The North Central Public Health District board approved a budget Tuesday that moves ahead with laying off two staff members in the wake of not receiving the full amount of funding it requested from Wasco County. District Director Teri Thalofer said the two individuals received layoff notices and their last day of work will be July 7. In addition, the district will cut back its walk-in clinic hours from five days a week to one. Thalofer says that will happen sometime after July 1. Wasco County Commissioners approved in their 2015-16 budget an allocation of $314,000 to the district, under the $396,000 the district said it needs to maintain current services. County Commission Chair Scott Hege told district officials last week that panel could consider increasing their contribution once a study of district operations requested by the County is finished later this year.
Hood River County Commissioners have approved a drought declaration. Commissioners heard from irrigation district officials and water experts during a special meeting at the Rockford Fire Hall, all testifying to the extreme drought conditions already underway and expected this summer. Commission Chair Ron Rivers says the declaration will now go to Governor Kate Brown for her approval, as she has already done for nearly 20 counties in the eastern and central portions of the state. A declaration by Brown would open up relief options for area farm operators. John Buckley of East Fork Irrigation District, which unlike the county’s other major irrigation districts does not have a reservoir for water storage, said they have asked their users to cut back on water use by 25 percent. Some Cascade Locks officials had asked the County to exempt their city from the declaration, but County officials decided against that, noting the state will only issue drought declarations for entire counties. Wasco County recently received a federal drought declaration, which will apply to Hood River County as a contiguous county.
Irrigators in Wasco County are dealing with their worst water year in memory. Josh Thompson of the Wasco County Soil and Water Conservation District says it’s the worst water year he has seen in fifteen years on the job, adding many of the agricultural producers he works with are saying its the worst they have seen. Thompson says irrigation districts in the southern portion of the county have cut distribution by 25 percent, and still may run out of water in their reservoirs a month to a month and a half earlier than they would in a normal year. Thompson says the depth of the problem depends on where the irrigator is, and it is usually worse the further south you go. The forecast of triple-digit temperatures in the next week will exacerbate the problem. Thompson says the hotter it gets, the more water crops will use, and that means farmers have to replenish the soil more often.
The City of Hood River is receiving a low-interest loan of just over $2.7 million from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to extend the outfall pipe for the municipal wastewater treatment plant further out into the Columbia River. City Manager Steve Wheeler says DEQ had advised the City the current outfall site for treated sewage was not appropriate. The new outfall pipe will run along the Hook and then out into the river into a better “mixing zone.’ Wheeler says they have to time water work to take place during the allowable time period between November and March. The interest rate on the DEQ loan is one-point-four percent.
Hood River City Councilors and Planning Commissioners now have a housing needs analysis compiled by an advisory committee in hand, so the focus falls on what kind of action is taken on it. The subject of developing more workforce housing in Hood River in the face of continually rising home prices has been bandied about for years. The analysis included a number of different housing strategies, including increasing the efficiency of the use of land in Hood River’s urban growth boundary through policy changes, regulating and managing secondary and short-term rental housing, and encouraging development of market-rate and government-subsidized affordable housing through policy actions. The planning commission will hold a public hearing on the findings of the report on July 6. The report is available on-line at the City’s website.
The Dalles City Council received a report on water and sewer rates on Monday evening. The report, based on recently compiled data from the League of Oregon Cities, showed water rates in The Dalles are higher than average and wastewater rates are lower. Mayor Steve Lawrence says he wasn’t sure how to completely evaluate how to use the information as presented, noting he was looking for any possible way to reduce the rate burden on residents. Lawrence pointed out water rates in The Dalles remained unchanged between 1994 and 2006 with no capital improvements taking place, so the City is in catch-up mode. In other business, Councilors approved an agreement with Wasco County to take over responsibility for roads in annexed areas the City had not accepted into its street system. The two agencies will chip seal the roads, then the City will accept them. The County approved the agreement last week.
A Hermiston man died after being involved in an accident while driving the wrong way on Interstate 84 in Gilliam County. According to the Oregon State Police, Tyler Brown was driving an SUV eastbound in the westbound lanes of I-84 near milepost 114 at about 11:15 p.m. Monday when he struck a semi-truck head on. Both vehicles came to rest in the travel lanes and caught fire. The driver of the truck, 61-year-old Michael McCright of Redmond, managed to escape the fire as both vehicles became fully engulfed. McCright was not injured, while Brown was declared deceased on scene. The truck was loaded with recently harvested salmon, which took hours for fire crews to fully extinguish. Both directions of I-84 were closed for almost four hours until one lane in each direction could be opened. Crews were still on the scene Tuesday morning cleaning the highway. Sherman County Fire, Rufus Rural Fire Department and the Oregon Department of Transportation assisted OSP officers.
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden voiced his support for President Obama’s trade legislation today in a floor speech. The Senate voted 60-37 today to begin full-blown debate on Obama’s request for fast-track negotiating authority, avoiding a filibuster. Wyden said to move on from the 1990’s NAFTA policies, Obama’s trade package needs to be approved, adding he believes it will demand more from trade deals than ever before. Previous presidents have enjoyed fast track authority to allow them to proposed trade pacts that Congress can reject or ratify but not change. Unions strongly oppose it, saying free-trade deals cost U.S. jobs. Obama and many Republican leaders believe American products must reach more markets.
A second child has died as the result of injuries suffered in a head-on collision Saturday evening on Highway 14 three miles west of North Bonneville The Washington State Patrol says nine-year-old Alexander Goy died of his injuries at a Portland hospital on Monday. Three others were deceased at the scene of the accident. The WSP says an eastbound pickup driven by 24-year-old Heath Martin of North Bonneville drifted over the center line and struck an on-coming van driven by 47-year-old Anatoliy Goy of Kent. Both drivers were pronounced dead at the scene, as was a young child in the van, seven-year-old Daniel Goy. Two others in the van, 49-year-old Mariya Goy and 11-year-old Andrey Goy, remain at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland. The accident occurred just after 8 p.m. Saturday in front of the Skamania County Fire District #5 station.
An analysis of housing needs, buildable land inventory, and a strategy for developing more workforce housing will be presented to the Hood River City Council Monday evening. City Planning Commissioners will join in the meeting to receive the report from a committee that has been working on it for the past few months. Mayor Paul Blackburn is hopeful some strategies can be implemented to help create more opportunities for workforce housing, particularly through residential zoning changes. The study found ten percent of Hood River’s residential property base is not available for year-round occupancy. Monday’s meeting begins at 6 p.m. in Hood River City Hall. In The Dalles Monday evening, the City Council will receive a presentation on utility rates based on a League of Oregon Cities water, wastewater, and stormwater rate survey done in March. That meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. in The Dalles City Hall.