30 March 2011 by Published in: News No comments yet

ODOT Starts Eilertsen Creek Bridge Building Project at Woodson

PRELIMINARY WORK got underway last week on a project to address the debris slide issue at Woodson. Oregon Department of Transportation is planing to replace the culverts under Highway 30 and the railroad with bridges to improve the flow of Eilertsen Creek. See the story at right for more information. Chief Photo by Deborah Steele Hazen

by Deborah Steele Hazen

With debris and wreckage from the mudslide of December 2007 still visible along Highway 30 at Woodson, contractors for the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) began working last week on a $2 million project to improve the drainage of Eilertsen Creek.

The project, about six miles west of Clatskanie, will replace the two Eilertsen Creek culverts with bridges – one under Highway 30 and the other under the railroad tracks that run parallel to the highway.

The cost of the project is being paid with Federal Highway Administration emergency relief funds, according to ODOT spokesperson Don Hamilton. Since an emergency declaration was issued in the wake of the slide, the project is eligible for the federal emergency transportation funds, he said.

The slide occurred on Dec. 11, 2007 when an old dirt “fill” broke after days of heavy rains and flooding, and roared down Eilertsen Creek depositing tons of water, mud and logs on the east side of the rural community, badly damaging several homes, and sweeping across both Highway 30 and the railroad tracks. The debris, which was 10 feet deep in places, included a mobile home that was deposited on the highway.

Highway 30 was closed completely for over 48 hours, and was then only partially open for several more days. Clean-up and repairs continued for weeks. The private property in the area most badly affected has not completely recovered to date.

According to a letter sent to area residents by ODOT, “by replacing these culverts with bridges, the water from Eilertsen Creek should be able to flow freely and the chance of a debris flow of that magnitude should be reduced.”

The project also includes the rebuilding of the streambed near the highway.

Most of the work will be completed by December of this year with final paving, striping and cleanup work early next year.

Capital Concrete Construction of Aumsville is the project contractor.

According to ODOT, there will be intermittent daytime flagging along Highway 30 through the project, but “delays will be minimal.”

For several weeks this summer, the entrance to Marshland District Road at Midland will be closed because of its proximity to the highway and bridge work.

ODOT’s Matt Freitag, who served as project manager for the design phase, said that ODOT and the engineering firm of David Evans and Associates had worked closely over about the past year with the Columbia County Road Department in designing the project.

Clatskanie Project Underway

Meanwhile, ODOT and contractor Oregon Mainline Paving, based out of McMinnville, have begun work on the east end of Clatskanie on the long-planned Highway 30, Swedetown Road to Highway 47, $4 million modernization and paving project through Clatskanie.

The one-mile-long project is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2011.

It includes the widening of Highway 30 from the Clatskanie River bridge to Van Street to accommodate a left-turn lane; paving and striping the highway through Clatskanie; building new sidewalks, where they don’t already exist, and pedestrian ramps along the highway west of the bridge; reconstructing the existing bicycle/pedestrian path along the highway east of the Clatskanie River bridge to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines; upgrading signage, drainage and guardrail in the project area, and closing or modifying some highway accesses for the purpose of improving safety.

Beginning in April, ODOT spokespersons confirmed that motorists will experience intermittent daytime flagging with short delays. Paving work will be done at night. There will be some short-term sidewalk closures while the new sidewalks and ramps are built, and the bike/pedestrian path will be closed while that reconstruction work is underway.

Most of the work will be during the day on Monday through Friday, according to ODOT.

Those with questions about either the highway work through Clatskanie or the Eilertsen Creek/Woodson work may contact Lili Boicourt, ODOT community affairs coordinator at 503 731-8247 or email Lili.D.Boicourt@odot.state.or.us.

Clatskanie School District Studies Budget Issues, Possible Cuts

by Deborah Steele Hazen

Financial matters dominated the discussion during the regular monthly meeting of the Clatskanie School District board of directors Monday, March 28.

The district is facing a shortfall currently estimated at $937,000 – out of an approximately $7.1 million general fund budget – in the 2011-12 school year if the proposed five-year local option tax for general operations does not pass in the May 17th election.

The measure, filed with the Columbia County elections department on March 17 and approved by the school board in January, would authorize Clatskanie School District 6J to levy a temporary property tax of $1,080,000 each year for five years. The additional property taxes would be used to help retain programs and services.

In the case of school districts, the local option levy taxes the gap between a property owner’s assessed value and real market value, and the difference between the current combined total of permanent education taxes – $4.76 in the Clatskanie School District – and the $5 limit for permanent education taxes imposed by state law.

Property owners in the district may calculate the cost of the levy to them by going to the school district website, www.csd.k12.or.us, and clicking on either Columbia County or Clatsop County, depending on  which county their property is located in. Or, property owners may call the district office at 503 728-0587 for assistance in computing what the levy will cost them.

If the levy does not pass, Superintendent Ed Serra told the school board and audience in attendance at Monday’s meeting, the district will have to take steps to meet the shortfall.

Previously estimated at $1,040,000, that projection has decreased to $937,000 because of an increase in the ADMw (average daily membership weighted) calculation used in the state school funding formula, and because, Serra said, he now feels comfortable budgeting at the statewide 2011-13 biennial school funding level of $5.557 billion, rather than the $5.4 billion he was previously recommending.

On Tuesday, the Oregon State Legislature’s co-chairs announced a recommendation for a $5.7 billion school funding level, but Governor John Kitzhaber immediately issued a statement that it “would be premature for me to endorse a plan to lock in increased funding for K-12 education or any other program without knowing more about the funding implications for other programs and services.”

At Monday’s meeting, Serra presented a list of possible ways the budget could be cut and their estimated savings: two teachers at Clatskanie Elementary School (CES) saving $125,000, four teachers at Clatskanie Middle/HighSchool (CMHS) saving $270,000, three classroom aides saving $84,000, two evening custodians saving $98,000, a groundskeeper saving $16,800, a special education secretary saving $9,200, closing the Community Education Center and moving the district office to CMHS (also forcing the other tenants of the building to move out) saving $30,000, eliminating extracurricular (sports) funding saving $75,000, reducing the subsidization from the general fund of the food service program (eliminating the lunch program at CMHS) saving $51,000, technical assistant reduced to half-time saving $24,000, technology budget cut by 30 percent saving $25,000, bus dispatcher saving $39,000, and reducing all other programs by 10 percent saving $90,000.

Both school board members and staff spoke out against eliminating the extracurricular funding, stating their belief that it would result in losing students and thus lessening state per student funding to the degree that it would negate the savings.

Stating that she had “a million reasons why not to cut athletics,” CMHS vice principal and athletic director Annikke Olson made some suggestions for possible savings inregard to the transportation of sports teams.

CMHS Principal Jeff Baughman expressed concerns about losing staff members, and consequently losing programs which would negatively impact educational opportunities for students, and which could result in the loss of accreditation.

In regard to the food service program, it was suggested that some of the deficit might be lessened if the CMHS campus was closed, meaning that students would not be allowed to leave at lunch time. However, that would require some additional staff time for supervision.

“It’s imperative that the community support this ballot measure after looking at some of these cuts,” said school board member Dave True.

Possible Savings from Pay Freeze

While it was not discussed during the public meeting, after an executive session on the topic of labor negotiations, The Chief asked district business manager Janine Salisbury for information regarding how much money would be saved if staff salaries and the district’s contribution to health insurance benefits were “frozen” for the coming year.

Payroll costs comprise 82 percent of the Clatskanie School District’s 2010-11 budget, and they are expected to be 84 percent of next year’s budget.

By granting the previously agreed to three percent cost of living allowance (COLA) to certified employees (teachers) in June – which would then become part of their base pay salary for 2011-12 – but not giving “step” increases, other COLAs and not increasing the district’s contribution to health insurance benefits in 2011-12, the district would save about $315,000, according to information provided by Salisbury.

Negotiation talks have been opened with the teachers union, the Clatskanie Education Association (CEA), and the classified union, the Clatskanie chapter of the Oregon School Employees Association (OSEA).

The contracts of neither group currently call for a COLA, beyond the three percent the teachers will receive in June.

However, the contracts of both certified and classified employees do include “step” increases for both experience and additional education for teachers, and for years of experience for classified employees.

The teachers’ “step” schedule provides for annual increases ranging from 2.3 percent for a teacher with 15 years experience and a master’s degree plus 45 additional credit hours of education, currently earning $62,276 per year plus benefits, to four percent for a first year teacher moving into their second year with a bachelor’s degree only.

First year teachers in the Clatskanie School District currently have starting salaries of $34,993 to $42,680 depending on their education. Each year of experience and each “step” in education increases that salary.

For instance, a first year teacher with a bachelor’s degree, moving onto the second step of experience and earning 24 credit hours, would see their salary raise from $34,993, four percent for the second year and 3.9 percent for the college credits, to $37,675.

“Steps” on the classified employees schedule are for experience and longevity only, and range from one to 4.1 percent per year.

Levy Information Night Set

Superintendent Serra, who has been speaking at various meetings around the community to give information about the proposed local option levy, announced Tuesday that the district will be hosting a levy information night for the public on Wednesday, April 13, at 6:30 p.m. in the district board room in the Community Education Center, 555 SW Bryant Street.

All interested persons are encouraged to attend.

Interim Superintendent Search

The school board gave the nod to a “posting” prepared by Serra inviting applicants for the position of interim superintendent.

Applications are due by April 15 with interviews scheduled during early May, and selection of a person to fill the superintendent’s position on an interim basis set for May 23.

Because of the uncertainties regarding school funding and other issues facing the district this spring, the school board decided last month to seek an interim superintendent, rather than conduct a full-scale search for a permanent one, to fill the vacancy being created by the retirement of Serra at the end of this school year.

Snow Make Up Days

It was announced that April 21, previously scheduled for all day conferences, would be a student contact day, one of three changes in the calendar to make up for the school days lost because of snow and ice this winter.

April 22, which had been scheduled as a possible snow makeup day, will also be used, and May 11, scheduled as a half-day, will now be a full day for students.

Good Audit Report

“This is the highest level of assurance you can receive from an auditor,” Pamela Austin of the Merina and Company auditing firm told the school board, as she reported that the district had received a “clean audit.”

Hiring, Resignations Accepted

As part of the consent agenda, the school board approved the hiring of Sheri Crape as a .475 full-time equivalent bus driver, and the resignations of Casey Litwin, full-time math teacher at CMHS, and Richard McNicholas, fulltime language arts teacher at CMHS.

Columbia, Clastop Counties Unemployment Slightly Lower

Columbia County’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 11.6 percent in February, only slightly lower than the previous month (12.2 percent) but one point lower than the year before (12.6 percent).

February’s unemployment rate was the lowest in two years and the first month it has been below 12.0 percent in two years.

The rate was above the statewide rate (10.2 percent) and the national rate (8.9 percent).

Total employment climbed by 90 to 21,752 and the number of unemployed people dipped by five to 3,149. Total employment this February was 518 more than one year before and there were 279 fewer people unemployed this year.

Seasonally adjusted nonfarm payroll employment rose by 90 jobs in February to 9,590. Seasonally adjusted figures compare expected changes with actual changes.

A gain of 20 jobs is normal for the month but the county gained 110. Employment in private sector industries increased by 80 jobs and governments gained 30. Professional and business services added 20 jobs, educational and health services gained 30 and leisure hospitality expanded by 20. Local government education added 30 jobs.

Total nonfarm employment in February was 60 less than one year before. The county lost employment in most industries but added jobs in professional and business services. Total government employment was 20 jobs below its level of one year before.

Many Columbia County residents commute elsewhere for work, so it is not uncommon for the total number of employed people residing in the county to change without a similar change in the number of payroll jobs located within the county.

Clatsop County Rate at 8.9

Clatsop County’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 8.9 percent in February, a decrease from the previous month (9.4 percent) and the year before (9.3 percent). It was lower than the statewide rate (10.2 percent) and the same as the national rate (8.9 percent).

Total employment in the county increased by 87 from the previous month to 18,905. The estimated number of unemployed people fell by 76 to 2,119. The number of unemployed this February was 135 less than one year before and 636 more people were employed.

Seasonally adjusted nonfarm payroll employment dipped by 10 jobs in February to 17,140. Seasonally adjusted figures compare expected changes with actual changes. A gain of 140 jobs is normal for the month but the county gained 130 jobs. The private sector added 50 jobs and governments gained 80.

Food manufacturing cut 90 jobs and retail trade dropped 40 but leisure and hospitality added 60 jobs, and transportation, warehousing and utilities grew by 70.

February’s total nonfarm payroll employment was 360 more than its level last year. The private sector gained 370 jobs in the past year and governments cut 10.

Man Arrested After Shots Fired at Beaver Falls Road Residence

Columbia County Sheriff’s deputies responding to a shots fired call in the rural Clatskanie area intercepted the suspect’s vehicle leaving the scene and took the him into custody Tuesday afternoon.

In custody in the Columbia County Jail is Jake Koski, 38, of Longview. Koski is charged with Criminal Mischief First Degree, Criminal Trespass with a Firearm, Reckless Endangering, Menacing and four counts of Felon in Possession of a Weapon.

According to a press release from Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson, just after 3:15 p.m. Tuesday, deputies received reports from Columbia 9-1-1 dispatch about a disturbance at 19944 Beaver Falls Road, indicating that shots had been fired into a vehicle at the residence there.

The suspect was reported to be leaving the scene in a black Nissan or Toyota pickup truck. A deputy in the area observed a vehicle matching the description near the intersection of Beaver Falls Road and Delena-Mayger Road, and made the traffic stop.

The deputy developed probable cause to arrest Koski – the driver of the suspect vehicle – but a female passenger was questioned and released. Koski was taken into custody at 3:25 p.m. and four firearms were recovered, Dickerson said.

The investigation showed that Koski had driven to the Beaver Falls address and fired two rounds from a recovered 380 pistol into a vehicle, striking the unoccupied vehicle twice near the passenger rear tire.

“This is an example of how having deputies in the area at the time a call goes out is critical to making an arrest in cases like these,” said Sheriff Dickerson. “In this instance, our deputy was only moments away and could quickly get into position to intercept the suspect vehicle.”

Westport Projects Meeting Set March 31

Citizens will have opportunity for input concerning the new Westport corridor and community plan. Clatsop County is holding a meeting Thursday, March 31, 7:30-9 p.m., at the Westport Community Church, 49246 Highway 30.

The plan, developed by the county in partnership with local citizens and business owners with funding from a tax-penalty payment from Georgia-Pacific, includes the following proposed projects: new Highway 30 access for Westport ferry/industrial park,  Plympton Creek restoration,   public park on former Georgia-Pacific site, boat landing improvements, and  Highway 30 pedestrian safety and aesthetic improvements.

The community meeting will offer information on recent design progress and the next steps in the planning process.

Public input and involvement is an important part of the planning process, a Clatsop County spokesperson said. The proposed projects have emerged from meetings with the Westport community, business owners and county representatives.

Springtime on the Dikelands – Where Even the Sheep Wear Flowers in Their Wool

DID SOMEONE PUT IT THERE, or did it stick to her wool as she was grazing under a camellia bush? Whichever – a flower bedecked sheep on the Clatskanie dikelands brought smiles to winter-weary passersby last week. Chief Photo by Deborah Steele Hazen


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