Our top 10 stories of 2018

Topics ran the gamut: From uplifting athletes to frustrated firefighters

Brandon Merritt, 28, stayed at a severe weather shelter in February 2018, at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, in Washougal. The city of Washougal, in partnership with ReFuel Washougal, opens a severe weather shelter in the Washougal Community Center when the temperatures drop below 30 degrees or there is snow or ice in the forecast and there are enough trained volunteers to staff the shelter overnight. (Post-Record file photo)

Aaron Smith, principal of Discovery High School and Odyssey Middle School, chats with students and family members as they view the inside of the new project-based learning high school during on Aug. 30, 2018 orientation. (Post-Record file photo)

Camas High gymnasts celebrate their team's first state championship win on Feb. 16, 2018. (Contributed photo courtesy of Camas High School)

The March 2018 murder of Luz Guitron-Lopez, pictured here with her three children in the background, rocked the Camas community. Guitron-Lopez was known for her culinary skills and was a frequent food vendor at the Camas Farmer's Market as well as at local festivals and celebrations like Camas' annual Hometown Holidays event. Police are still looking for Guitron-Lopez's former boyfriend, the main suspect in her murder. (Contributed photo courtesy of Guitron-Lopez family)

Kraig Nichols (left) and his father, Jerry Nichols (right), stand in the employee parking lot overlooking the Georgia-Pacific paper mill in downtown Camas in April 2018. Both men were part of the original start-up crew on the mill's No. 20 paper machine in 1984. (Post-Record file photo)

Jim Kalvelage and Mark Stoller (foreground), with Opsis Architecture, Washougal City Administrator David Scott and Camas City Administrator Pete Capell (background) talk after a Camas-Washougal Community Center Study Advisory Committee meeting, Sept. 5, 2018, in the Port of Camas-Washougal office. (Post-Record file photo)

Longtime Camas Mayor Scott Higgins, pictured here in his Camas office in front of his many "Papermakers' Pride" signs, announced his unexpected resignation from office in June 2018, nearly 18 months before his term was set to end. (Post-Record file photo)

Washougal teachers walk the picket line during a strike in August 2018. The school district and its teachers' union are closing in on a contract for 2020-21, but say there are still issues to resolve -- including concerns about COVID-19 safety precautions. (Post-Record file photo)

Firefighters gather at a Camas City Council meeting in March 2018 to ask for staffing increases to the Camas-Washougal Fire Department. (Post-Record file photo)

The Post-Record stories that consumed readers’ attention in 2018 spanned a full range of topics and emotions, from the uplifting highs of watching young athletes win state trophies to the devastating lows of murder and student responses to national school shootings. Following are the “Top 10” Camas-Washougal stories from 2018:

No. 10 — New homes, homelessness both make headlines

Housing — in particular, the need for more of it — was a big topic in 2018 and the year brought news of several new housing developments coming to Camas and Washougal.

In June, Camas officials approved plans to build a mixed-use development on the city’s western boundary, which will include 276 apartments.

That project, spearheaded by the Vancouver-based Holland Partner Group, will be located on 35 acres near Fisher Investments’ headquarters, off Northwest Fisher Creek Drive and Northwest 38th Avenue, and will include two office buildings, including Holland’s new headquarters and an artisan grocery store.

A 99-unit apartment complex opened on the 2300 block of Main Street, near downtown Washougal, in November 2018. Each of the market-rate apartments has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a washer and dryer, walk-in closet and single-car garage. Rents start at $1,495.

On the flip side of the housing development boom was a growing urgency to help those in Camas-Washougal who have no housing at all.

St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, in Washougal, served as a severe weather shelter for a few nights in February 2018. The city of Washougal, in partnership with ReFuel Washougal, opened a severe weather shelter, in the community center in early December, and is expected to re-open the shelter when the temperatures drop below 30 degrees or the forecast calls for snow or ice, and there are enough trained volunteers to staff the shelter overnight. In Camas, Family Promise of Clark County, an interfaith organization for families experiencing homelessness, is housing its day center at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church. The county’s Council for the Homeless hotline staff recommends families for the day center. The families spend their evenings at host congregations. In the morning, they are transported to the Camas day center, where they are able to shower, do laundry and meet with case managers.

No. 9 — Students address school shootings

In mid-March, one month after a school shooter claimed 17 lives in Parkland, Florida, Camas-Washougal students joined the National School Walkout, a youth-led movement to address school shootings. Camas High junior Monica Chang, who helped organize her school’s walkout, said she and many of her peers were encouraged to take action after seeing the response of surviving Parkland students, many of whom lobbied for common sense gun control measures in the days and weeks following the slaughter of their friends and teachers.

“It was so easy to imagine myself in their shoes. I initially felt overwhelmed and powerless,” Chang told The Post-Record two weeks after the Parkland school shooting. “However, after seeing the inspiring actions of (the Parkland students), I realized that voting is not the only way to have a political voice. Many Camas students feel similarly sickened and tired of the mass shootings in America, and the complacency that follows. It is unacceptable.”

No. 8 — New schools open in Camas

The Camas School District opened two new schools in 2018, thanks to a $120 million bond passed by voters in 2016.

Camas’ newest high school, the project-based learning Discovery High, opened its doors to 115 freshmen in September 2018. The $46 million high school is designed to complement the adjacent Odyssey Middle School in delivering flexible, personalized instruction to students in a projects-based learning environment. There are plans to add a class at Discovery each year until reaching full capacity, with freshmen through seniors, in the 2021-22 school year.

The district also opened the new Lacamas Lake Elementary, to replace the aging Lacamas Heights Elementary, in 2018. The new school has capacity for 600 students, compared to the 50-year-old building, which housed 450 students.

The former Lacamas Heights building is housing Camas High’s Integrated Arts and Academics (IAA) program during the 2018-19 school year, and it will be used as a preschool for the 2019-20 school year.

No. 7 — Athletes rock state tourneys

As always, young athletes throughout Camas and Washougal had memorable moments at state tournaments this year.

Two guys named Tanner made history by winning state wrestling titles in 2018: Tanner Lees, from Washougal, won the Washington State 2A wrestling championship, and Camas’ Tanner Craig won the 4A state wrestling championship in the 132-pound weight class.

The Camas boys swim team won back-to-back state championships in 2017 and 2018. Camas gymnasts won the school’s first state team title in gymnastics, edging out the Woodinville Falcons. Camas High sophomore Kaylee Sugimoto earned a spot in the USA Gymnastics’ U.S. Junior Olympic National Championships in May, where she placed 44th overall. The Camas track and field team won its first state 4A championship. Washougal High senior Amelia Pullen won the first individual state cross country title in the school’s history, at the 2A championships in November 2018. And the Camas High girls soccer team, led by longtime coach Roland Minder, made it to the 4A state championship match, where they lost to Skyline in a heartbreaking 2-1 game.

No. 6 — Compelling crimes

A number of local crimes caught readers’ attention in 2018, including an attempted murder in early March, in which Camas police charged Emily Javier, 30, with attempting to kill her boyfriend with a samurai sword.

Later that month, a Camas mother of three school-aged children was found murdered in her home. The death of Luz Guitron-Lopez, 35, rocked the Camas community. Guitron was known for her culinary skills and cheerful presence as a food vendor at the Camas Farmer’s Market and at Hometown Holidays. Police are still searching for Guitron-Lopez’s former boyfriend, Guillermo Juarez, the main suspect in her murder.

In October, a longtime Washougal School District employee and former president of the Public School Employees of Washougal union, 58-year-old Larry Gunther, pleaded guilty to the first-degree rape of a child, stemming from ongoing abuse that occurred nearly 20 years ago.

No. 5 — Big business news

2018 was a year of change for some of Camas’ and Washougal’s best-known businesses.

Georgia-Pacific halted pulp operations in Camas in 2018, shut down one of the mill’s two remaining paper lines and laid-off nearly 300 local workers. Around 150 employees will remain to run the mill’s last machine, which produces tissue products. Crews will begin to deconstruct the pulp assets and No. 20 machine in mid-2019. Company officials expect it will take two to three years to complete the demolition.

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) announced in 2018 that it is moving from Camas to Vancouver in 2019. K?rcher North America also is moving from Camas to its headquarters in Denver, Colorado, in 2019. The move will affect approximately 200 employees in Camas.

The news wasn’t all bad, though. Several new businesses set up shop in Camas and Washougal this year. Grains of Wrath Brewing opened in downtown Camas in March 2018, and Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, an award-winning brewery previously based in Hood River, Oregon, relocated to the former home of Amnesia Brewing in downtown Washougal in 2018.

Logsdon’s owners, John Plutshack and Jodie Ayura, also are leasing a bay in Building 18 at the Port of Camas-Washougal’s Steigerwald Commerce Center, and plan to expand their brewery’s barrel-aging program at that Washougal-based facility.

No. 4 — Pool closure leads to community center talks

As local residents came to grips with the realization that the public pool in Crown Park was not going to open for summer 2018, Camas and Washougal leaders brought increased enthusiasm to meetings regarding a future community center with one or two pools.

A Camas-Washougal Community Center Committee, which started meeting in September 2018, is looking at options such as a 87,000-square-foot center estimated to cost $59 million. Potential components include a recreational pool, an eight-lane competition pool and an indoor walking track.

Meanwhile, the city of Camas is accepting sealed bids until 10 a.m., Wednesday, Jan. 9, to remove the outdoor pool, lockers/office building and bleachers in Crown Park, at Northeast 15th Avenue and Everett Street.

No. 3 — All politics is local

The Post-Record’s pages were filled with political news throughout 2018. Some stories covered candidates’ bids for office, including a long, failed fight to unseat incumbent U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler during the midterm elections. Many stories focused on politicians’ unexpected goodbyes — longtime Camas Mayor Scott Higgins resigned 18 months before the end of his term, state legislator Liz Pike announced she was retiring from politics and Washougal leader Joyce Lindsay resigned from her city council position after announcing she planned to move out of the area.

Other political news included voters’ approval of a new form of government in Washougal, which changed that city’s former “strong mayor” system to a “strong council” form of government where a hired city manager runs the day-to-day business and the mayor acts as more of a figurehead. Other political stories had a wider appeal, including a front-page story on the many Camas-Washougal folks who participated in an early July political march through the streets of Vancouver in protest of President Donald Trump’s policy of separating families seeking asylum at the southern U.S. border and holding children, toddlers and infants in detainment centers.

No. 2 — Teacher strikes

Questions over state legislators’ “McCleary Fix,” meant to increase teacher pay throughout the state led to a number of teacher strike threats and actual picket lines in August and September, and teachers in Camas and Washougal were not exempt.

Although Camas teachers voted to strike if their union and school district leaders could not come to an agreement by the first day of school, the Camas School District was able to avoid an actual strike and begin school on time, on Sept. 4.

Teachers did take to the picket lines in Washougal, however. Washougal teachers went on strike on Aug. 28, after their union leaders and school district representatives failed to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement. The teachers remained on strike until Sept. 7, one week and three days after the scheduled start of the 2018-19 school year in Washougal.

No. 1 — Firefighters feel the burn

One of the most frequent stories to make The Post-Record’s front page in 2018 — and garner reader comments online — involved a growing Camas-Washougal community and the needs of its firefighters and emergency response personnel.

In March, a few weeks after a mid-February Camas fire in which two responders entered a smoke-filled home without backup to save the lives of a Camas man and his two dogs, the local firefighters’ union filed an “unsafe work environment” complaint to the state.

Union president Adam Brice said Camas-Washougal firefighters faced “a daily threat … that they will be forced to face hazards and perform in hazardous environments.”

The state agreed, and later fined the city of Camas and its Camas-Washougal Fire Department for two serious and one standard workplace safety violations related to the February house fire.

Since then, firefighters and their union leaders have called for increases in staffing at the local fire department. The city of Camas recently approved a two-year, $195 million budget that could fund the creation of five new fire department hires, but leaders in that city are still waiting for their partners in the city of Washougal to say if Washougal will fund its share of the new firefighters.

Fire Chief Nick Swinhart said the city of Camas’ proposed 2019-20 hires, which could add four new firefighters and a new fire marshal to the Camas-Washougal Fire Department, would be a good start. He added that the fire department, which has seen a spike in emergency calls for service as Camas and Washougal grow but no increase in staffing in more than a decade, would likely need to hire even more firefighters in 2021 and 2022.

Please review our community guidelines