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2011 in review part 2

January 4, 2012

JULY

The paper chain fell away and the Hood River County Library reopened July 2, after being closed for a year. New director Buzzy Nielsen joined former director June Knudson in cutting the chain as a crowd of about 200 watched.

In November 2010 voters approved the second of two proposals to form an independent library tax district, following the county's decision in 2009 to do away with the library portion of the county general fund, which effectively shut the Hood River, Cascade Locks and Parkdale branches in June 2010.

The Hood River community, and the Hood River News, lost a leader July 23 with the death of former editor and publisher Dick Nafsinger, at age 77. He started with the Hood River News in 1962.

In the first of two major developments in 2011 for the Heights, City Council approved the Heights Urban Renewal District, a multi-jurisdiction tax sharing plan that will fund improvements such as street upgrades, lighting, sidewalks and more. (Urban Renewal Districts also exist in the downtown core and on the Hood River waterfront.)

In December, the Heights Business Association agreed to a merger with the Hood River Chamber of Commerce. The HBA, formed 10 years ago, will operate as a committee within the chamber. The decision to become a component of the chamber had been under evaluation since mid-year. (Downtown Business Council took a similar action in 2010.)

Tenacity Games, a fundraiser for cancer research (formerly Kiteboarding 4 Cancer) raised $60,000 in a hugely successful and expanded sporting event held at Hood River waterfront and other area recreation sites.

Sgt. Neal Holste became police chief. City Council confirmed his appointment following the dismissal of former chief Bruce Ludwig in May.

In Cascade Locks, a series of unfortunate events began to develop: Former fire chief Jeff Pricher resigned under pressure after members of council and Mayor George Fischer accused him of mismanaging the department and its finances. Within weeks, firefighter Jess Zerfing would be appointed chief, all but three of the 14 volunteers would resign and the fire hall and ambulance would be literally locked up. Neighboring fire districts suspended mutual aid agreements for more than a month, into September.

In late July, the city hired Paul Koch as interim city administrator - its second in 2011. Interim administrator Rich Carson left abruptly in July the day his four-month contract ended. He had succeeded Bernard Seeger, who resigned in January after five years on the job, under pressure from city council.

The September recall of four council members and Fischer succeeded, leading to the hiring of Hood River Fire Chief Devon Wells as a consultant. Wells worked with Zerfing and Koch on a department reorganization plan (pending), and by December the volunteer base was up to 12 and services were mostly restored.

One of the stranger "traffic" incidents happened June 30 as an unknown vehicle accidentally spread a large amount of cooking oil on Cascade Avenue, causing pedestrians to slip and several cars to nearly collide with curbside trees. Apparently, the greasy truck was headed out of town and was never located.

The union representing Hood River County workers voted to authorize a strike, after contract talks broke down in June. However, by October the county and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1982 ratified a new contract.

Headliner JoDee Messina packed 'em in at the 2011 Hood River County Fair; the annual horse show held a moment of silence for Frank Herman, the arena's namesake, who died the week before the fair.

Voters in Odell and Pine Grove voted to merge the two fire departments into one taxing district. The move consolidates personnel and equipment into one district, though both the Pine Grove and Odell stations will continue to operate and the district will maintain the two departments.

On Nov. 1, the district board announced the agency's new name: Wy'east Fire District.

AUGUST

At the Hood River waterfront, the promise of a revised landscape and new vitality took the form of groundbreaking of a $10 million, 33,000-square-foot building to house longtime Hood River businesses HoodTech and Turtle Island Foods.

Two local agencies celebrated their 40th anniversaries in August 2011. Next Door Inc., greatly expanded since its founding in 1971, moved into its new facility on the Heights in March. The multi-faceted social service agency, the county's largest, had operated from rented space downtown and on the Heights.

Oregon Child Development Commission, which operates Migrant Head Start in Parkdale, held a 40th anniversary celebration event.

Council recall petitions were filed in August against Cascade Locks' Tiffany Pruit, Kevin Benson and Don Haight and Mayor George Fischer. Later in the month, a petition would be filed against councilor Lance Masters.

Fischer and Benson would be accused in August of irregularities in unpermitted improvements to Benson's KOA campground.

Throughout the summer, motorists at exits 63 and 64 worked through lane shifts and the continual presence of flaggers and construction crews as Oregon Department of Transportation engineered a major realignment of exit 64. Button Bridge Road was widened under the freeway, and new east- and westbound accesses were created.

The work was completed in October, and with it came two notable changes: Pedestrians can now walk from downtown Hood River over Button Bridge Road (Highway 35) all the way to the port marina area and Hood River Marketplace. Second, they do so along the road always informally called "Button Bridge." As of September, the road is now signed with that name.

Next up: changes at exits 62 and 63; ODOT held meetings in August on the Hood River Interchange Access Management Plan and Transportation System Plan, which in coming years will bring major traffic flow changes to Second Street and connector streets downtown.

SEPTEMBER

"Fueled by wind and heavy fuel, Dollar Lake Fire lights up the sky," read the Aug. 31 headline under an ominous photo of a massive plume of smoke at the base of Mount Hood. At the same time, local firefighters were dispatched to the High Cascades Complex fire on Warm Springs Indian reservation.

The Dollar Lake fire spread to more than 3,000 acres by Sept. 7, and caused widespread trail and campground closures, including the shutdown of Lost Lake Lodge and campground.

As the Mount Hood fire burned on under general containment, geologists from the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries reported discovery of a major fault line running from Mount Hood to Cascade Locks, right under the Dollar Lake fire area.

National Guard helicopters were called in to fight Dollar Lake fire, now covering more than 4,000 acres, according to the Hood River News on Sept. 10. (The fire would reach more than 6,000 acres before containment in mid-September.)

Ten years after the Sept. 11 tragedy, the Hood River News looked back on the day, and its legacy, via reflections by Gorge residents Carolyn and Caitlyn Fick, Julian Sandoval, Marty Todd, Vera Davis, Father Ron Maag, Mike Allegre, Susan Hoffman and Todd Jensen.

Jack Mills, one of the biggest supporters of the county's history and culture, died Sept. 12 at age 80. Mills, a retired banker, moved to Parkdale in the 1970s with his wife, Kate. Among other accomplishments, Jack served on the county commission, purchased and revitalized Mount Hood Railroad and was chief financial supporter of the Columbia Center for the Arts building project in 2006.

On Sept. 20, Cascade Locks voters elected by 53 to 47 percent margins to recall all but Lance Masters, who was retained by a 60-40 margin (and later appointed mayor).

Detective Matt English of the Hood River County Sheriff's Department announced he will run sheriff in 2012. Earlier in the year, two other men announced they would run: former Hood River police chief Bruce Ludwig, and Police Chief Neal Holste. (Ludwig announced Jan. 2 he would not run for office this year - see article, page A1.)

OCTOBER

Hood River native Jill Arens resigns as executive director of the Columbia Gorge Commission, a position she held since 2006. Arens cited "bleak" economic forecasts for Oregon and Washington, and implications for short- and long-term funding for the Gorge land use oversight agency, which is based in White Salmon. (The search for Arens' replacement was ongoing in January 2012.)

The Washington Energy Facility Siting Council approved a scaled-down wind turbine development, known as Whistling Ridge, to be located on private land west of White Salmon and visible from that community and Hood River.

Humberto Ortigoza watched Oct. 11 as firefighters mopped up after a blaze leveled his auto repair shop on Stadelman Drive. In November, Ortigoza would open a new store, in the location of the former Hood River Motors, on 12th Street.

In mid-October, local residents would commence protests of planned transport of coal, via train, through the Gorge. Sierra Club and other groups would join a coalition opposing proposed coal export facilities at two ports in Washington state.

The Port Commission voted in its October meeting to increase the standard car fare across Hood River Bridge to $1, from 75 cents. The increase was long-expected; in June, the port had adopted a 2011-12 budget that reflected the increased revenue.

A gray plume, shaped like a question mark, punctuated the Columbia River Oct. 26 within hours after demolition of Condit Dam a few miles up the White Salmon River. The punctuation turned to a silty underscore a few days later, with the emergence of a re-formed sandbar at the mouth of the river.

NOVEMBER-

DECEMBER

"Occupy Mosier" gathered for one week, and one week only, followed by a weekend "Occupy Hood River" encampment three weeks later in Hood River, as residents peacefully demonstrated against banks and corporations and unresponsive government.

Lance Masters took the oath of office as Cascade Locks mayor, and council members Jeff Helfrich, Gail Lewis, Randy Holmstrom and Mark Storm also took the oath, completing the cycle of change at city hall that was formalized in the Sept. 20 recall vote.

Residents of Cascade Locks, and the Gorge, help in the final work party to create a two-mile loop trail on Port of Cascade Locks land east of the city, on Industrial Parkway.

"The Sandbar" is the unofficial name bestowed on the evolving landmass at the mouth of the Hood River, following a one-month contest sponsored by the Hood River News and Chamber of Commerce. Though the name is unofficial, Mayor Arthur Babitz read a proclamation naming "The Sandbar" at the riverfront on Nov. 7.

The History Museum of Hood River County announces its "Time to Build" capital campaign. The museum closed for the season, and began a new era by moving its collection out of the building to make way for expansion and remodeling to take place in the first four months of 2012.

Many residents protested, and many more offered support, at hearings in October and November, but by late December Walmart got its way as City Council voted 5-2 to allow the company to add a 30,000-square-foot grocery store to its existing facility. Councilors Ann Frodel and Laurent Pickard dissented, but the rest of council concurred with Walmart's argument that the original 1991 permit reflected the company's intent to one day add onto the store.

The Dec. 17 Hood River News announced the decision by Hood River Citizens for a Local Economy to appeal the city's Walmart decision to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.

A major break in a nine-year-old murder case occurred in late December with the arrests and charging of three family members in the death of Faustino Garcia, whose body was found near Hood River Middle School in February 2003. Charged with murder on Dec. 1 were Garcia's wife, Rosario Munoz de Garcia, and his children, Jorge Garcia Munoz and Guadalupe Garcia.

Insitu announced its long-awaited "campus" selection decision on Dec. 13, choosing Bingen for expansion of its headquarters and production facilities.

Starting Dec. 4, local churches collaborated to open the community warming shelter for the homeless, for the second year. Last year, the shelter would open only when temperatures reached freezing. In 2011-12, the service would be open daily from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m., through March.

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