Jan. 2, 2018 — The Siuslaw area experienced quite a year in 2018, with the usual joys and sorrows, excitement and letdowns. What follows are some of the top stories and subjects from 2018, including leadership changes, citizen recognition, city issues, area festivals and the 125th birthday of the City of Florence.
New leadership for Oregon Coast Humane Society
The Oregon Coast Humane Society (OCHS) took a major step forward this year in the state-mandated recrafting of the organization’s leadership team. OCHS Board President Shauna Robbers announced the hiring of Shelter Manager Marina Lewis and the organization’s first executive director, Bob Murray. Robbers said the hiring’s directly address the main recommendations made by the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) at the end of last year, after an extensive inquiry was made into the operating practices of the OCHS.
“These people are an answer to the board’s prayers in getting competent people, as the DOJ had directed us, to help us staff and run the shelter, make changes and improvements and really get everything back on an even keel,” Robbers said.
Murray has a lifetime of experience working with animals. His childhood was populated by the abandoned and neglected animals brought home by his father, a law enforcement officer for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Massachusetts. Murray followed the lead provided by his father as he grew older, naturally gravitating towards a career focused on animal care.
Lewis, who began work at the shelter on Aug. 17, has most recently been employed as an assistant shelter manager in Plano, Texas, but has been involved previously in many different aspects of the effort to help unwanted or neglected animals
Looking to the future, Murray has a great deal of confidence in the staff and the board at OCHS. He said he is pleased to be working with Lewis at this critical juncture for the organization.
“A focus for the both of us is getting out on the floor with the staff, working with them and finding out where training is needed, learning from them and, most importantly, bonding as a team,” Murray said.
In addition to the new employees, Robbers had more good news to share with supporters of the shelter.
“The DOJ just emailed me today, and they feel they are now able to close our case and we no longer have to report to them,” she said.
Siuslaw Awards honor top businesses, citizens
Continuing a tradition started in 1967, Florence Area Chamber of Commerce held the Siuslaw Awards on Feb. 7 to honor 2017 people and businesses. Winners included:
Distinguished Service Award — Mike Bones
First Citizen — Rachel Pearson
Future First Citizen — Kaylee Graham
Community Caring Award — Banner Bank
Curb Appeal Award — Heceta Head Lighthouse
Excellence in Customer Service Award — Sand Master Park
Innovation in Business Award — Oregon Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network
Non-Profit Achievement Award — CROW (Children’s Repertory of Oregon Workshops)
Stu Johnston Business of the Year Award — Tony’s Garage
“You reflect the future and the sustainability of our economy, and I appreciate all you are doing, the sacrifices that you make and the innovations,” said Chamber Executive Director Bettina Hannigan. “It was an honor to see the representatives here and be associated with you all. … We can learn from one another, and together we make Florence what it is, and it is so special.”
Mapleton completes high school remodel
The Mapleton School district finished the last portions of its major remodel this year, finishing construction on the high school at a cost of $4.8 million, which was paid for in large part by a community approved bond measure.
For years, rumors had been circulating that the school was going to be shuttering its doors, with student enrollment at the high school dwindling down to 55 students. The students themselves have also struggled with economic hardships and tragedies.
“We needed to do something different to get kids back in school,” physical education teacher Jeff Greene said. “We passed that bond, and for [the students] to see the results happen, it’s going to give a positive energy to this place. When you get community support with the school, along with the parents, it trickles all the way down. They’re going to be excited to come to this school. They have a smile on their face when they come in here. They know that they’re appreciated, and people care about them. The community cares about these kids.”
There were a whole host of upgrades to the school, including newly designed classrooms with improved amenities, new floors, a safety vestibule for the entryway, completely remodeled locker rooms, a new gym floor and a memorial fountain in remembrance of four district students who had lost their lives over the past few years.
The renovations were viewed as a reminder that the home of the Sailors will continue to weather the stormy seas together, always looking toward a brighter future.
“It’s just like a new school,” Greene said. “This is my new classroom. It doesn’t feel like I’m in my old school. It’s just a breath of fresh air. It’s a new start.”
The 111th annual Rhododendron Festival from May 16 to 20 featured the theme “Rhody Rendezvous” — a playful way to honor the groups who have made Rhody Days their meeting spots for decades. This includes Davis Shows Northwest’s Amusement Carnival, part of the festival since 1950, and local motorcycle groups, who began attending in the 1970s. In addition, Florence’s first First Citizen Al Brauer (circa 1967) was named grand marshal of the Grand Floral Parade, which featured 100 entrants.
On May 17, the Rhododendron Court crowned Siuslaw High School seniors Lainey Goss and Trent Reavis as the 2018 Queen Rhododendra and King of the Coast. They were joined throughout the festivities by the rest of the Court, Prince Colby Waters, first runner-up Princess Denielle VanWinkle and princesses Thelma Gentry, Alex Saindon and Andrea Sanchez-Hernandez, along with the Junior Princess Court, Aleeya Thomas, Jasmine Krause, Abigail Galvan-Mendez, Kylee Stinger and Brittney Adams.
“‘Rhody Rendezvous’ was a good theme for this year, and for every Rhody Days,” said Florence Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bettina Hannigan. “People really do come from all over for our festival, which continues to bring people together year after year.”
SVFR changes leadership
Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue (SVFR) experienced a challenging year in 2018 as Chief Director Jim Langborg tendered his resignation in August in the midst of concerns of a looming fiscal shortfall.
The district’s directors were surprised by financial information provided by SVFR Office Manager Dina McClure during an August board meeting which warned of a $500,000 shortfall in revenue. The announcement from Langborg that he has accepted a job at a fire district in California was even more surprising to those in attendance. Langborg said he would stay on for 60 days and leave the department in October.
McClure explained that the shortfall came about due to a combination of overdue reimbursements from supporting California fire suppression efforts, later than expected arrival of tax allocations from Lane County and accounting errors made by McClure and her predecessor.
The reaction to the report seemed to stun the directors, as previous reports had given no indication that SVFR was facing a revenue shortfall of this size.
Director John Carnahan, himself a longtime supporter and former employee of the district, expressed disbelief over the whole situation.
“For over 60 years, this department has never borrowed money,” he said. “It makes me absolutely sick that we are in this position, and the things that led up to it. I think we need to take some action and I would like to discuss this in executive session.”
As of this writing the district has not encountered the need to access additional funding to meet its financial obligations.
The process of finding a replacement for Langborg began immediately, with two members of the SVFR board working with two members from Western Lane Ambulance District (WLAD) board to decide on the best way to move forward. The two districts share administration under an intergovernmental agreement.
The board representatives decided to engage the services of the Special District Association of Oregon (SDAO), which recommended a number of potential candidates for the position of interim fire chief. The committee interviewed three of the candidates, settling on Steve Abel as their choice to succeed Langborg.
Able has spent the majority of his life as a firefighter, starting out as a volunteer firefighter in Alaska before pursuing a career in the broader field of fire services after serving in the U.S. Coast Guard in the early 1970s.
Able officially began his tenure as leader of SVFR on Oct. 10. He has a contract to serve as SVFR’s interim chief director through June 2019.
“When a resident of Florence calls 911, they expect well trained professionals to respond,” he said. “They want them to know what they are doing and to do it right the first time. When someone calls 911, they don’t care if it’s a career firefighter or a volunteer, they want a well-trained, proper response with the proper equipment.”
Major structure fires mark 2018
While Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue (SVFR) faced a number of challenges behind the scenes, area firefighters continued to train for and respond to a variety of calls.
In the field SVFR had a number of major fires to deal with, most notably, a blaze that caused serious damage to one of the oldest businesses in Florence, Sand Dunes Frontier.
An electrical issue started a fire in a service building at the popular location for renting ATVs. The fire destroyed the main office and, while business at Sand Dunes was halted for two days, the staff was able to recover in time to host previously scheduled tours by the weekend.
A less encouraging story was the takeaway from a structure fire at the La Bula Restaurant on Highway 101. The fire completely engulfed the structure and an investigation into the source of the blaze by the State Fire Marshall was listed as unknown after initially being considered suspicious in origin. The building has since been demolished.
Florence celebrates 125 years
The City of Florence closed Bay Street on July 27 to commemorate 125 years as a recognized city.
Although Florence was founded in May 1893, City Project Manager Megan Messmer said, “Hopefully the weather will be much nicer in July.” Despite light clouds, the attendees ate BJ’s Ice Cream and dances to music from the Pressure Point Band, based in Portland, Ore.
In addition to Historic Old Town businesses who remained open for the event, local organizations such as Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue, Florence Public Works, Florence Police Department, U.S. Coast Guard Station Siuslaw River and the Oregon Coast Military Museum brought displays to the event.
Other participants included Siuslaw Public Library, Siuslaw Vision 2025, the Florence chamber and community groups.
“We’re encouraging everybody to come out on a Friday night … to enjoy our community and tie into our history,” Messmer said.
The event ran concurrently with the Oregon Mayors Association Summer Conference, held July 26 to 28 at the Florence Events Center and Driftwood Shores Resort.
Just 11 days after the Block Party, Florence Police Department held the National Night Out at Miller Park. While hundreds attended the Bay Street Festivities, more than 2,500 people enjoyed hamburgers, hot dogs and family activities all over the park.
Florence Mayor Joe Henry helped man the barbecue, a Kingsford four-person charcoal grill.
“The turnout was fantastic,” he said. “I want to add my thanks to each and every one who participated, volunteered, contributed and those who just showed up for burgers and hot dogs. What a success. This is what a small town is all about — and especially thanks to our community members for their support of our police department and the city.”
Former mayor, civic leader Ternyik dies
Well-known and respected by political leaders at both the local and state level for decades, long-time Florence resident Wilbur Ternyik passed away April 2 at the age of 92.
Ternyik was an iconic civic leader who served multiple terms as mayor of Florence, as well as 16 years on the Florence City Council and 29 years as a commissioner for the Port of Siuslaw. He was a veteran of World War II and received the Purple Heart award after being wounded by machine gun fire in a battle on Okinawa in 1945.
He often used a tomahawk peace pipe to gavel meetings to order, pulling from his heritage. He was descended from Solomon Smith, a Bostonian that emigrated to Oregon in 1832, and Celiast Cobaway, a daughter of a chief of the Clatsop Indian tribe. He was also was an avid collector of native artifacts.
Ternyik had a lifelong interest in plants and the unique ecosystem of the Oregon Dunes and was a driving force in establishing the Oregon Coastal Conservation and Development Commission (OCCDC). The OCCDC was empaneled in 1971 by Gov. Tom McCall and its 24 elected officials and six at-large representatives were tasked with the responsibility of developing guidelines for the management of coastal resources. The makeup of the OCCDC was a mixture of environmentalists, developers and landowners and the work done by the commission was considered a model for other states, when developing protocols for coastal conservation, and sensibly managed development.
Ternyik’s 1979 book, “Beach and Dune Implementation Technique” was initially considered a blueprint for coastal dune restoration, but later lost favor as European beach grass was determined to be a danger to the fragile snowy plover.
Ternyik testified before Congress on numerous occasions, notably lobbying for Federal funding to support the dredging of Oregon coastal ports. His efforts played a key role in building the extensions of the North and South Jetties and in obtaining the funding needed for dredging on the Siuslaw River.
He represented his community on the Lane Council of Governments and the Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association and continued his involvement in wetland and marsh restoration for many years. Ternyik and his wife, Joyce, were involved in wildlife preservation and spent many years as wildlife rehabilitators for a variety of ill or injured birds and animals. Because of his dedication to the community and action on civic issues, he was honored as Florence’s First Citizen in 1971.
On Nov. 22, Joyce passed away, joining her spouse in their next great adventure.
Housing on the Coast
Housing continues to be big on the City of Florence’s agenda, along with much of the Pacific Northwest. In June, Florence City Council approved a partnership with the Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation (NEDCO) to seek grant funding for an affordable housing development in Florence. The grant was approved in September and the planning process began for a community land trust development on Airport Road.
The city also updated the Florence Realization 2020 Comprehensive Plan regarding housing, economic development and tsunami mitigation. The revisions included two new objectives: to maintain and upgrade housing supply through enforcement and encourage rehabilitation of substandard housing to reduce costs of housing and conserve housing stock.
Beginning July 1, Oregon now allows accessory dwelling units in cities and counties.
“Affordable housing is starting to move forward, albeit slowly. It’s the shadow of things to come,” said Florence Mayor Joe Henry.
Other housing issues that came up this year included first successes for First Step, which assists individuals with transitional housing; Florence Habitat for Humanity completed its 30th home for area families; and Florence Planning Commission approved plans for the new Cannery Station, a mixed-use development project that will allow residential and commercial uses. The project could take up to 10 years to complete.
“The hope is that it will be a vibrant, residential area that will include older people, younger people, little shops, restaurants and some amenities that will make it interesting to live in,” Chuck McGlade, one of the project leaders and founders of Cannery Station.
In November, Oregon passed Measure 102, which amended the state constitution to allow counties, cities and towns to use bond revenue to fund the construction of affordable housing.
Dunes City Decides Future
While 2017 could have been described as the year Dunes City councilors fought marijuana production within city limits, 2018 could be viewed as the year the city fought for its very existence … and possibly lost. The year was punctuated by attempts to bolster safety and services within the city, while at the same time fighting off financial threats from state regulations.
In March, Dunes City announced its intention to take legal action against the State of Oregon. The city’s move was in response to new rules handed down by the Building Codes Division (BCD) which restricted cities from contracting with third-party building inspectors. The rule would have forced Dunes City to hire its own building inspector instead of contracting out, which would have meant additional costs for the already cash-strapped municipality.
Multiple cities throughout the state protested against BCD’s decision, but Dunes City was the first to announce legal action.
“I feel this is the biggest assault on Dunes City … in the history of Dunes City,” said Councilor Duke Wells. “It will fundamentally change the way we live here in Dunes City if this goes through. … I’d like the people of Oregon to know, this isn’t just Dunes City. We’re in the first 32. It’s going to affect if not every, nearly every city in Oregon.”
The state has since backed off enforcement of the regulations until it can look at the constitutionality of the issue, though the issue is far from settled.
In April, the city looked into possibly contracting with the Lane County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) for more robust law enforcement coverage of the city, which for years has received complaints of long response times from local authorities, leading to a “why bother” relationship between many residents and law enforcement.
Dunes City held a public town hall with multiple enforcement officials but found that the entire system of rural law enforcement is in trouble — LCSO is facing staffing and budget shortfalls that are some of the worst in the country. Any hopes that Dunes City could contract with Lane County were dashed when it was revealed that it would cost the city $180,000 per year for one single deputy, far beyond what the city could afford.
“You need to fix the base services, the county, to be able to provide more law enforcement,” Florence Police Chief Tom Turner said, who previously worked with LCSO before coming to Florence. “That would be the permanent fix.”
Dunes City also opted to look into contracting with a municipal judge to begin enforcing code enforcement infractions.
“The city wants rules and they want regulations and they want us to do these things, but we have no teeth,” Councilor Tom Mallen said.
But to be able to contract with a judge, city residents had to vote in favor of it the November elections. The residents didn’t, and now the city is left with very little recourse when it comes to law enforcement.
Also of importance in the election was the passage of a five year local option tax that would assure the city could keep receiving $100,000 a year annually from state shared revenue tax. The option tax would have cost property owners $3 a year, but residents, who never had a property tax, voted the option down.
“Those two measures are critical to the existence of the city,” Mayor Robert Forsythe said before the election. “If we have no teeth in our codes, and no tax money so we can get people to do those things, then why are we here?”
With both measures failing to pass, the city still under financial threat from the state and no way to bolster law enforcement, the city is facing an existential crisis. In the next few months, the city will look into the financial and legal ramifications of the events of 2018, and begin holding public town halls looking to answer the essential question: Does Dunes City really want to be a city?
Airport and Port receive major funding for upgrades
On Sept. 12, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, announced the attainment of $1,050,000 for projects at the Florence Municipal Airport with a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grant. This is in addition to $837,000 DeFazio obtained for dredging at the Port of Siuslaw earlier this year.
Florence City Manager Erin Reynolds stated, “The City of Florence is thankful to be receiving this funding to pay for significant improvements to our municipal airport. With this FAA grant, we are able to leverage local dollars with state funding to upgrade the lighting and airport runway safety improvements.”
The funds for the municipal airport are designated for runway maintenance, improvements and the installation of a precision approach path indicator to improve the information received by air traffic using the airport.
“This is great news for the many businesses and general aviation pilots who depend on these airports,” said DeFazio. “These funds will allow for important maintenance and critical safety improvements to be made to our local air infrastructure. I’m proud to support infrastructure investments like this and will continue to push for increased investments as the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.”
In April, De Fazio and U.S. senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley wrote a letter to Army for Civil Works Assistant Secretary R.D. James, urging the administration to fund critical navigation needs of Oregon’s small coastal ports. To that end he sponsored and helped pass a bill that authorizes an additional $15 million above what has been approved by the federal government for Oregon ports.
Port of Siuslaw Manager Dave Huntington was pleased to receive the news regarding the unexpected monies obtained by DeFazio, as the federal administration had designated no funding for water-related maintenance in Florence during this fiscal cycle.
The additional $5.6 million was authorized as a direct result of the Oregon delegation’s efforts. “I’m pleased that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers included $837,000 for critical navigation needs to ensure the safety and navigability of the Siuslaw River, including dredging, jetty monitoring and infrastructure management,” DeFazio said, “These investments will ensure that the local recreational and commercial fishing fleet continues to have safe passage to fishing and crabbing grounds, and it will sustain jobs directly tied to economic activity at the Port of Siuslaw. This is exactly the type of infrastructure investment we need more of across the country and I will continue to fight for these smart investments on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.”
The upgrade to the Florence Municipal Airport will begin in the spring of 2019.
The November 2018 election presented voters with significantly different choices on local, statewide and national issues as well as major differences in the experience and qualifications of candidates seeking office.
The election results saw Governor Kate Brown defeat her main rival for the office, Republican Knute Buehler, by more than 100,00 votes; 934,498 to 814,988. The race for U.S. Representative from District 4 was closer, but still a clear victory for long-time incumbent Peter Defazio, who received 208,710 votes to the 152,414 received by his closest competitor, Art Robinson. This is the fifth time DeFazio has defeated Robinson for the seat.
The race for the office of State Representative for the 9th District was a two-person contest between Democratic incumbent Caddie McKeown and Republican Teri Grier. McKeown defeated Grier by a vote of 16,181 to 13,610 to secure her fourth term in office.
There were also five statewide measures decided by voters this November.
Measure 102 proposed a constitutional amendment to allow local bonds to construct affordable housing and was passed with 56.9 percent of those voting in support.
Measure 103 was a proposed constitutional amendment that prohibited the application of taxes or fees, based on transactions for groceries, which was defeated with 57.3 percent voting no.
Measure 104 was a proposed constitutional amendment that would have expanded the application of a requirement that a three fifths legislative majority approve bills raising revenue. Measure 104 was defeated, with 1,813,234 casting a no ballot.
Measure 105 would have repealed the law limiting the use of state and local law enforcement resources to enforce federal immigration laws. Measure 105 was defeated with 1,172,163 voters opposing the measure.
Measure 106 would have amended the constitution to prohibit spending public funds directly or indirectly for abortions. This measure failed with 1,195,718 opposed.
Locally, Florence City Council had two openings, as term limits were up for councilors Woody Woodbury, who was appointed in 2018, and Susy Lacer, who completed her four-year term. In the election, Woodbury retained his seat and local business owner Geraldine Lucio defeated her opposition, Maureen Miltenberger, by a vote of 2,048 to 1,840.
Dunes City’s candidates for city council were all reelected, including Mayor Bob Forsythe and councilors Sheldon L. Meyer, Susan Snow and Duke Wells.
Siuslaw School District bond fails
The Siuslaw School District spent hundreds of hours assessing district needs in 2017 and 2018, crafting a proposal to upgrade the elementary and middle schools with a bond that could be paid by area voters over the next 30+ years.
Eugene architectural firm Pivot coordinated the effort to determine the most needed areas of improvements and the necessary upgrades as all buildings in the district are seismically unsafe. The mechanical systems and the security of students attending school were also major factors in the thinking by SSD Administration and staff.
Public meetings were held at different points in the process and input from stakeholders was solicited and shared with voters. A Public Action Committee was formed and after many more meetings and consultations, the final plan to renovate and replace district buildings was estimated to cost $108 million.
The action committee made presentations to civic groups with the hope that the information presented to the voters would be convincing and Measure 20-291 would pass. That hope was not realized as voters rejected the bond levy by a vote of 4,972 to 3,652.
Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act goes into effect
In a rare example of bipartisan law making, House Resolution (HR) 1306, The Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act conveyed more than 32,000 acres of land, currently under federal control, to three tribal entities in western and southern Oregon. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives in the summer of 2017 and the Senate approved the bill by voice vote for delivery to President Trump on Dec. 27, 2017. The bill took effect on Jan. 9.
The Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act places 17,519 acres of federal land, currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management, (BLM) into trust for the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians and 14,742 acres of federal land into trust for the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians. It would also amend the Coquille Restoration Act to require the Interior Department to manage the Coquille Indian Tribes’ forestlands in the same way as other tribal forestlands.
HR 1306 was introduced in March by District 4 Rep. Peter Defazio and the legislation was co-sponsored by District 2 Rep. Greg Walden. The legislation was co-sponsored in the Senate by Oregon Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden.
Coquille Tribal Chairwoman Brenda Meade is pleased with the change in the law and the shift in the position of the federal government.
“We are tremendously relieved and grateful to have the Senate address the disparity that has burdened our forest for so long. We have managed these forests since time began,” Meade said. “We are excited to once again be in control of a small piece of our homeland.”
The legislation has several goals. One element is the restoration of ancestral lands to indigenous people that were victimized by unethical government officials and civilians’ intent on cashing in on the gold fever of the 1800’s.
Additionally, the bills’ sponsors said they see the need to expand the control native peoples have over the resources they own, such as timber and minerals.
“While there is still much work to be done to correct our nation’s injustices towards Native Americans, the passage of the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act is an encouraging move towards progress,” DeFazio said. “This legislation will finally grant the Coos, Cow Creek and Coquille Tribes the long-deserved opportunity to manage their own economic development and exercise their own authority over tribal lands.”
The bill’s co-sponsors also endorse the idea of increased sovereignty of federally controlled land for Oregon’s tribal confederations.
“While more can and must be done to rectify the injustices that tribes have long faced, passing this bill into law marks an important step forward in recognizing the sovereignty of western Oregon tribes,” Wyden said. “By returning land to both the Coos and Cow Creek tribes, and by putting the management of Coquille’s lands on equal footing with other tribal lands, this bill honors and respects each tribe’s right to be economically self-sufficient and provide jobs and resources for their communities.”
Merkley was equally clear in his assessment and endorsement of the act.
“With the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act, we will enable tribes to enhance their self-determination and ability to restore ancestral lands, while creating greater economic opportunity,” he said. “It’s long overdue, and I am thrilled this bill is heading to the president’s desk to be signed into law.”
The bill also requires the Department of the Interior to locate a similar amount of land in the public domain and reclassify that land as Oregon and California grant land.
Siuslaw News will continue its review of 2018 this Saturday with a look back at its special series coverage.