It has been a year of joy and sadness. A year of hope and loss. A year of jubilance and despair. Through it all, we have been right there beside you, shining a light on our shared struggles and triumphs. This week we reflect on the stories and photos that made 2011 a memorable year - for good or bad.
Rainier police chief killed in shootout - Jan. 5
Those in the county and beyond were shocked and saddened to hear the news that Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter was shot and killed while responding to a call of suspicious activity Jan. 5. An outpouring of grief and remembrance was felt in the weeks after as Painter was honored as a man dedicated to his community and his profession. Nearly 2,000 fellow officers, family and friends filled the University of Portland's Chiles Center to pay their respects at a memorial Jan. 14. Painter's alleged murdered, Daniel A. Butts, is in jail as he continues to work his way through the court system. If convicted he could face the death penalty.
The timber payment problem - Feb. 9
Ongoing efforts reach a more critical pitch as rural Oregon counties, including Columbia, confront the reality of deep revenue cuts in 2012 following expiration of an annual federal payment made to timber-dependent counties. The payment first occurred in 2000 under the Clinton administration and was intended to be temporary until a new federal timber policy could be enacted, which hasn't occurred. It expired in September. A Senate proposal and other plans are in the works to restore timber revenue, either by subsidy or a new logging plan, but 2011 is closing without agreement. Columbia County received $650,000 in timber payments in 2011.
Scappoose council approves plan for UGB expansion - March 9
In March, Scappoose City Council approved plans by a 5-2 vote meant to serve as a catalyst for expanding the city's urban growth boundary, mostly near the Scappoose airport. Throughout 2010 and 2011, city and county leaders worked to push these plans forward - saying it was in the best economic interest for the city - while opponents pushed back by criticizing an 'economic opportunities analysis' for using what they said were skewed population and job growth projections.
High hopes - March 30
A Rainier family opened the county's first medical marijuana 'club' on April 1, believing that creating easy, legal access for Oregon Medical Marijuana Program cardholders - like themselves - to obtain the drug would greatly benefit the region. But soon after, as numerous similar businesses began popping up across the state, Staypuff Organics quickly and quietly closed its doors when the U.S. Attorney began warning such establishments they were likely operating against the law, which bans marijuana dispensaries in the state.
Long-envisioned Second Street opens - May 11
After nearly a decade of planning, an Oregon Department of Transportation-funded highway alignment and a 2009 federal stimulus payment that paved the way for a rail-lifting project, the Havlik Road-Second Street extension in Scappoose opened. Not only did the newly opened road provide access to Highway 30 for residents of southeast Scappoose and alleviate commuter congestion near Scappoose schools, it also created a new business sector. Seven months later and following, a new Les Schwab Tire Center has opened. The year 2011 ends with construction of a new Goodwill retail and donation center underway.
Citing budget woes, sheriff sends inmates to the streets early - July 13
Confronted by ever-tightening budget scenarios, Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson discloses his plan to release some Columbia County Jail inmates early with the intention of reducing the overall inmate population. Dickerson said the reduction would allow more space for U.S. Marshal's Office inmates, from which the Sheriff's Office anticipated receiving $2.1 million fiscal year 2011-12. The releases led to sparring between Dickerson and Municipal Court Judge Diana Shera-Taylor over municipal court sentencing policy, considering the bulk of releases originated from municipal court. Budget woes still persist, and Shera-Taylor announced her plan to retire as of Dec. 31 to pursue legal advocacy for children.
Wu's through - July 27
When beleaguered Congressman David Wu announced he would resign from his long-held seat in July - in the face of sexual misconduct allegations - it left a power vacuum that has yet to be filled. State Rep. Brad Witt, from Clatskanie, was one of the first to step forward to replace Wu, but a fast-paced special election placed him a distant third behind his Democratic competitors in November. Now, the 1st Congressional District awaits a Jan. 31 election to determine if Democrat Suzanne Bonamici or Republican Rob Cornilles will head to Washington.
An exodus of leaders - Aug. 3
A months-long leadership struggle within Vernonia culminated in late summer when three city councilors were ousted because of public dissatisfaction about their role in the firing of Interim City Administrator Bill Haack, who was later hired back. The councilors spoke out against Haack assisting an Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training investigation into Vernonia police Sgt. Michael Kay, whose certification was pulled after the state said he lied to his superiors and misidentified his K-9 certification.
Health district to dissolve - Sept. 21
Following two failed efforts to gain state support to build a hospital in Columbia County and widespread criticism of the Columbia Health District and its marquee project, including an initiative referendum to dissolve the district in 2010, voters in September overwhelmingly and officially decided to dissolve the Columbia Health District after its seven years in existence. Today, the appointed board of trustees for the district is working toward a resolution on the district's assets, and the city of St. Helens is in line to take possession of the 8.3-acre property on Millard Road that had been pegged as the hospital site location.
City councilor dies in Thailand on trip to bring home fiance - Sept. 28
St. Helens City Councilor Phillip Barlow died Sept. 24 during a trip to Thailand in which he planned to pick up his fiance, Jirawan Chomseang, and return to St. Helens. He was 39 years old. On the day of his death he posted a Ustream video of him eating spicy shrimp soup and joking with his fiance. In a Twitter feed he referenced the six miles he had walked earlier in the day and talked about taking a nap. He awoke several hours later and said he felt ill, according to his father, and asked Chomseang to pray with him before his death. The council is now tasked with filling Barlow's vacant seat, a position several have applied for. The council is expected to decide in January.
Child abuse 'epidemic' - Oct. 13
Child welfare advocates noticed a startling trend this year as the number of child abuse victims in Columbia County seemed to be increasing year after year. In 2010, 214 county children were reported abused. Two years earlier, only 120 victims were reported. This harrowing 'epidemic' has far reaching effects, experts say. Abuse costs the government an estimated $67 million daily in direct costs to the health care, law enforcement and judicial systems. For children, it leaves painful emotional scars, while research shows that many times abusers were once abused themselves.
Mackenzie Carr crowned Miss Rodeo America - Dec. 14
Columbia County's own Mackenzie Carr showed the world she has the right stuff when she represented Oregon at the Miss Rodeo America pageant in Las Vegas in December. Through the week-long competition, Carr won five out of eight major categories, more than enough to propel her to victory. Now Carr is preparing for a busy 2012 when she is expected to travel the country promoting all things rodeo.