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The year of diverse news

We take a look back on the top 10

When we look back at the top news stories in 2006 for the Lake Oswego Review, the item that stands out is diversity.

In a city that can't claim a great deal of diversity, the news that was generated out of it spread all across the board.

Our top stories range from water and pollution woes to state high school sports championships and a conviction for criminal negligent homicide.

It's never easy coming up with a top-10 list of newsmakers. This year, we had two efforts climb to the head of our list, both of them involving major investigative reporting efforts by our city reporter Lee van der Voo.

Here's a quick look back at our top 10 stories in the Review for 2006:

No. 1

Beneath the Surface: City, Lake Corp veil pollution

It was back on Nov. 16 that we ran van der Voo's piece on the amount of copper sulfate that has been used as a pesticide in Oswego Lake for roughly 50 years.

The Lake Corporation used hundreds of thousands of pounds of the pesticide during that time as a way to battle algae.

When the city of Lake Oswego began looking into replacing the failing backbone of the city's sewer system - the interceptor - that runs at the bottom of the lake, it pulled back from its plans because of concerns that disturbing the bottom of the lake could trigger scrutiny of the project and the lake under the federal Clean Water Act by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

As van der Voo wrote: 'But in the spring of 2003, a firm hired by the city to replace a failing sewer pipe also found the former solution had consequences.'

The city was looking at a floating pipeline that would be the first of its kind in the world and could cost $65 million to build.

'Through negotiations with the Lake Corp, construction plans were shifted to avoid federal permits for the job and EPA scrutiny,' she wrote. 'If the plans move forward, the ailing sewer pipe will be replaced. But potential violations of the Clean Water Act now lie - with possibly toxic levels of copper - safely quiet at the bottom of Oswego Lake.'

No. 2

A closer look: Whose water is it? (five-part series)

Back on Feb. 16 we began van der Voo's five-part series about the water in Oswego Lake. As she began her research for her story, Doug Schmitz, Lake Oswego city manager, posed an important question. When asked how the city manages its storm water in the Oswego Lake watershed, Schmitz asked in turn, 'Whose water is it? I don't mean in the lake, whose water goes into the lake?'

That question helped set the tone for a close-up view of the Oswego Lake watershed and the impact residents can have on keeping it cleaner.

Van der Voo's story pointed out that water in Lake Oswego must go to one of three places: Oswego Lake, the Tualatin River or the Willamette River. Since about a third of the land inside the city limits is impervious, the other two-thirds is forced to serve as the transport for storm water - and debris - to move. And while the goal is for that water to be clean, the reality is far from it.

Her stories provide a detailed look at the complicated situation surrounding this body of water in the center of the city.

No. 3

Safeco/Community Center

Perhaps the most contentious subject in the mix, the city's efforts to transform the former Safeco Insurance Building into a new community center, have not been without naysayers.

In addition to it generating the most controversy, especially if letters to the editor are any indicator, it also triggered the most news stories during the year. Again, van der Voo took the lead on the coverage of this story.

At the heart of the issue is that back in April, the Lake Oswego City Council unanimously authorized the purchase of the 14-acres Safeco campus at 4101 Kruse Way for $20 million. The deal was closed in July.

Lake Oswego residents will have a chance in 2008 to vote on whether the facility will become a community center for the city. In the interim, various groups are trying to decide what should or shouldn't be included at the Safeco site should voters approve the concept. All or part of the library and the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center have both been mentioned as possible tennants for the space.

Opposition to the idea continues to stress the high costs associated with the project, the removal of the office from the tax rolls and the fact that voters won't have a chance to weigh in until 2008. Supporters see an opportunity to create something positive for the city that wouldn't be available if the property was sold into private ownership.

No. 4

Education successes (test scores)

The Lake Oswego School District and its 13 schools all had more than their share of academic glory during 2006. And education reporter Cori Bolger was at the forefront of covering the incredibly strong showing made by the schools on various state and national indicators.

Back in August, she reported that local students were meeting - and exceeding - the statewide assessment scores released by the Oregon Department of Education.

'The Lake Oswego School District beat the state average in every category and in some cases, the percentage of students who met state standards in certain Lake Oswego schools is nearly double the state average,' she reported.

For example, 42 percent of students statewide met or exceeded the standard for fourth grade writing, while 81 percent of students did so in Lake Oswego.

Also in August, all but one of the district schools (Lake Oswego High School) reportedly made Adequate Yearly Progress, according to preliminary data released by the Oregon Department of Education. LOHS was given an inadequate designation.

'The 'inadequate' designation' is part of the Federal No Child Left Behind Act and is based on a number of criteria including student performance, graduation rates and participation on state tests.'

As Bolger reported, 'While (District Superintendent Bill) Korach talks openly about his disdain for the No Child Left Behind Act, calling it 'deeply flawed,' he also respects the need for all districts to meet the act's requirements.'

In October, she reported 12 of the 13 schools were deemed exceptional, according to the 2005-06 State School Report Card. Only Lake Oswego High School slipped a notch to 'strong.'

The results were provided by the Oregon Department of Education.

Also in August, Bolger reported that 'compared to students at the state and national level, Lake Oswego students once again posted high scores on the SAT exam this year.'

'The 2006 exam, which was taken by 86 percent of the district's graduates, included a new essay portion that raised the perfect score from 1,600 to 2,400.

'The district's total score, which included the essay, equaled 1,690 - 135 points higher than the state average of 1,555 and 172 points higher than the national average of 1,518.'

No. 5

Cory Sause

Back on Dec. 21, 2004, 21-year-old Patrick Kibler, Lake Oswego, was killed in a car crash on South Shore Boulevard.

On Aug. 8, 2006, Lake Oswegan Cory Sause pled guilty in Clackamas County Circuit Court to three charges stemming from the accident. Again, Bolger covered the story.

Sause, 27, had a blood-alcohol level of .19 percent, more than twice the legal limit of .08 percent, she wrote. The most serious charge that Sause ended up facing was criminal negligent homicide.

At the trial, 'I don't think any of us harbor animosity toward you,' said Patrick's father, John Kibler, as he choked back emotion. 'The feelings we have are of extreme sadness … The one good thing to come out of this is if it helps your life in the future.'

According to Bolger, 'Sause showed little reaction as Judge Robert Selander handed down a combined plea bargain sentence of 60 months with the Oregon Department of Corrections with potential for an 'alternative program,' such as an alcohol-treatment program, after 33 months served.'

The plea agreement was reached between Sause's high-powered attorney Stephen House and deputies in the Clackamas County District Attorney's office.

Sause is confined in the all-female Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville.

No. 6

Sewage

Stories by van der Voo about sewer problems repeatedly popped up over the course of the year.

Some of them were about problem areas that repeatedly see sewage come to the surface during heavy rainstorms and foul local areas, especially the canals along Oswego Lake.

Some were about the response from the state Department of Environmental Quality, which 'has charged Lake Oswego with the highest class of violations for discharging sewage into non-permitted areas. Discharge of untreated sewage to a water body violates the federal Clean Water Act and is punishable by fines, which are still pending in this case.'

Other stories detailed the work the city has launched to help alleviate some of the problems.

No. 7

Sports school championships

High schools in Lake Oswego have always held their own in athletic competition against the rest of the state.

This year was no different and the cream of the crop, as reported by Sports Editor Bill Stewart and Assistant Sports Editor Matthew Sherman, translated into four state titles this year.

Perhaps the most anticipated one came when the Kevin Love-led Lake Oswego High School boys basketball team won a state title back in March. The next week the Laker girls dance team captured its third consecutive state championship.

In June, the Laker girls lacrosse team repeated as state champs and one week later the Lakeridge boys lacrosse team also brought back the title.

For more on the basketball and lacrosse championships, see today's sports section.

No. 8

Higashi

It captivated the Lake Oswego community for more than a month much in the same way we all paid attention to the recent search for the climbers on Mount Hood.

Unfortunately, the quest to locate 79-year-old Tazuye Higashi of Lake Oswego - as noted in a series of stories by van der Voo - ended when a fisherman spotted her van on the shores of the Willamette River near the north entrance to the Canby Ferry.

She disappeared Jan. 10 after stopping at the United Parcel Service store near her home.

Community members, relatives and police spent more than a month looking for her.

'Unfortunately, police believe Higashi was lost before her van became submerged in the Willamette River. There was heavy rain in the region Jan. 10,' van der Voo wrote.

'The outcome was a shock for Higashi's family, who held out hope they would find the woman they called 'Grandma,' a woman they described as loving, selfless, stubborn and funny.'

Higashi lived in Lake Oswego with her daughter Susan Bigelow, the wife of late Review Publisher Bob Bigelow, since 2000.

No. 9

Wizer's Measure 37

When voters approved Measure 37, they reopened a Pandora's Box of concerns for government at all levels in Oregon. The issue was covered by van der Voo.

One of the biggest such concerns for Lake Oswego surfaced this month when Gene Wizer, owner of the local grocery store, filed a Measure 37 claim to allow a building taller than 60 feet on the Wizer's site in downtown Lake Oswego.

Wizer, through his developer, is seeking public subsidy of a building on his land, which he can build up to 60 feet high (approximately three to four stories) under current regulations. He could seek a taller building for his plans - which include a mix of retail, housing and possibly office space - if subsidies for parking don't come through and he wins his Measure 37 claim.

The result could have a drastic impact on the face of downtown Lake Oswego.

Wizer said the Measure 37 claim is intended as a back-up plan if the current development failed.

The Wizer family's long-time ownership of the land makes it eligible for a claim under Measure 37. The voter-approved law reimburses property owners when zoning changes decrease property values.

No. 10

Stafford Hamlet

At one point earlier in the year, Stafford-area residents were in two camps concerning their future: Those who wanted a village and those who favored a hamlet.

Through a great deal of communication, spearheaded in part by Clackamas County, the two groups finally decided on the hamlet version as the way to go.

Back in mid-November, the Stafford residents overwhelmingly voted to endorse the Stafford Hamlet plan. Van der Voo followed the issue for months, culminating with the vote conducted at two town hall meetings at Athey Creek Middle School.

'If approved by the Clackamas County Commission, the Stafford Hamlet can formally advise county officials on matters in the rural area,' van der Voo reported.

'Stafford residents have previously divided into two camps, with some supporting development and others calling for controls on growth as Metro stands poised to net the Stafford Basin into the Urban Growth Boundary in 2008,' she wrote.