by Deborah Steele Hazen
The February snowstorms that paralyzed much of the state, dumped at least 10 inches on the Clatskanie valley floor, canceled schools throughout Columbia County, caused numerous vehicular accidents, and kept ambulance, police and utility crews busy.
Arriving two days earlier than forecasters predicted, snow began falling in Clatskanie at about 8:30 a.m. Thursday morning, Feb. 6, after temperatures had dipped into the mid-20s Wednesday night.
By late morning, both the Clatskanie and Rainier school districts announced they were dismissing schools at noon on Thursday, as well as canceling all extracurricular activities.
The Columbia County Courthouse in St. Helens, which had a similar amount of snowfall as the north county area, closed at noon on Thursday.
Several other government offices closed early Thursday and remained closed Friday, as did some local businesses. Meetings were canceled.
By Thursday evening, about five and a half inches of snow were measured near the valley floor within the city limits.
The heavy snowfall and resultant slippery driving conditions caused several minor crashes around the city and surrounding areas, prompting the Clatskanie Police Department to request, via a Chief Bulletin e-mail, that, if possible, local residents should avoid driving.
Clatskanie Police Chief Marvin Hoover said he believed that people were “caught off guard” by the heavy snowfall on Thursday. After that, most people stayed home, and the rate of traffic accidents declined sharply.
Between 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 6, Clatskanie Rural Fire Protection District (CRFPD) personnel logged five weather-related motor vehicle crashes (MVC), with one incident requiring transport of a patient.
CRFPD Chief Steve Sharek reported that simultaneous medical calls were dispatched during the height of the snow-caused traffic incidents. St. John Medical Center stopped receiving patients due to weather-related staffing problems, so CRFPD medics had to transport patients to Portland.
Sharek said that only the more serious MVCs were logged. He estimated crews resonded to 16 incidents on Thursday. With the combined delays due to weather and St. John’s staffing issues, CRFPD’s log showed crews dispatched to seven simultaneous calls.
The slick conditions contributed to a CRFPD crew colliding with a power pole and damaging a utility vehicle belonging to the fire department.
Snow Continues Throughout Weekend, Thaw Now Underway
While the number of traffic accidents declined after Thursday, the snow increased, with more falling on both Friday and Saturday, reaching a total depth of 10 to 12 inches within the Clatskanie city limits, until a slow thaw began on Sunday.
The young and young-at-heart headed towards hill sides with sleds in hand, engaged in snowball fights, built forts and igloos.
Schools throughout Columbia County remained closed on Monday because of the deep, slick slush on side roads. Schools went back into session on Tuesday, but two hours later than usual.
Rainier School District has announced snow make-up days on President’s Day, Feb. 17, April 18 and May 23.
By Tuesday night, Feb. 11, the highways and major thoroughfares were clear, but slush remained on some side roads and streets.
Rain fell on Tuesday and was predicted throughout the week, but not in such amounts as to create a flood threat. While emergency personnel remained watchful of creeks and rivers, nothing compared to a “Pineapple Express” rainfall which coincided with a large mountain snowmelt to bring the disastrous flood of February 1996, was expected.
During the snow storms, the City of Clatskanie public works crew laid down approximately 20 cubic yards of road grit to assist residents’ vehicles on city streets.
City manager Greg Hinkelman reminded drivers that since the snow has melted, the loose grit on the road may cause sliding, especially when braking near, or turning at, an intersection. “We urge people to drive carefully and slowly until we can bring the street sweepers in to pick up the grit,” said Hinkelman.
Power Outages, PUD Crews Help Lane County
The snow storms also impacted the Clatskanie People’s Utility District (PUD).
At 2:15 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 6, a vehicle hit a PUD pole, but did not damage it. The PUD office was closed at 3 p.m. due to the snow.
At 4:15 p.m. a vehicle hit a pad mount transformer on Korsmo Street.
The PUD office was closed all day because of the driving conditions on Friday, Feb. 7, but no outages were reported.
On Saturday, Feb. 8, the Clatskanie PUD received a request from Lane Electric in Eugene to help their line crews with repairs. A four-man crew with equipment responded and remained on loan to Lane Electric through Tuesday night.
A limb went through a line on Stewart Creek Road at 5:15 p.m. Saturday, cutting off electricity to seven customers for 90 minutes.
All Clatskanie PUD customers, except in the Westport and Rainier areas, lost power for about five minutes just before 6 p.m. Saturday due to a Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) power loss.
At 6:35 p.m. a tree went through a line on Alston-Mayger Road, cutting the power to 16 customers for two and a half hours until PUD crews restored it.
The crews were back on the road at 5 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 9, after a limb went through a power line on Quincy-Mayger Road with one customer affected for two hours.
Eight customers on Turner Road lost power at 6:25 a.m. when limbs went through the lines. They were re-energized at 8 a.m.
A limb through the line took out power for an hour and a half to one customer on Cox Road at 9:20 a.m., and a customer on Old Rainier Road lost power, because of a falling limb, at 12:50 p.m. PUD crews restored power for that customer in two hours and 15 minutes.
Mac Stewart Injured When Barn Falls
Former Clatskanie resident Mac Stewart, son of Margaret Magruder of Clatskanie, was injured when a barn collapsed on him and a co-worker on Saturday in the Corvallis area where a total of 15 inches of snow was reported.
Stewart suffered four broken ribs, a punctured lung and a broken scapula. He is recovering at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis, and was expected to be released this week.
The other man trapped in the barn collapse suffered a broken collarbone.
by Deborah Steele Hazen
A report on capital improvement projects was the main topic before the Clatskanie City Council at its meeting Feb. 5.
Public Works Director Ray DiPasquale discussed in detail the projects that are being requested for funding in the upcoming 2014-15 budget.
• Installation of a sanitary sewer main down SW 7th Street from Tichenor to S. Nehalem at an estimated cost of $43,000. DiPasquale explained that this will better handle the flow from the newly repaired portion of the Tichenor Street sewer line, from 7th Street to the south end of the street. Repairs and replacement of the sewer line on the rest of Tichenor Street will contine “piece by piece as judiciously as possible,” DiPasquale said.
• Spring Street drainage improvements at 5th Street, $14,000 estimated cost.
• Lift station improvements (parts and communications equipment), $18,000.
• Hall Road Phase II water main, $62,000. The city replaced the main up to the city limits a few years ago, but leakage is increasing in the rural portion of the line.
• Downtown water main extensions on Steele and Lillich Streets, giving the city more flexibility in case of problems with lines under N. Nehalem Street, $11,000.
• N. Nehalem crosswalks and sidewalk repairs, $15,000.
• N. Nehalem Drainage Improvements, $10,000.
• Conyers Creek Road overlay, $32,000. This project is proposed in cooperation with Columbia County, with the city paving just past the Conyers Creek bridge and the county taking over from there.
The proposed projects add up to $205,000, funded by the usual allocation of $125,000 from the Timber Infrastructure Improvement Fund, plus $80,000 from the maintenance infrastructure fund.
Additionally, DiPasquale said that the city would “need to address the loss of our winter sludge disposal field. I believe the best approach is to invest in a sludge thickening “cake making” program whereby our wastewater treatment plant sludge is pressed into a more compact, transportable form. Initial research shows that we could conceivably complete the first stage of the process by using the balance of the Enterprise Fund remaining from the headworks project. This type of investment would produce a ‘Class B’ thickened sludge material that must be appropriately carted from our facilities by a third party vendor. We have included this factor in our assessment and believe the proposal has much merit. In the future, we could conceivably expand this sludge thickening operation to include a second step whereby the sludge is converted into a ‘Class A’ material, which can essentially be handled as a fill material pending testing results.
“While our assessment of these approaches is not yet complete,” DiPasquale continued in his written report, “we believe the first step can be accomplished without impairing the ability to expand in the near future. In either case, we could continue to utilize the summer sludge disposal field as a back-up sludge removal process while primarily relying on the cake making process to dispose of our processed sludge. However, our current sludge hauling vehicle (Big Wheels) is very old and is likely not reliable for more than a year or so.” DiPasquale said his research indicated a new sludge hauling vehicle would cost around $200,000.
Scout Lake Grants, Timber Harvest
In other reports and business…
The council agreed to allocate an amount not to exceed $5,000 from the Scout Lake fund for recreational grants.
Finance manager Sharry Hilton suggested that the first budget committee meeting be held on April 24, rather than in May, since the city finance department will be undergoing a software upgrade in May.
Hilton reported that the current logging project on the city’s watershed property is about 20 percent done with $148,000 net income to the city.
“Dire” Situation with Jail, Petitions Available
Mayor Diane Pohl reported on the recent town hall meeting in Clatskanie with the Columbia County board of commissioners and the sheriff.
The impending closure of the jail – if a levy is not placed on the May ballot and passed by the voters – will result in a “dire” situation with only 10 jail beds to be rented in Polk County for the most dangerous criminals in Columbia County, and other arrestees merely cited and released.
“We cannot NOT have a jail,” Mayor Pohl emphasized. “We need to get the information out as to how dire this situation is.”
The county commissioners have said that if they see enough support from the citizens, they will place a three-year local option levy to operate the jail on the May 20th ballot. But the deadline for filing is next week.
A four-year jail operating levy failed in last November’s election.
Petitions asking the commissioners to put a three-year levy on the ballot are available to sign at the Clatskanie City Hall and the Clatskanie Police Department.
by Adam J. Wehrley
Ambre Energy’s Morrow Pacific project was issued three permits by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Tuesday, Feb. 11.
The DEQ issued an air contaminant discharge permit; an industrial water pollution control facility permit; and a construction stormwater permit for the Coyote Island Terminal in Boardman, at which Ambre will transfer up to 8.8 million tons of coal annually from trains to barges. Under the proposal the coal will be transported from Boardman to the Port Westward industrial park near Clatsakanie, where it will be transloaded directly onto ships for export.
The DEQ stated the project was issued the permits because the project complies “with all relevant environmental rules and regulations.”
According to the DEQ release, the permits went through a rigorous internal review and an extensive public process involving more than 16,500 public comments.
The DEQ concluded that water quality certification will also be necessary for the project, which also needs permits from the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“As we’ve said all along, we are committed to meeting the high environmental standards set by the state of Oregon. By issuing these three permits after a rigorous process, the Department of Environmental Quality has affirmed that the project complies with environmental rules and regulations of the state of Oregon,” said Clark Moseley, CEO, Morrow Pacific project.
“We are committed to doing business the Oregon way, and working with local companies to strengthen our economy. We’re ready to start work just as soon as we receive permits from the Corps and Oregon DSL,” added Moseley.
Morrow Pacific representatives stated that it is projected to be operational by the beginning of 2015.
They stated, “The Morrow Pacific project is setting new standards for protecting the environment while supporting the economy. Beginning when coal is off-loaded at the Port of Morrow facility until it arrives in Asia, there will be no visible coal and little, if any, coal dust.”
A response issued by Brett VandenHeuvel, of Columbia Riverkeepers, focused on the additional water quality permit required. He said, “We applaud the announcement that Oregon will use its full authority to take a hard look at the water quality impacts. This adds another major permit for Ambre.”
Drafts of the permits were made available for public comment on May 31, 2013 and the DEQ received 16,515 comments on the draft permits. The comments were read and catalogued by the DEQ.
13,321 of the comments were form letters opposed to issuing the permits.
2,771 of the comments were form letters in favor of issuing the permits.
336 people provided comments at the public hearings, some of whom also provided written comments (205 opposed and 129 in favor of issuing the permits)
87 people provide written comments (57 opposed and 30 in favor of issuing the permits).
Most of the comments, including the form letters, addressed three areas of general concern: global impacts related to the combustion of coal, such as greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, regional haze, mercury emissions, and other hazardous air pollutant emissions; transportation issues, such as increased train traffic, locomotive and tugboat emissions, noise, spills, and fugitive dust while the coal is in transit; and economic benefits associated with the project, such as jobs for Oregonians and revenue for local communities.
The DEQ’s report stated that many of these concerns, “are not within DEQ’s authority to address in the air and water quality permit action.”
by Adam J. Wehrley
With seven snow days already this winter the Rainier school board took a hard look at their calendars Monday, Feb 10, to make up the missing hours.
Make-up days have already been scheduled for Presidents Day, Feb. 17, and for April 18 and May 23. The remaining days may have to be added to the end of the school year. Superintendent Michael Carter said that he would be speaking with representatives from the teachers’ union about other possible make-up days.
No action was taken by the board on setting the calendar.
Dr. Carter commended MidCo Bus Company for its work transporting students safely when school was released early on Thursday, Feb 6.
Outdoor School Staffing
Outdoor school volunteer Sandie Dryer addressed the board to discuss staffing concerns for the program, which Dr. Carter explained was approximately $7,000 underfunded.
The five-day program is a long-standing tradition for Rainier sixth grade students and part of the grade’s annual curriculum.
Dryer stated that without sufficient staff qualified for all the program’s needs, additional personnel would need to be hired. One veteran outdoor school instructor has been transferred to a grade level which does not allow her to participate.
Dr. Carter stated that he would speak with Hudson Park Elementary School (HPE) Principal Paul Coakley regarding specific staff members availability.
After discussing leadership and communication issues and the lack of fundraising efforts, director Bill Scholten moved to fund the program with $6400 from the contingency fund and $600 of unused funds previously slated for a class trip.
Dr. Carter was directed to address the program’s leadership and communication concerns.
Professional Development Grant Report
Dr. Laurie Kash presented work being done as the result of a $20,000 professional development grant received by the district through the Chalkboard Project and the Oregon Department of Education.
Still in the design stage, the program addresses career paths, professional development, performance evaluation and compensation models for school faculty.
If successful the program could lead to implementation grants in the future.
RJSHS Principal Sought
With Dr. Carter stepping out of his role as half-time principal to concentrate on superintendent duties, resulting administrative shifts are costing about $47,000.
The board also approved a job posting for the Rainier Junior/Senior High School (RJSHS) principal position for the 2014-15 school year.
Graden Blue is currently serving as interim principal.
The board revised the North Columbia Academy’s charter to allow up to 65 students. Both on-campus and online enrollment have expanded this year to exceed the previous cap of 50 students.
Dr. Carter discussed implementation of the Rainier Commitment through which students can receive college tuition through a double enrollment program with Lower Columbia College. The program may be offered to selected students who would otherwise graduate, but be unable to pay for their first year of college.
Dr. Carter also discussed possible negative effects of an open enrollment law under consideration by the state legislature.
Snow falls delayed work on trenches necessary for the installation of fibre optic lines to improve the district’s internet service by Feb. 18.
A local wood carver will be making cedar carvings for the district out of wood recovered from the removal of diseased trees on campus which posed a danger to students and facilities.
Following an accident in the RJSHS gym, the bleachers were examined and found to be in need of replacement. Dr. Carter estimates new bleachers will cost in excess of $100,000.
Director Monica Rea suggested the boosters’ club take the bleacher replacement on as a project.
The board approved funds to install new bathroom stall doors throughout the district.
The board held an executive session to discuss personnel issues and contract negotiations.
NO IT WASN’T THE NORTH POLE, but there was enough snow in Clatskanie last week for the appropriately named Kirsten Snow, and her mother Amanda Ellis, to build an igloo by their home on BelAir Street. The two started the project on Friday night and finished it Saturday afternoon. Photo Courtesy of Amanda Ellis