Looking back at our top 10 stories of 2017

From fires in the gorge to a mayoral sex scandal in Washougal, we count down the biggest local news stories of 2017

A rendering, created by Berger Abam in 2014 during the design of Washougal Waterfront Park and Trail, shows the former Hambleton Lumber Company property at 335 S. "A" St., Washougal. In November, the Port of Camas-Washougal Commission approved the purchase of 11 acres of land near the waterfront from Parker's Landing LLC, after the LLC buys 8.5 acres on the east end of the waterfront.

Abby Lees gets her hand raised after winning the 235-pound girls wrestling state championship for Washougal, in February, at the Tacoma Dome.

Thousands joined search efforts for Cole Burbank, 16, pictured here, in April. Tragically, the Camas High student was found dead from an apparent suicide one week after he went missing.

Former Camas City Councilman Tim Hazen resigned in mid-October, halfway through his second term, to pursue business interests that would have involved purchasing a piece of publicly owned city parks open space.

Dallas Street, above Sixth Avenue, in Camas, was closed for a week in January, due to ice and snow.

Washougal Mayor Sean Guard, who found himself being investigated by Washington State Patrol over a sex scandal this year, dropped his bid for a third term in May.

No. 10: Camas schools get start-time makeover

In late November, Camas teens got a bit of good news: Starting next fall, they’ll get to sleep in just a little bit longer.

The Camas School Board voted Nov. 27, in favor of a district plan to “flip flop” school start times, with older students starting school one hour later and younger students starting one hour earlier, beginning in the fall of 2018.

The move allows adolescents to get more sleep — something researchers say is critical to teen health — and younger students to leave school before their attention starts to wane in the late afternoon.

CSD Superintendent Jeff Snell said the plan is one of many district-wide efforts to improve students’ social-emotional health.

“This was not about improving academic test scores,” Snell told Camas School Board members. “We view this as a student health issue.”

The plan is the result of a full year’s worth of research, community meetings and surveys. A Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) formed in November of 2016 to research school start times and their impacts on student health.

What they found, Snell said, is that school start times of 8:30 a.m. help teens get enough sleep and positively affect adolescents’ physical, mental and emotional health.

“There are some concerns,” Snell said. “Will it be perfect? Absolutely not. But I am confident that we are doing this in a way that is good for our kids.”

– Kelly Moyer, Post-Record editor

No. 9: ‘Big Oil’ pumps money into local elections; oil train terminal fate up in the air

In several regional and local races during the November 2017 general election, voters faced an either/or choice: either they supported the proposed crude-by-rail oil terminal proposal in Vancouver, which would have sent oil trains through Camas-Washougal, or they did not.

The companies behind the Vancouver Energy project pumped money into the Port of Vancouver Commission race, backing losing candidate Kris Greene. And some of that money even made its way into the Washougal mayoral election.

In October, this newspaper reported on election funding for all local candidates, and noted that money connected to the Vancouver Energy-funded group known as the Washington Coalition for Energy Independence (WCEI) was supporting Washougal mayoral candidate Dan Coursey. Coursey later lost the election to Molly Coston, who had received the bulk of her campaign donations from individual, local contributors.

If approved, the Vancouver Energy project would bring oil trains carrying 360,000 barrels of highly flammable Bakken crude oil through Camas-Washougal every day, en route to the proposed Port of Vancouver oil terminal. Washougal’s current mayor, Sean Guard, and the Washougal City Council have voiced official opposition to the oil terminal project.

In late November, the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) voted to recommend that Gov. Jay Inslee deny the project. The group submitted a formal recommendation to the governor on Dec. 19. Inslee has a 60-day window in which to make his final decision on the fate of the crude-by-rail oil terminal project.

– Kelly Moyer, Post-Record editor

No. 8: Port waterfront development kills ‘big box’ plans

Local residents who had concerns about a big box retail store locating along the Port of Camas-Washougal waterfront could rest easier, after the Port Commission voted to purchase 11 acres of land near Washougal Waterfront Park and Trail.

Port Commissioners authorized the purchase of the 11 acres for $5.989 million from Parker’s Landing LLC during their Nov. 21 regular meeting. The land is located on part of the former Hambleton Lumber Company property at 335 S. “A” St., Washougal.

The Port’s purchase of the 11 acres is contingent on Parker’s Landing LLC first purchasing 8.5 acres of land on the east end of the waterfront for $2.6 million. It is the commissioners’ understanding that at least some of the 8.5 acres will be developed by Parker’s Landing LLC for multi-family residential — apartments or condominiums.

– Dawn Feldhaus, Post-Record staff writer

No. 7: Student athletes become state champions

In February, Camas and Washougal teams and athletes brought home state championship trophies from the Tacoma Dome and the King County Aquatic Center, in Federal Way.

The Camas boys swimming team racked up 302 points to finish in first place at the 4A state meet. Mark Kim captured state titles in the 200- and 500-meter freestyle races. Tom Utas clinched the 50 freestyle state title. Eric Wu, Jaden Kim, Utas and Mark Kim won the 200 freestyle relay.

Dylan Ingram took down three of the best 4A 220-pounders in the state to become a dual state champion for the Papermakers in wrestling and football.

Abby Lees wrestled in her fourth state final for Washougal. She became a two-time state champion and capped off her high school career with more than 100 wins.

In May, Camas runner Daniel Maton won the 1,600-meter run with a school record time of 4 minutes, 11.24 seconds. Two days later, he clinched the 800 championship in 1:53.46.

CHS high jumper Madison Peffers was the only 4A athlete in the field to clear 5 feet, 6 inches.

“I was just freaking out,” she said. “It couldn’t have gone any better. I accomplished every goal that I set and even more. It was an amazing track season.”

– Dawn Feldhaus, Post-Record staff writer

No. 6: Missing Camas teen found dead

In mid-April, news broke that a 16-year-old Camas High junior named Cole Burbank had gone missing after leaving for his Running Start classes at Clark College in Vancouver.

Within days, thousands of community members, friends and even strangers who said they were touched by the teen’s story, joined an online Facebook group dedicated to finding the teen. The volunteers organized searches throughout Washington and Oregon for any sign of the missing teenager or his Honda Accord, plastered area storefronts with “Missing” flyers and helped start “meal trains” to bring homemade meals to Burbank’s parents, Matt and Michelle Burbank.

A little more than one week after Cole disappeared, Camas Police discovered the teen’s body, dead from an apparent suicide, inside his car, in a parking lot outside a Chehalis, Washington shopping center.

– Kelly Moyer, Post-Record editor

No. 5: Camas councilor quits halfway through second term; city halts related parks land sale after public outcry

What seemed like just another run-of-the-mill Camas City Council meeting in mid-October turned into a week’s worth of controversy after Camas City Councilmember Tim Hazen resigned suddenly, in the middle of his second term, to pursue business interests involving a piece of publicly owned parks open space.

Earlier that evening, city councilors had agreed to allow city staff to investigate the possibility of selling a 2.7-acre parcel of park land near Round Lake. Hazen, a senior living facility developer, had hoped to buy that acreage, along with two adjacent parcels, and turn the entire 4.99-acre site into an 81-unit senior living center with with underground parking and an attached, 48-bed memory care center.

After a news story regarding Hazen’s resignation and the senior living development plan came out in the Post-Record on Oct. 19, Camas City Administrator Pete Capell said city staff received “numerous emails and Facebook messages” indicating a great number of Camas community members were not happy that the city was considering the open space sale.

– Kelly Moyer, Post-Record editor

No. 4: Washougal students, educators settle into new school buildings

Hundreds of Washougal students and teachers kicked off the 2017-18 school year at newly constructed buildings, thanks to a $57 million schools bond passed by voters in February of 2015.

Washougal’s Excelsior High School, Jemtegaard Middle School and Columbia River Gorge Elementary all opened in September of 2017.

The school construction projects were part of a $57 million schools bond to address safety, student capacity and facility needs. That bond passed in the Feb. 10, 2015 Special Election with 61 percent voter approval and, starting in 2016, raised property taxes by 48 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.

– Kelly Moyer, Post-Record editor

No. 3: Fire & Ice: Extreme weather rocks area

Extreme weather rocked many parts of the world in 2017 and Camas-Washougal was no different.

In January, snow and ice blanketed the area, causing local school districts to close for an unprecedented number of snow days, with Washougal schools closing for 11 days and Camas schools shutting down for 10 days.

In April, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction granted emergency instructional day waivers to both local school districts, to help account for the unusually high amount of lost school days.

In August, a heat wave sent temperatures soaring above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and prompted several local libraries, community centers and churches to open as cooling stations. On Aug. 2, the heat was so bad organizers of the weekly Camas Farmer’s Market canceled the Wednesday afternoon event “for the safety of customers and vendors” and urged everyone to stay cool, safe and well hydrated; and Camas Parks and Recreation rescheduled blues artist Lisa Mann’s concert in Crown Park due to the high heat.

One month later, the area was blanketed in smoke from two wildfires raging in the Columbia River Gorge. Embers from the Eagle Creek Fire, which burned nearly 50,000 acres on the Oregon side of the Gorge, jumped the Columbia River on Sept. 5, sparking a second fire on Archer Mountain in Skamania County, about 15 miles northeast of Washougal in the Columbia River Gorge.

– Dawn Feldhaus, Post-Record staff writer

No. 2: Amidst sex scandal, Washougal mayor withdraws re-election bid

The first part of this story broke in May of 2017, after a Washougal area man posted a series of extremely explicit messages, which he claimed were sent by Washougal Mayor Sean Guard to an unidentified woman, on a public Facebook site; and then Washougal police confirmed they were looking into a harassment claim against the mayor.

Local police quickly forwarded the investigation to an outside law enforcement agency. Days later, Guard dropped out of the mayoral primary election, ending his bid for a third term.

Three months later, in mid-August, Washington State Patrol (WSP) detectives said they had concluded their 10-week investigation into a sexual relationship between the mayor and a Washougal woman that, police said, resulted in Guard providing the woman with money on at least two occasions.

The WSP investigation revealed that just a few weeks after becoming “friends” online, the Washougal mayor sent the woman the following message after the two had engaged in what police called “a sexually explicit” conversation: “In need of an awesome massage. Can I pay you for that?”

Months later, the woman contacted Guard on Facebook Messenger and, according to the WSP, asked him what she should do about being “short on rent.” Police say Guard and the woman discussed “several options including: serving, cocktailing, massages, lingerie house cleaning, Craigslist, girlfriend referrals, etcetera.”

Guard told her he was “craving human touch,” but didn’t control his and his wife’s bank account and that his wife “would notice a few hundred missing, even a hundred.”

Police said the woman told Guard she didn’t “want to just sleep with just anyone for 300” and that the mayor responded: “I don’t want you to think of yourself as a hooker (sic) So, call this a loan and you decide from there.”

Two days after this conversation, police said Guard and the woman met at his business office at 2011 Main St., in Washougal, and “per (the woman) and comments made on Facebook Messenger, the two engaged in oral sex.”

The following day, on Aug. 5, 2016, police said Guard met the woman in the Washougal Safeway parking lot and gave her money.

The police said they found “no evidence to show the money provided by Guard to (the woman) came from (city of Washougal) funds,” and sent the investigation to the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office for review.

– Kelly Moyer, Post-Record editor

No. 1: Camas paper mill to halt pulp operations, cut hundreds of jobs

On Nov. 14, Georgia-Pacific announced plans to shutdown major portions of its Camas paper mill, halt pulping operations and cut 280 to 300 jobs — more than two-thirds of its local workforce — in the spring of 2018.

Georgia-Pacific spokeswoman Kristi Ward said in mid-November that all pulp operations and production of office-related papers at the Camas mill would cease next spring, but added that it will take much longer for the company to actually deconstruct those portions of the mill.

Ward said deconstruction could take up to two years.

About 120 to 140 employees will stay on to run the Camas mill’s remaining tissue paper machines. But the “mill smell” will go away next spring, since Georgia-Pacific, now owned by Koch Industries, plans to buy pulp for its tissue paper production.

Camas Mayor Scott Higgins, himself a Camas High grad, said after the news broke that he understood economic factors, including global competition and a change in the way people use paper, forced the restructuring, but that the news was still a shock for many longtime Camas residents.

“It’s a blow to who we are. I mean, we’re the Papermakers,” Higgins said, referring to the Camas High mascot. “Part of our papermaking identity is shutting down.”

– Kelly Moyer, Post-Record editor