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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