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A retrospective

December floods top news event in 2007
by: Rick Swart, A pickup with big tires pulls into a driveway to help the residents start removing  contents from their flooded home in early December.

The year 2007 was chock full of relevant news stories covered in-depth at the Spotlight, including natural disasters, an increasing fatality count for Highway 30, local efforts at immigration reform, the Port Westward opening, the governing direction for the city of St. Helens and the growing pains felt with new development at Scappoose Industrial Airpark. Certainly too many than could be covered in this small space.

Though a number of the stories are of the flash-in-the-pan news variety, others pose lingering questions, the answers to which will likely play out over the days, weeks and months of 2008.

In this edition, we take the time to reflect on our news past as an appropriate segue into the New Year.

December storms

On Dec. 1, the first of two hard-hitting winter storms slammed into Oregon. By Dec. 3, after the second system arrived, widespread flooding throughout northwest Oregon immobilized some towns, including a portion of St. Helens and - most significantly - Vernonia.

The floods resulted in the dislocation of hundreds of Vernonia residents, millions of dollars - and counting - in damage and emergency personnel overtime, federal and state disaster declarations and a clean-up effort that continues to this day.

It also brought out the best, and worst, in humanity. Nonprofit groups from around the state and region pulled together resources to aid the stricken residents. Most impressive, perhaps, was the effort of local groups, businesses and individuals to get needed food and clothing into the flood victims' hands. On the other side, reports of door-to-door fraud and theft of donated goods started to surface.

As the full brunt of the floods settled in, a mammoth mudslide near Clatskanie drew national media exposure when it wrecked several homes and closed down Highway 30 for several days. The slide occurred due to a build-up of storm debris in ? creek. Oregon Department of Forestry geotechnical specialist identified the risk before the slide broke loose, and residents in the Woodson area approximately eight miles west of Clatskanie were safely evacuated.

In spite of the scope of damage, no flood- or mudslide-related deaths were reported.

Illegal immigration

Wayne Mayo, a St. Helens resident, in ? advanced a hard-line approach on illegal immigration, one designed to punish construction contractors who employ illegal immigrants.

The approach involves levying a $10,000 fine against any contractor caught using illegal immigrant labor in Columbia County, and would require contractors to display 4-by-8-foot signs declaring the county as an illegal-immigrant-free zone.

Opponents argue that Mayo's ballot initiative, if successful, would breed intolerance on all Hispanic immigrants - legal and illegal - and that regulation of immigrant activity is a federal, not local, mandate.

Mayo's proposal is not without precedent. Similar proposals nationwide have come under judicial fire, including court rulings that such actions violate the constitution.

Mayo received a ruling from Columbia Circuit Court Judge Ted Groves that the initiative's language requirements have been met, opening the door for Mayo to gather the 1,300 signatures needed to place the initiative on a future ballot, an action Mayo said has beeen started.

City of St. Helens

Debate over what type of governmental structure should be adopted in St. Helens - city-manager or council-mayor format- consumed a greater part of the city discourse in 2007, resulting in a council decision to operate as a commission form of government.

The debate at times grew contentious, with a majority of the city council opposed to adoption of a city-manager government, which made up the dominate position of the city's Charter Review Committee members. The Charter Review Committee members were appointed by the prior council, one that had leanings toward a city-manager government.

In October, the committee made its formal recommendation to the council, advocating for a type of hybrid government format that employed aspects of both structures. There has been no decision by the council whether or not to advance the recommendation to a public vote.

Glenn Shipman Jr.

In August, Scappoose resident Glenn Shipman Jr., who had struggled for years with a schizoaffective disorder, was taken into custody by Scappoose police after becoming agitated one evening while staying at the home of his mother, Elaine Shipman. That night, he was transported to Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland.

? hours later, Shipman died at the hospital.

Because police used Taser guns multiple times on Shipman, there was early speculation about whether the controversial weapon had contributed to the 450-pound man's demise.

The hospital characterized the cause of death as 'cardiac arrest.'

An investigation launched due to a federal Medicare requirement, however, revealed that Shipman had died due to compressed asphyxia, or asphyxiation. A report compiled by the investigative arm of the Oregon Department of Human Services showed that hospital security staff had improperly restrained Shipman, holding him facedown, arms folded under his chest and pressure applied to his back.

The finding was relevant on several levels. For one, it provided answers to Glenn's mother, family and friends, who characterized Glenn as a 'gentle giant,' but also as someone who had a strong aversion to hospitals.

Second, it cleared the Scappoose police departments' use of the Taser guns, and

Scappoose airport

The longtime promise of new industrial development around Scappoose Industrial Airpark took a substantial leap forward in 2007, with noticeable infrastructure and planning improvements taking root. The development largely hinged on an agreement by the Port of St. Helens to grant adjacent business owners access to the publicly owned airport.

A second consideration, and one initially embraced by the Port of St. Helens, focused on the concept of a residential airpark next to the airport. A residential airpark resembles a standard housing subdivision in many respects, but is also characterized by aircraft taxiways and hangers situated much like garages on individual homeowner property.

Hospital deal

A proposal between the city of St. Helens, the St. Helens School District and the Columbia Health and #8200;District agreed to in November and #8200;has the circular effect of granting each of the agencies something each desires.

For the health district, it answered the nagging question of where to find suitable property to build a proposed community hospital; for the city, it will provide money to develop a portion of the Ross Road property into parkland; and for the school district, it would secure more fitting land for a possible future elementary school on Ross Road, adjacent to the park.

Officials from each agency have heralded the deal as a win-win-win, but there are some lingering questions.

For one, the health district must still qualify under the state's Certificate of Need program to build the roughly $18 million hospital. Failure to gain a Certificate of Need, something hospital officials intend to soon apply for, could be a dealbreaker.

Tire plant

In April, a company called Reklaim Technologies applied for city of St. Helens land-use approval to build a $50 million tire pyrolysis plant on Port Avenue.

The application touched off a firestorm of debate about the appropriateness of siting a plant in the city that intends to heat used tires in a vacuum and extract from them the raw materials of oil, steel and carbon black.

In June, the city's Planning Commission voted down the proposal, based on findings that air quality concerns and community livability outweighed any positive economic benefit the plant offered.

The decision carried significant weight for the city. On one level, it redefined the city's emphasis on job creation, and marked a palpable shift from an industrial to a commercial focus.