Wasco County walks back its vote on leaving health district

02 18 15 Wasco County Commissioners

It was standing room only in the Wasco County Commission meeting room yesterday for the discussion of Wasco County’s relations with the North Central Public Health District. Several people who spoke were not only unhappy about the county’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from the district, but in the attempted stealthy manner in which it was done, with no prior advance notice to the public and without being listed on the agenda for the December 17 meeting.

On the advice of legal counsel Brad Timmons, commissioners did vote to rescind that previous vote. They also received an earful from a number of citizens present. You can hear that whole conversation by clicking on the grey podcast bar below

Bend man arrested in death of Columbia Gorge hiker

02 18 15 Stephen W Nichols mug shotHOOD RIVER, Ore. (AP) — A hiking companion has been accused of murder in the death of a woman who fell from a trail six years ago in the Columbia Gorge.

The Oregonian reports that Hood River County officials are holding Stephen Wagner Nichols without bail.

Authorities say the Bend, Oregon, man was arrested in San Francisco and booked into the Northern Oregon Region Corrections Facility early Friday.

Authorities said 23-year-old Rhonda Casto fell 100 feet to her death in March 2009.

She fell down a steep section of trail pitted with wire cables and pipe handrails, which help hikers navigate the narrow, slippery terrain.

Officials said that an indictment and arrest warrant were issued for the 40-year-old suspect in April 2014.


Gorge Commission Director leaves for new role with policy center

Columbia River Gorge Commission Executive Director Darren Nichols (left) gestures as he talks with Washington Governor Jay Inslee at  the waterfront in Bingen in August 2014

Columbia River Gorge Commission Executive Director Darren Nichols (left) gestures as he talks with Washington Governor Jay Inslee at the waterfront in Bingen in August 2014

The Columbia River Gorge Commission announced that its executive director Darren Nichols will leave the Commission in April to take on a new role as the Associate Director of the William D. Ruckelshaus Center in Seattle.

Nichols joined the Commission three years ago immediately following a period of deep agency budget cuts. “When I first arrived at the Commission, we didn’t know whether we would be able to keep the doors open for more than a few months,” Nichols remembers with a smile. “I’m pleased that we are in a much better position now. I sincerely hope the states will continue to invest in the Commission’s vital planning role for a healthy, sustainable Gorge future.”

Gorge Commission chair Keith Chamberlain said, “I am saddened Darren is leaving us at the CRGC. In three short years he has helped stabilize our funding and introduced us to a new way of thinking of who we are and how we should function as the Columbia River Gorge Commission. I will miss working with Darren and wish him the best in his new endeavors.”

Nichols described his work with the Commission and its staff as a unique privilege, saying “I am very proud of what we’ve accomplished over the last three years and I am confident in our staff and leadership’s ability to work collaboratively with Gorge communities, agency partners, Columbia River Treaty tribes, the states, local industry and the public.”

Nichols has helped the Commission work better together internally and reached out to external partners. He and a five-member staff have stabilized basic funding for the agency, solved some long-standing disputes, strengthened regional relations, addressed recreation and transportation concerns, and entered a first-ever agreement with Klickitat County.

The Commission remains focused on working well together and with the Gorge community. In recent years, the Commission has increased capacity for collaborative regional planning and bi-state partnership. The Commission is on a path to fill its role as a visionary regional planning agency. That role became clear in the Commission’s recent work with Northwest universities, through an assessment that established for the first time what it will take to protect and enhance a truly National Scenic Area and support a vibrant, sustainable regional economy.

“The Northwest faces many complex and growing challenges. The Columbia River Gorge is more than any one person’s or organization’s vision – it takes all of us working together to protect the Gorge and prepare our communities for the future” said Nichols, who holds a degree in Economics and a Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning. Nichols plans to spend some time with his family and wrapping up work on a law degree in environmental and natural resources during the transition. He will remain available as needed while the Commission selects a replacement.


Motorcycle crash near Warm Springs injures rider

02 16 15 motorcycle crash near Warm Springs

Oregon State Police (OSP) is continuing the investigation into Sunday morning’s serious injury motorcycle crash that occurred at State Route 216 milepost 17 near Warm Springs.

On February 15, 2015 at approximately 11:45 a.m., a motorcycle, operated by a 45 year old male, was traveling eastbound on State Route 216 near Warm Springs when a saddle bag slid off and got caught in the rear wheel of the motorcycle causing the operator to lose control and crash.

The operator was transported by life flight to St. Charles Medical Center in Bend with severe head injuries and initial information indicates he is in critical condition.

OSP was assisted at the scene by Wasco County Sheriff’s Office, Juniper Flat Rural Fire Department, South Wasco County Ambulance Service, and ODOT. Trooper Matthew Zistel is the lead investigator.

One lane was opened to traffic at approximately 2:42 p.m., and the other lane was opened one hour later.

First responders find suspicious devices in vehicle involved in crash on Highway 97 in Redmond

02 12 15 HWY_97_202 11 15 HWY_97_1

The following is a press release from the Oregon State Police:

Preliminary information indicates that shortly before 3:30 p.m., on Wednesday, February 11, a silver Dodge 2500 pickup, driven by TROY J. SCHAFFNER, 27, of Redmond, was northbound on highway 97 when for undetermined reasons it crossed the center median and into the right-hand lane of southbound traffic. The Dodge collided head-on with a 2002 Freightliner semi-truck and trailer, driven by GABRIEL PEREZ, 44, of Imperial CA. SCHAFFNER was transported via ground ambulance to St. Charles Medical Center in Bend and PEREZ was not injured. Both drivers were using safety restraints and the airbags in the Dodge deployed.

First responders to the scene discovered suspicious items in the Dodge similar to improvised explosive devices. OSP Bomb Technicians were called in to collect the devices and secure the scene. Traffic was delayed for about 2.5 hours during the event. The highway was closed for 5-10 minutes while technicians secured the devices in a trailer designed to contain explosives.

The cause of the crash is currently under investigation and follow-up on the suspicious devices also. Additional information will be released when it becomes available.
OSP was assisted at the scene by the Redmond Police Department, Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, Redmond Fire Department and the Oregon Department of Transportation.