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Looking back on 2011-- part 1

December 31, 2011

January

In Cascade Locks, City Administrator Bernard Seeger announced plans to step down at the end of January after four years on the job. "The driving force behind the decision is the new council and my conclusion that I don't have their trust," Seeger said.

Happy parents Elizabeth and Richard Stillwell gave birth to a son, Sawyer, on Jan. 3, winning the annual Hood River News/Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital's First Baby contest. The healthy baby boy weighed in at 7 pounds, 8 ounces.

In a major blow to Cascade Locks casino proponents, the Department of the Interior delayed a decision on the off-reservation casino into the spring, which put the final sign-off on the desk of newly elected Gov. John Kitzhaber, who had repeatedly expressed his opposition to it.

Newly elected legislators from Hood River Rep. Mark Johnson and Sen. Chuck Thomsen started their first days of work at their new posts. The two Republicans were sworn in on Jan. 10.

The Next Door Inc., a longtime nonprofit started four decades ago by Jim Klahre, saw the exciting remodel of its new home on Tucker Road that had been Encore Video for many years. The new facility consolidated all NDI services under one roof and allows for much more efficient public services.

In a Jan. 15 article titled "A grim picture," Hood River County School District's new budget was unveiled. A $3.5 million shortfall led to a sweeping series of cuts, including (eventually) the closure of Pine Grove Elementary School and busing Cascade Locks middle school students to Hood River.

When looking at a list of potential cuts, Supt. Charlie Beck said, "The things you see in front of you aren't very pretty. They hurt a lot. I cannot in good conscience support any of them. However, I have to bring this budget to a place where it is balanced."

Wet weather focused over Mount Hood broke a daily rainfall record for Jan. 16 set in 1953. Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Area recorded 5.45 inches of rain in 24 hours. Despite raging rivers at flood stage, very little damage was reported from the storms.

In the last issue of the month, the lead story featured a photo of Marlene Zarate, in prison orange, hands and feet chained, walking to a court appearance.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," the woman said about her involvement in the Sept. 9, 2009, murder of Hood River resident Jerry Cranmer. In a courtroom full of Cranmer friends and family, Zarate pleaded guilty to murder and robbery charges. The man who pulled the trigger, Jairo Vicente, was eventually sentenced to life in prison, while Zarate and a second accomplice, Delores Escoto, were sentenced to 90 months in prison.

February

A group called Save our Schools was formed to help alleviate some of the effects of looming budget cuts. The group partnered with the Hood River County Education Foundation and aimed to raise as much money as possible to donate back to the school district to save some programs from being axed.

An abduction attempt of a 7-year-old girl in Odell put the county on the lookout for what a witness described as a small light-colored car with a blue stripe on it. No arrests were made.

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs announced plans that it would relocate its tribal casino from the resort of Kah-Nee-Ta to Warm Springs. The move was described as temporary and a CTWS spokesman said the group will continue to pursue a permanent location in Cascade Locks.

The City of Hood River took significant steps toward updating its Transportation System Plan, which is needed to address things such as changes in industry, housing, population density, efficiency and how people travel from place to place.

In an issue that continues into 2012, the City of Hood River received a full application on Feb. 14 for a proposed expansion to Walmart, to include grocery and deli services. The expansion would add 30,000 square feet to its retail facility.

In the continuing school district budget woes, Supt. Charlie Beck announced his list of recommended cuts to make up for a $3 million shortfall. In what he called the worst decision he's had to make in his position, Beck recommended the following cuts (not the complete list): A nearly 20-percent reduction in funding of high school athletics, a reduction of five full time staff members, a discontinuance of Dos Mundos Charter School and grades 6-8 in Cascade Locks and closure of Pine Grove Elementary School (shift students to Mid Valley Elementary School).

In the sports world, Hood River Valley High School senior Robert Frasier sealed a four-year quest for a state wrestling title with a second-round pin in the 145-pound championship match against Garrett Urrutia from Lebanon. Teammates Katie Eddy and Frannie Ybarra both won their second female state titles as well.

March

Columbia Gorge Cat Rescue was overwhelmed with nearly 60 cats - in varying degrees of health - after they were discovered in a Goldendale home. The case of cat hoarding was the worst volunteers at CGCR and Catlink could recall. Through the help of the two volunteer organizations, the cats were transported to Catlink's facility in The Dalles, where they received veterinary care and were housed until homes could be found. In addition to the 57 live cats, authorities found more than 50 dead and even more unidentifiable bodies of cats in different states of decomposition in boxes in the Goldendale couple's garage. Cheryl and John DiPonziano were charged with 59 counts of animal cruelty in the first degree.

As news broke of devastating earthquakes and tsunamis in northern Japan, a group of exchange students from Hood River's sister city, Tsuruta, was just arriving in town. The group was at the airport in Tokyo when the initial earthquake struck and was in the air before flights were grounded across the country. The group of 18 junior high students and three adults kept in good spirits during the week-long visit, despite news of tragedy from their home in Japan.

In an update from 2010 statistics, the region saw an increase in agricultural sales for the year. The Columbia Region (Hood River and Wasco counties) earned a total of $177.3 million in gross sales of farm commodities; a jump of almost $30 million from the previous year. The increase in sales in Hood River County added up to about a 5-percent jump from 2009.

Some Hood River County employees represented by local AFSCME unions took to the streets with pickets to protest a decision made by county administration that would have employees pay a portion of health care premiums retroactively, dating back to the tail end of 2010.

In a front page story titled "Overwhelming demand," a report noted 240 applicants for only 40 new units in the Hood River Crossing housing development on West Cascade Avenue. The situation highlights a continuing high demand for affordable housing in Hood River County.

April

Hood River County Health Department issues an alert about a possible case of measles. While the department was awaiting lab tests to confirm the case, it notified several individuals who were in the doctor's office during the same time frame. The article noted that no confirmed case of measles has been documented in the county in the last 20 years. The case was confirmed shortly after. Health officials reported that 92 percent of kindergarten and 97 percent of seventh-grade students in Hood River County have received Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccinations.

Parkdale resident Dane Donaghy, 20, was arraigned in the shooting death of 31-year-old Oscar Solario. Via a video feed from NORCOR's holding facility in The Dalles, Donaghy was read the felony murder charge against him, which carries a penalty of 25 years to life in prison.

Hood River County's annual Blossom Festival weekend was held in mid-April, despite less than ideal weather and a lack of blossoms. The unusually cold, wet spring delayed blossoms throughout the valley, while not far up in the mountains, record snowfall continued to accumulate.

"Gorge Commission funding faces axe" read a front page story on April 23, as Washington's proposed 2012-13 budget included $0 for the commission. The budget included a note saying the Gorge Commission's budget would be incorporated into the Department of Ecology's budget, which faced roughly $3 million in cuts. That budget included about $120,000 for the commission, which Oregon would be required to match. The $240,000 total is down from about $880,000 over the past two years and $1.2 million in years past.

A solid mountain snowpack brought early-season security to farmers and watershed managers. Near the end of April, the Mount Hood area held a water equivalent of about 140 percent above average, with other areas of the state at more than 170 percent above average.

May

Parkdale Community Church - officially known as The United Church of the Upper Hood River Valley - celebrated its 100-year anniversary in May, with two days of festivities at the "little brown church" in the center of town.

In a rare one-word headline, "Guilty" ran halfway across the May 7 issue of the news. Jairo Vicente was sentenced to life behind bars for the murder of Hood River native Jerry Cranmer. Vicente won't be eligible for parole for at least 37 years. On the same page, an update in the Oscar Solario murder trial noted that Dane Donaghy continued to be held at NORCOR on $50,000 bail.

In a good day on the track (and field), Hood River Valley High School sent 20 athletes to the state meet in Eugene. Finishing on top were two individual state champions. Ian McNaughton won gold in the 400-meter dash and Olivia Campbell took the state pole vaulting title.

County voters kept one incumbent and said goodbye to another in Port of Hood River Commission races. Brian Shortt was elected over longtime commissioner Sherry Bohn, while Hoby Streich kept his seat as Position 5 commissioner.

Due to above-average snowpack across the West, water level on the Columbia River remained far higher than normal through the entire spring. Forecasts had levels above-average through August, which prompted changes to waterfront regulations to accommodate for kiteboarding access issues created by the lack of beach or sandbar.

A considerable crowd gathered at Pine Grove Elementary school to unearth a time capsule buried 22 years ago, during the school's 100-year anniversary. The event was held with mixed emotions, as the school was slated to be repurposed and no longer used as an elementary school. The capsule was replaced by a new one from 2011 staff and students.

Heavy equipment demolished the Hood River Fire Department station to make way for a new facility, slated to be completed nearly a year later. The roughly $4.5 million project was meant to be an extensive remodel but crews ended up demolishing the building and starting from scratch.

June

Congressman Greg Walden gave a keynote speech at a Memorial Day ceremony. A special focus of the ceremony was the unveiling of a Japanese-American memorial that included the names of Japanese-American soldiers.

"Abhorrently, the names of 16 Japanese Americans who had selflessly served in the cause of freedom were stripped from the sacred wall erected by the American Legion at the courthouse to forever honor their bravery and service," Walden said. "This is not a proud chapter in the history of the Hood River Valley … Nothing we say today can right the wrongs of the past, but hopefully our acknowledgement of those wrongs can help us, and those to come, from allowing such actions to ever occur again."

Bigger and better each year has been the theme of the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic, and 2011 was no exception. Hundreds of cyclists came to town for the event, from world-class Olympic hopefuls to amateur riders and families. One headache for organizers was mountain snowpack, which had to be cleared at considerable expense from stretches of road in the Lost Lake area. The task was a hassle, but yielded some dramatic photos of packs of racers amid head-high walls of snow.

In a tragic turn of events, Hood River Valley High School senior Forest Andrews passed away on graduation day in a downtown Hood River skateboarding accident. At a noticeably somber graduation ceremony, Andrews' skateboard was rested on stage and students laid flowers next to it on their way to accepting their diplomas.

In a musical chairs of sorts, school district staff rearranged itself to avoid as many staff cuts as possible. Through a combination of retirements, job shares, resignations and leave requests, most staff originally at risk of being cut were able to keep their jobs.

Locks came off Hood River County Library doors after a year of being closed. Although hours were limited at the county's three locations, the reopening was a seen by many as a huge step in the right direction.

Full hours of operation are slated to begin in 2012.

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