Wednesday, January 2, 2002
Hood River was racked by growing pains in 2001.
Three major developments surfaced and immediately drew fire from grassroots citizen groups.
No-Casino re-activated members after the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs revisited its 1999 plans to site a casino on a steep slope just east of Hood River. Following that announcement by tribal leaders in early February, both city and county leaders joined No-Casino in its opposition to having a gambling facility built on the 40-acre trust parcel just above the new Mark O. Hatfield State Park.
Even as the protests mounted, the tribe purchased more than 160 acres of property adjacent to its trust land during the spring. The Warm Springs then filed a request with the Department of the Interior to have the newly acquired properties, which lie within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, re-classified with trust status so that they would be exempt from regulation and could be used to support a gaming operation.
Throughout the year tribal leaders made it clear that they would have preferred to locate the casino on Government Rock in Cascade Locks. In late 1999 Gov. John Kitzhaber vetoed tribal plans to build the facility on the 34-acre island it had purchased that same year for almost $2 million from the Port of Cascade Locks. Tribal lands acquired after the passage of the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act of 1988 are not eligible for gaming without the express permission of the governor. Following Kitzhaber's thumbs down to the casino, the tribe voiced plans to house a destination resort on the island and filed an application to have it converted into a trust parcel.
In November, tribal leaders met with Cascade Locks port officials and suggested a third site for the casino, in the industrial park which is already partially zoned for a resort. Kitzhaber has not yet weighed in on that recommendation and Danny Santos, his legal counsel, said it will not be given a "hard look" until the decision is made about the conversion of the Scenic Area property.
Meanwhile Greg Leo, tribe spokesman, said the Warm Springs leaders will meet in January to set a date for the 1,900 tribal members of voting age to weigh in on the Hood River proposal and, if that approval is given, the die will most likely be cast for the casino to be built in Hood River.
In late summer a proposal for the county to exchange timber land with Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort brought protest from the Hood River Valley Residents Committee. The land-use watchdog group believes the swap of forested acreage would pave the way for Meadows to build the destination resort it had been planning for more than 20 years. Under the trade, which is being finalized, the county will gain about 140 acres since Meadows is giving 785 acres in exchange for 640 acres, both of which are equally zoned for forest use. Ken Galloway, county forester, said the acquisition of the new property would allow access to high yield county timber that can now only be reached for harvest by helicopters, an operation that increases logging costs from the standard $50-$75 per 1,000 board feet to between $375-$450. County officials have authorized Galloway to spend up to $1.5 million to compensate Meadows for the difference in acreage.
In its December newsletter, the resident's committee said that Meadows has been involved in a "massive" effort to gain control of several thousand acres of land on the north side of Mt. Hood that will be used for development purposes. Although no building application has yet been submitted for the resort, the group is gearing up to fight against future plans because of concerns the development will harm the area watershed and other natural resource lands.
After Wal-Mart filed preliminary plans this fall to build a super center in Hood River, The Citizens for Responsible Growth formed to demand that the Hood River County Commission take emergency action to stop any "big box" development.
Just hours before county officials sat down to debate that request on Dec. 17, the national chain store filed its formal building plans for a 185,000 square foot store on 16 acres of commercial property at the junction of Country Club and Frankton roads. That move "grandfathered" the retail giant's right to have the application considered under existing zoning ordinances, which do not limit the size of businesses.
Under a formal agreement with the city, county officials were to begin hearings in January to consider adoption of the new municipal "footprint" code that restricts the size of commercial buildings to 50,000 square feet -- 26,000 square feet smaller than the existing Wal-Mart store.
Wal-Mart's super center plans are now under review by county planners, and CRG members have vowed to track that process and fight the development. Representatives from the group have publicly stated that CRG is not against Wal-Mart specifically but wants to ensure that Hood River's growth does not harm the rural community's quality of life or existing businesses.
Four unusual deaths within a six-week period sent Hood River's law enforcement officials scrambling on separate investigations during the summer of 2001:
* Shortly after midnight on May 20, Bismar Guadarrama, 16, was thrown from a vehicle during an accident on Highway 35 and died two days later from severe head injuries. The driver of the vehicle, Uriel Lozano, 16, later pled guilty to culpability in Guadarrama's death because of his reckless driving. Also sentenced for involvement in the fatal accident was Alonso Muro, 17, who was racing at a high rate of speed against Lozano on the rural road that night.
* Fifteen-year-old Chloe Walters died on June 28 at the Parkdale home of William Young, 19, from a heroin/cocaine overdose. Both Young and another acquaintance, Stefani Baucom, 19, later pled guilty to providing the minor with the drugs which caused her death.
* On June 30 the remains of Eric Tamiyasu, 41, were found at his home on Binns Hill Road. The body of the orchardist was discovered by an acquaintance and he was reportedly killed several days earlier by a gunshot wound to the head. The incident is investigation and, to date, the District Attorney's office has not stated that they have specific suspects. The Taymiyasu family has posted a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer.
* Patrick T. Edwards, 50, of Hood River died from head injuries on July 2 that he had received two days earlier after being struck by a car in the roadway near his Eugene Street residence. The driver of the car, Samuel Trejo-Rodriguez, 17, later pled guilty to leaving the scene of the accident that reportedly occurred following a verbal altercation between Edwards and himself.
Other major news in 2001 included the sentencing of Peg Lalor, former Port Commissioner, for falsifying her 1999 candidate's disclosure form. Lalor stepped down from her position in March because she was relocating outside the county. That same month she admitted during an official investigation by the Secretary of State's office that she had wrongfully claimed to have a degree in economics from the University of Waterloo in Canada. In May she pled guilty to the Class C Felony and was ordered to spend three years on supervised probation, perform 80 hours of community service and pay $605 in court fines and fees.
While debates over the casino and Wal-Mart proposals invoked the prospect of plentiful employment gains, the county continued to feel the effects of the shutdown in 2000 of a once-major employer, Hanel Lumber Company.
After being closed almost a year, Hanel Lumber was sold in bankruptcy court for $2.5 million to High Cascade International Corp., from Home Valley, Wash. Kaiser and Olson in Carson, Wash. The August closure of the deal brought a ray of hope to the 130 laid-off employees that they would be soon go back to work, but that hope was short-lived when it became clear that High Cascade officials had no immediate plans to repen the historic mill.
Hood River fruit growers took to the streets in early February to raise public awareness about the need for consumers to "Buy American" products and support financially strapped farmers. The Tractor Coalition staged its first parade and rally in the parking lot of Wal-Mart and then took its message to other communities and the state's capital. The goal of the activist group has been to educate citizens that food producers throughout the nation are going broke because of inequities in foreign trade, the rising cost of production regulations and a recent consolidation of grocery chains that has eliminated competitive pricing.
Three lead officials were hired to top positions in the city, county and school district.
* The City of Hood River hired Anthony "Tony" Dirks to replace police chief Rich Younkins, who retired on May 31 and relocated to his home state of Alaska. Dirks, the former sheriff of Gilliam County, immediately launched a community policing program to build a working relationship between officers and citizens.
* In June, Hood River County hired David R. Meriwether, former city manager of Silverton, as its new administrator. Meriwether was selected after an almost five-month national search that yielded 80 applicants for the job vacated the previous December by Jim Azumano.
* Jerry Sessions was chosen in July as the new superintendent of the Hood River County School District. The former LaGrande superintendent immediately launched into action to get construction work back on schedule for several projects funded in November 2000 by a $9.1 million bond levy.