26 January 2011 by Published in: News No comments yet

New PUD Headquarters on Schedule

THE NEW CLATSKANIE PEOPLE’S UTILITY DISTRICT HEADQUARTERS is moving towards completion at “a fast pace,” operations and engineering manager Leo Quiachon reported at the Jan. 19th meeting of the PUD board of directors. (See separate story). The 21st century administrative building, which includes various state-of-the-art systems, was about 72 percent complete as of last week, and is on schedule for a May 1st move-in date. Photo Courtesy of Clatskanie PUD Webcam

PUD Board Authorizes Revenue Bonds to Recharge Reserves

by Deborah Steele Hazen

An ordinance authorizing the issuance of revenue bonds to finance improvements to the Clatskanie People’s Utility District (PUD) system was approved by the board of directors at its meeting Jan. 19.

The issuance of revenue bonds, not to exceed $8.5 million, is aimed at “recharging” the PUD’s reserve funds in the wake of a record low power year in price and volume,  the costs of building the new headquarters campus, and making other major investments in transmission, substation and distribution facilities.

The bonds, to be paid back through the sale of electricity, may also be used to finance continued improvements to the PUD electrical system, and other capital projects and equipment.

In addition to the ordinance allowing the issuance of the revenue bonds, the PUD board passed a resolution declaring an intent to reimburse itself for the facility improvements from the revenue bonds.

During the discussion surrounding the two motions, both of which passed unanimously, it was emphasized that the board would be notified of the terms of the revenue borrowing, and, if deemed necessary, the board would meet and discuss the bond terms before they are sold.

With a 2011 operating budget of approximately $52 million, the PUD currently has approximately $5 million cash on hand. The PUD’s total liabilities and net assets are $54,583,037.14, about $3.5 million less than last year, largely because of the expenses of building the new, approximately $7.6 million headquarters, plus major substation and transmission facility improvements.

In the meantime, wholesale power sales were down because of the bad water year – resulting in less surplus hydropower – and because of less industrial demand in the bad economy. However, the board continued to pass through the wholesale power revenues to customers through the power supply benefit that is shown as a credit on PUD bills.

“If everything goes well,” general manager Greg Booth told the board, “if power sales are good, it’s a good water year, and the ethanol plant or another tenant begins operating at Port Westward…we’re probably okay, but when you’re talking about large power purchases, timing is crucial.”

Booth pointed out that the PUD had a line of credit and a short term loan in past years to ensure that there was an adequate level of cash on hand at all times. However, “our tax advisors are now suggesting tax exempt bond financing.”

Consequently, the staff sought the board’s approval to sell revenue bonds.

Other Business and Reports

In other business at last week’s meeting, directors Janet Willey and Don Hooper, who were re-elected in the November election, were administered the oath of office by board chair Merle Gillespie.

Booth reported that operations manager Dave Quinn is retiring, and that projects manager Leo Quiachon, who headed up the now-completed Arrowrock Dam hydroelectric project, and the new headquarters building, which is nearing completion, will assume the duties of operations and engineering manager.

Quiachon reported that the headquarters project is moving ahead at a fast pace and is on track for a May 1st move-in date.

Power manager Joe Taffe reported on the recent audit by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) and Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC) – a very complex and time-consuming process.

Customer relations manager Gail Rakitnich reported that thanks to the board allowing the proceeds from scrap metals sales to go into the “Share the Warmth Fund,” that fund has $77,000 in it. In 2010, 131 families were helped with $15,000 towards their power bills.

During the year, 76 comment cards were received, and all of them had positive comments.

Grand Jury Returns 24-Count Indictment Against Accused Murderer of Rainier Police Chief

by Deborah Steele Hazen

A 24-count indictment was returned by the Columbia County Grand Jury Friday, Jan. 21, against Daniel Armaugh Butts, of Kalama, the accused murderer of Rainier City Police Chief Ralph Painter.

The indictment includes nine counts of Aggravated Murder with a Firearm in the death of Painter on Jan. 5.

It alleges that Butts, age 21, “unlawfully and intentionally” murdered Painter after causing him serious physical injury, then stealing Painter’s pistol, and killing him with it.

Painter, who had served with the Rainier Police Department since 1988, responded to the Rainier Sound Authority business in west Rainier on the morning of Jan. 5, where Butts is accused of Attempted Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle – trying to take a 1967 Chevrolet Chevelle without the consent of its owner, Jerry Lamp.

The nine counts of aggravated murder are related to the killing of Painter while the police chief was performing his official duties, and during the commission of the crimes of  Robbery in the First Degree, Burglary in the First Degree, Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle, Attempted Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle, and in the effort to conceal those crimes.

Butts has also been indicted on four counts of  Attempted Aggravated Murder with a Firearm for allegedly trying to kill Clatskanie Police Chief Marvin Hoover, in the performance of his official duties, and while Butts was committing other crimes.

Along with Clatskanie Police Sergeant Shaun McQuiddy and Longview Police Offficer Doug Kazensky, Hoover was the first on scene responding to the call of “officer down.” Butts refused to surrender and fired shots, which the three officers returned.

The grand jury ruled that Hoover, McQuiddy and Kazensky were justified in their use of deadly force when they engaged in a firefight with Butts, who received a minor wound prior to surrendering.

Butts is facing a fifth count of Attempted Aggravated Murder with a Firearm for “attempting to cause the death of Charles Buchanan,” a customer in the Rainier Sound Authority at the time of the incident.

In addition to the nine counts of Aggravated Murder with a Firearm and the five counts of Attempted Aggravated Murder with a Firearm, Butts is facing two counts each of Robbery in the First Degree and Burglary in the First Degree, one count each of Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle and  Attempted Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle.

The final counts in the indictment are three counts of Recklessly Endangering Another Person – Butts is accused of firing shots through the windows of the Rainier Assembly of God church, endangering Pastor Jeff McCracken, Shellie Jefferson and Doris Peterson – and one count of  Theft in the First Degree for taking Painter’s pistol.

Butts was scheduled for an arraignment on the indictments on Wednesday, Jan. 26, at 3 p.m.

The accused murderer remains in “close custody” solitary confinement in the Columbia County Jail, according to Sheriff Jeff Dickerson.

While an aggravated murder charge can carry the death penalty, Columbia County District Attorney Stephen Atchison stated that he has not decided whether or not to seek it in this case.

DSL Hears Criticism, Need for “Stem to Stern Relook”

by Deborah Steele Hazen

What was scheduled Jan. 19 as a public hearing on the Department of State Land’s (DSL) administrative rules governing the issuance and enforcement of removal-fill authorizations, turned into a discussion of the agency’s history of poor “customer relations,” and the need to take a “stem to stern relook at what DSL is supposed to be doing.”

The meeting and hearing on the afternoon of Jan. 19 at the Clatskanie City Hall, was one of a series held last week, including hearings in Salem, Astoria and Tillamook.

The comment period on the new rules that impact local drainage districts’ abilities to maintain agricultural ditches, as well as other activities along Oregon’s waterways, has been extended until Monday, Jan. 31, at 5 p.m.

Written public comments may be mailed to: Department of State Lands, Attention: Elizabeth Bolden, Rules Coordinator, 775 Summer Street N.E., Suite 100, Salem, OR 97301-1279, or e-mailed to wwcd_rule.comments@state.or.us.

Last week’s hearing, preceded by an “orientation” question and answer period that was not announced to the press by the DSL,  was conducted by Bill Ryan,  assistant director for DSL’s wetlands and waterways division, and Eric Metz, the southern regional manager for DSL’s wetlands and waterways conservation division.

“This isn’t our first rodeo,” State Senator Betsy Johnson said at the beginning of the meeting. “We keep doing this over and over.”

Referring to stacks of documents piled on a table and offered to the approximately 40 members of the public in attendance, Johnson said: “This voluminous amount of material is presented a half hour before the hearing. What’s changed? Have we been heard and is that reflected in the rules, or are you just trotting out what we’ve seen before?”

At an Oct. 27th meeting in Clatskanie about the proposed new removal and fill rules which was attended by approximately 50 citizens – many of whom were back at last week’s meeting – the general consensus was that agricultural drainage maintenance and disposal of debris removed from drainage ditches needed to be exempted from the rules.

Metz said that the proposed rules had been modified since that meeting – and similar ones in Astoria and Tillamook – and that the DSL was no longer proposing to end general authorizations for the removal of sediment behind tidegates. He said the proposed rule changes had been on the DSL website – http://www.oregon statelands.us/ – since December.

In the “voluminous amount of material” handed out at last week’s meeting, it states: “Exempt maintenance of agricultural drainage ditches under OAR (Oregon Administrative Rules) 141-085-0530 (4) includes disposal of dredged material in a thin layer on converted wetlands, provided such disposal does not change wetland to upland. For the purposes of this exemption, “ditich” is defined in OAR 141-085-0510 (26).

That definition states that “’Ditch’ means a manmade water conveyance channel. Channels that are manipulated streams are not considered ditches.”

Mike Seely, of the Beaver Drainage Improvement District in rural Clatskanie, asked for clarification. “Some of our ditches had natural channels prior to when they became agricultural ditches.”

In that case, they would need “general authorizations” for maintenance, Ryan said.

Seely further explained that the Beaver district doesn’t have tidegates, and there are no salmonid runs. “We do have a creek that flows from up above into our district, but there are no endangered species.”

“The rules are derived from statute,” Metz replied. “The rules regarding ‘manipulated streams’ are in statute.”

“Some are statutes, some are rules, we can’t tell the difference,” said Howard Kem, a property owner on the Deer Island drainage district.

After further discussion in which Kem and Bill Buol, who owns property on Anunde Island west of Clatskanie, both pointed out that the DSL can “say it’s wetlands, and we have to hire someone to prove it’s not.”

“That’s correct,” said Ryan. “We don’t have the staff for actual wetland delineation.”

“You have the staff and resources to implement what you want,” Buol responded, “but not to correct it if it’s wrong.”

“We don’t want inaccurate information,” responded Metz.

“I’m not saying that it’s intentional,” replied Buol, “but if information happens to be wrong, you do not have the resources to correct it. It’s up to the landowner to correct it.”

Kem agreed. “The landowner pays to do it, and five years later we have to do it again.”

Statute Review Needed

After more discussion regarding DSL requirements and their costs to landowners, Clatskanie Mayor Diane Pohl turned to Senator Johnson. “It just occurs to me that maybe what needs to be reviewed are the statutes. If the state is going to take private land for public use, shouldn’t it be up to the state to prove that it is a wetland, rather than the landowner to prove that it isn’t?”

“I think that this room is another example of the frustration with DSL. By and large the people want to follow the rules, but they want to know what the rules are,” said Sen. Johnson. “This might come as a blunt surprise, but people aren’t spending their time reading your website. They’re trying to make a living in a dire economy.”

“Work with landowners, rather than proliferate page after page of rules,” Johnson urged the DSL representatives. “Maybe a whole review of the statutes would make sense. A stem to stern relook at what DSL is supposed to be doing. Is this a stewardship activity or revenue-raising for the DSL? What does it mean to Oregon?”

Johnson continued: “To their credit, they (the DSL) have heard us regarding taking the debris out of manmade ditches. I applaud you, you heard us and you fixed it. But, this is our one chance to fix this – one chance to change the rules. People are trying to follow the rules, but we feel assaulted by them.”

“Maybe we should step back and take a look at the body of the law – what’s the intent, what are we trying to accomplish,” said Ryan. “Why do we regulate removal and fill? What is the purpose, the greater societal good? Different people have different ideas. Where the law ends up is a political process. It’s Oregon’s removal fill law that covers the whole state, but what the agricultural community is trying to accomplish is sometimes different than what the conservation community is trying to accomplish.”

Different parts of the state have different climatic and geological conditions, so the “one size fits all approach” for rules, may not make sense, it was pointed out.

Not Playing “Gotcha”

Ryan emphasized that his wetlands and waterways division of the DSL is not trying to “play gotcha” – going out looking for small violations of the rules. If members of the DSL staff are doing that, their supervisors want to know about it, he said.

That statement was met by grumbles of disagreement from the audience, some of whom have had negative experiences regarding submerged and submersible lands leases with DSL staff members from the land management division.

“Respectfully, then,” said Johnson in response to Ryan’s statement. “Why are we still fighting for the City of Clatskanie? God knows how much the Clatskanie situation has cost,” she said referring to the dispute between the DSL and the city plus several private property owners about the ownership of the submerged and submersible lands of the Clatskanie River which were granted into private hands prior to Oregon statehood. “And,” Johnson added, “I’m chastised by your boss for representing my constituents…It’s a waste of the agency’s time and the taxpayers’ money, and it’s part of the corrosive relationship between the agency and the public.”

Johnson, with nods of agreement from most of the audience, suggested a local advisory committee with regular times for public comment. “Lance a boil – get rid of the mad before you try to do new things.”

The idea of having a field representative who could speak to all kinds of DSL issues – agricultural as well as waterway issues – with a helpful rather than a “gotcha” attitude met with general agreement.

“A Problematic Process”

During the formal public hearing portion of last week’s meeting, Kem read a number of changes to the rules recommended by drainage district officials, including several which dealt with expanding the 50 cubic yard requirement to 100 cubic yards, but noting that some of the changes required “legislative fixes.”

Johnson testified that the rules process was rushed. “What is the urgency. Why are we proceeding at this time, adopting rules right after a legislative sessions starts with no time for the legislature to review the statutes?” She called for “some kind of process to work better with the public. At Christmas time, in bad economic times, I don’t understand the rush…I think it has been a problematic process,” she said. “There’s got to be a better way to do this. DSL is becoming the poster child for a disliked, distrusted agency that does it to them (the public) not with them.”

She ended her formal comments by saying that she hoped Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, one of the three member land board that oversees the DSL, would be true to his promise to ensure that the agency improves.

Serra Announces Retirement from Clatskanie School District; Local Option Levy Sought

by Deborah Steele Hazen

The announcement of Superintendent Ed Serra’s retirement, and the decision to place a local option levy on the May ballot highlighted the meeting of the Clatskanie School District board of directors Monday, Jan. 24.

In a letter sent to the board and staff Friday, Jan. 21, Serra announced his intent to retire at the end of this school year. “Making this decision wasn’t easy,” he wrote, “but I know that it is time for me to retire from the role of your superintendent.

“This has been a difficult personal decision for me to make because of the professional and personal satisfaction I have received while working on behalf of our students, parents and you, the staff. It is with much thought and deliberation that I have made this decision,” Serra continued. “After discussing this with my family, and considering my personal goals and my continuing journey as an individual, I believe that I have made the right decision. I feel I have given my best over the years and I am proud of my accomplishments. This is an opportune time for someone else to lead this organization to greater heights as it is time to take myself to greater heights as an individual.”

Noting that he has been employed in the education system for 41 years, Serra assured the board that “in the coming months, I look forward to the exciting work that we are doing and will continue to work tirelessly on behalf of the students and staff members of the Clatskanie School District during my remaining tenure.”

“You are truly special people,” he told the staff and school board. “We have done and will continue to do amazing things together for students and their families in our school district; I know our commitment to the success of all students will continue. It is all about their success. It is our mission, it’s our core. Our children look to us for guidance, and we must offer them that – not only with our words but also with our deeds.”

In closing, Serra wrote, “I want to emphasize that I will forever be grateful to this organization and this community for having given me the opportunity to be a part of the accomplishments and the great times we have had over the years.”

Serra reiterated his “solemn commitment” to the board, the administration and the community that he will be unflagging in his work for the district through the end of the school year and that he will work with them “in the transition to a new superintendent.”

All of the five board members, at various times during the meeting, expressed their gratitude to Serra, their regret at his leaving, but their best wishes for the future.

“I certainly wish you well,” said board chair Janet Willey. “I’m sorry you’ve made this decision, but I can understand. May you enjoy your retirement half as much as I’ve enjoyed mine.”

“I appreciate Ed’s hard work, enthusiasm and optimism,” said director Dave True.

The board will meet with an Oregon School Boards Association (OSBA) consultant next Monday, Jan. 31, to discuss the process of finding a new superintendent.

Community to Decide About Local Option Levy

Meanwhile, however, predictions for state-funding are pessimistic. It is being estimated that state school funding for the 2011-13 biennium may be as low as $5.4 billion, compared to the $5.7 billion for the current 2009-2011 biennium.

Based on actual expenses rolled over from the current 2010-11 fiscal year, finance manager Janine Salisbury projected a deficit of $1,168,317 if state funding is at the $5.4 billion level, or $1,036,378 if the state funds kindergarten through 12th grade public education at $5.6 billion.

Salisbury’s calculations were based on the following assumptions:

1. Step increases for classified and certified employees, but no cost of living raises.

2. A health insurance expense increase of 17 percent. (Last year it increased 20 percent).

3. Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) expense increasing by 31 percent.

4. Positions paid with grants are moved into the general fund as necessary.

5. The extended ADMw (average daily membership – weighted) falls from 986.5 to 960. (The state per student formula is based on the ADMw.)

Clatskanie is one of the few school districts in the state which is eligible to run a local option levy because the permanent education tax rate is $4.6062 per $1,000 of assessed value plus the education service district rate of $0.1538 per $1,000 for a total education rate of $4.76 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Because that is below the $5 per $1000 limitation for education mandated by 1990’s Measure 5, and because of the gap between assessed and real market value, it has been determined that the district could raise $1,080,000 per year under a local option levy if it is approved by the voters.

“We need to bring it before the community and let them decide,” said Willey.

It was emphasized that the entire amount raised in a local option levy would stay with the Clatskanie School District.

“If we don’t do it we’re going to be in a world of hurt,” said True.

“I applaud you for looking into this,” said teacher Theresa Trotter. “I don’t think we’re survivable now.”

During the public comments portion of the meeting Trotter noted that she had 31 students in her fourth grade class with no instructional assistants. “We’re in a horrible budget situation. We’ve cut tons. 4th through 6th grades still have no current math adoption,” and, she added, higher scores are now being required to pass the state math tests.

After a presentation by Leeann Grasseth, of Columbia County Mental Health, on drug and  intervention and prevention programs, and other mental health support services – such as suicide prevention – that she provides in the local schools, Trotter wondered aloud if the $6,000 the district spends annually drug-testing athletes, wouldn’t be better spent on math texts.

On a motion by True, seconded by  Karen George, the board voted unanimously to pursue and put a local option levy on the May ballot.

Cooperation with Rainier

Serra reported to the board about a meeting between Clatskanie and Rainier administrators to discuss shared services and programs between the two districts – something that has long been proposed as a means of retaining and improving opportunities for students in both districts despite the tightening budgets.

Administrators from both districts agree that a key to sharing services is to align the schedules, Serra said.

“Each district has some strengths in our programs that we think we could share without violating contracts,” Serra said. “Each district would keep their money. The ADM (state funding) for the child stays in the district. We both have a great desire to keep our programs and staff intact.”

He said that both the Clatskanie and Rainier administrators are committed to cooperating “to make it work for both school districts.” But, Serra emphasized, “we need the boards to take our recommendations.”

Looking at trends in various classes, the high school principals and vice principals were able to identify several classes that would work well as shared programs, Clatskanie Middle/High School vice principal Annikke Olson said.

For instance, Clatskanie has health services classes, while Rainier has anatomy/physiology classes. Students in both programs would benefit from taking the classes offered at the other school.

“Most of the things that the teachers have questions or concerns about, we felt like we could address,” Olson said. “There are obstacles, but they are obstacles we could overcome to actually make it work. It won’t be easy at all – there are a lot of things that will be challenges – but it’s definitely possible, and we could create some opportunities for kids in both buildings.”

Serra noted that the two districts already share a technology coordinator, and have been able to reduce what is paid to the ESD because of that. He added that they had discussed possible solutions to transporting students between the districts.

Drug Prevention Report

Monday’s meeting began with a workshop with presentations by Grasseth, and a report by Clatskanie Middle/High School Principal Jeff Baughman on the drug dog search conducted in November.

Three drug dogs from area police agencies conducted the search. The dogs “hit upon” 12 bags belonging to students, Baughman said, but they were all due to secondhand marijuana smoke. There were no drugs found among the 389 high school students who were subject to the search.

At least eight of the 12 cases of secondhand marijuana smoke detected by the dogs, were due to parents smoking medical marijuana, Baughman reported.

Student Reports, Fundraising

As part of a recognition of “National School Board Appreciation Month,” Clatskanie High School students gave reports on several subjects, including the eScrip program under which the student council will be collecting Safeway receipts, with a portion of the amount spent being donated to the school.

The National Guard will be practicing team building activities and drug prevention with the high school and middle school leadership classes, as well as the 6th grade, during the first two weeks in February.

Ten Clatskanie High School students are participating in the “polar plunge” to raise contributions for Oregon Special Olympics athletes.

The volunteers will jump into the  Willamette River on Feb. 12, and are collecting donations, in return for which they will do various chores – planting flowers, sweeping sidewalks, moving boxes, etc.

Those interested in making a donation may call Karen Slotten at 503 728-2146, ext. 3354, or Hunter Spendlove at 360 560-1808 and leave a message.

It is asked that those interested call before Jan. 31, a teacher work-day when students won’t be in class and are available to provide services.

Work Session Planned

With much to be discussed in regard to things to be done prior to Serra’s retirement, sharing services with Rainier, and the wording of a policy regarding the recently re-established maintenance reserve fund, the school board decided to meet for a work session on Saturday, Feb. 5, beginning at 9 a.m.

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