August Cheers & Jeers

If you know any newspaper reporters, you probably know our minds are usually thinking one to two weeks ahead of the calendar date and our short-term memory can be iffy. That’s why writing the monthly Cheers & Jeers editorial requires us to flip through every story we’ve published that month to find the issues that deserve a thumbs up — and those that deserve to be called out in a “jeers.”

Before we get into the August Cheers & Jeers, however, we should note that this has been a tragic summer for many Camas-Washougal families. In fact, this month’s review revealed far too many people lost to accidental deaths recently, including Gary Schafte, a Washougal father who died 11 days after his truck collided with a BNSF freight train; Kaylene Christensen, a 22-year-old Washougal woman who was killed after her vehicle crashed into a tree near Grove Field north of Camas; and Anthony Huynh, the 14-year-old boy who drowned in Camas’ Lacamas Lake less than two weeks ago. Our sympathies go out to all of those mourning these unimaginable losses.

It’s hard to write about these tragedies without also thinking about the impact these types of incidents have on police, firefighters, paramedics, EMTs, 911 operators and all first responders for whom dealing with fatal collisions, drownings and other horrors is a job requirement.

That’s why our first Cheers goes out to the voters who recently passed an East County Fire & Rescue resolution to restore the rural fire district’s tax levy lid to the $1.50 per $1,000 assessed property value (APV) rate originally approved by voters in 2008.

The fire district, which serves rural areas north of Camas and Washougal, had tightened its belt to the point of “browning out” several fire stations and leaving first responders with no choice other than to respond to accidents from a central station that could be 20 minutes.

The levy lid lift, which failed to gain voter support in 2018, will cost the owner of a $450,000 home in the ECFR district an extra $12.75 a month — a bargain for ensuring that first responders are as close as possible, and have the training and equipment they need, when you or a loved one are waiting for their help.

The second Cheers goes to the many folks who have helped figure a way through multi-million-dollar deficits in the Camas and Washougal school districts without slashing too many programs that impact students and teachers. Although both districts are using reserve funds to cover budget deficits resulting from a new way of funding K-12 education at the state level and limitations placed on money collected by local school enrichment levies, the short-term fix was able to save education programs and jobs. The districts can’t rely on reserve funds in the long-term, of course, and still need to figure out other solutions for the 2020-21 budgets — most likely taking advantage of the levy increase allowed by legislators and implementing other belt-tightening measures — as they work out kinks related to the state’s new school-funding formula.

The last Cheers is for the impressive number of family friendly events and festivals that have happened around Camas-Washougal this summer. Last weekend alone, families had a choice of three events: Pirates in the Park in Washougal, the Vintage & Art Faire in downtown Camas and the Port of Camas-Washougal’s annual Wheels & Wings Community Appreciation Day at Grove Field. Families looking for local, inexpensive fun are in luck if they live in Camas or Washougal, especially during the summer months.

The only Jeers this month belongs to Judith Zimmerly and the Nutter Corporation, the owners/operators at the Washougal Rock Pit who have been accused — by Friends of the Columbia Gorge attorneys and Washougal neighbors — of essentially thumbing their noses at county and National Scenic Area rules.

The mine site, located off Southeast 356th Avenue in Washougal, is within the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and has long been a source of controversy: garnering a $200,000 fine from the Washington Department of Ecology in the 1990s after dumping millions of gallons of sediment-laden runoff into the environmentally sensitive Gibbons Creek and Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge and, more recently, violating county-issued “stop work” orders.

Neighbors and the Friends group have pressed the Gorge Commission and county officials to do more than slap the mine’s owner/operators on the wrists, but the most recent news is that the county is working with Zimmerly and Nutter to help them get a new mining permit and come into compliance. No mention of penalties or fines for the times they’ve violated stop-work orders.

Some rules were meant to be broken, but a rule put in place to protect the integrity of the Gorge, the nation’s largest  — and arguably the most beautiful — National Scenic Area, shouldn’t be one of them.

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