Organic Matter: Attack of the killer tumbleweeds

Residents of a small community near Kennewick, Wash.

are battling a tumbleweed invasion.

Horse Heaven Hills, a suburb of Kennewick, last week was "attacked" by tumbleweeds, some as big as Buicks, one homeowner told the Associated Press.

Kim Taverniti-Martyn, who recently moved from Spokane, was dumbfounded by what she saw.

"You should have seen them coming over the hills," she said.

"It was like the attack of the killer tumbleweeds."

Driving through a desert environment around Kingman, you almost certainly see tumbleweeds being blown across the road from time to time.

But I gather the size of what we see pales in comparison to the tumbleweeds around Horse Heaven Hills.

The Russian thistle variety in Washington reportedly has blocked driveways and doorways and piled up against fences.

Jim Aust, a 26-year resident of the area, said the tumbleweeds are prickly and easily break off in one's hands.

"You almost have to wear welding gloves to keep them from penetrating," Aust said.

There is a secondary concern of radioactive tumbleweeds.

The tumbleweed problem of the region has been troublesome for decades at the Hanford nuclear reservation.

Work crews, armed with pitchforks, routinely gather up tumbleweeds by the truckload.

But whenever monitors indicate radioactivity, specially trained and suited workers are called out to dispose of them.

Russian thistle is a non-native species to the Columbia River Basin.

Its taproot can reach down 20 feet into underground burial sites for radioactive waste and pull in undesirable elements such as strontium and cesium, the AP story stated.

Less than 1 percent of the tumbleweeds at Hanford, one of the nation's more contaminated nuclear sites, are radioactive.

But still, I would not want to be the one person in 100 to mistakenly handle one.

* * *

Law enforcement in Finland takes a different approach to speeders.

Instead of fining an offender so much per mile per hour over the speed limit, fines in Finland are levied on the basis of one's income with no limit to how high the monetary penalty can be.

Anssa Vanjoki, an executive with Nokia, received a ticket for doing 46 mph on a motorcycle in a 31 zone.

The AP story stated the limit was 31 mph, not 30, so Vanjoki allegedly was 15 mph over the limit when stopped last October near Helsinki.

Vanjoki reportedly had net income of $5.2 million in 1999, the year for which the fine is based.

The ticket could cost him $103,000.

He is appealing the fine based on his 2000 income.

His gross income that year dropped from more than $12.4 million to roughly $970,000, tax authorities said.

I don't know if the fine would be proportionate, but do the math.

Vanjoki's net income for 2000 was roughly 18.6 percent of what it was in 1999.

In theory, that should make the fine, if adjusted, about $19,158.

It nevertheless is a hefty hit in the wallet.

But in Vanjoki's place, I would rather tell friends I only had to cough up $19,000 instead of $103,000.

The case goes to court next month.

If the original amount stands, it will be the most expensive speeding ticket in Finland's history.

* * *

New baggage screening procedures went into effect Friday at the nation's airports and operations were close to normal, despite fears the extra security measure would lead to longer lines and more delays.

"I don't mind this at all," said Jill Hannagan, a music teacher from Wilmington, Del.

as she prepared to board a flight for Phoenix.

"I'd much rather they be thorough, even if it takes a little longer."

The new law requires airlines to check bags for explosives.

That may be done by machine, hand search of bomb-sniffing dog, or by matching every piece of checked luggage to a passenger boarding a flight.

Some airports are going the extra mile to deal with expected criticism from flyers by providing free food and soft drinks dispensed from carts to people stuck in long lines.

Terry Organ is the Miner's education, health and weather reporter.