Douglas County’s Top 10 stories of 2016
Sunday January 1, 2017
The votes have been counted for The News-Review’s annual Top 10 news stories of 2016.
Topping the list is the Douglas County Library System and its issues. Making the list at No. 10 is the release of the Bureau of Land
Management’s Resource Management Plan and the mixed reviews that it drew.
The Top 10 list was determined by a vote of 11 editorial board members, six from The News-Review’ editorial board and five from the
newspaper’s Community Advisory Board.
Here’s to looking back at the news of 2016, and then looking forward to 2017.
- Douglas County voters delivered what could be the death blow to the county’s library system in November.
After voters rejected a library district and a 44 cents per $1,000 property tax to fund it, library supporters have been left scrambling to find a Plan B to keep some or all of the county’s 11 libraries open.Library district proponents said their plan, which would have generated about $3.8 million, would have restored the library system to full staffing and full-time hours. The figure was based on a return to 2008 levels, before staffing and hours were drastically cut by the county.
Opponents of the plan said property owners simply can’t afford to pay more taxes to support the library system.
The county government, rapidly running out of reserves, has announced it cannot continue funding the system. The future for the libraries is now unclear. Some cities might elect to take over their own branches and run them with volunteers. Or a private nonprofit organization might attempt to take over the system. If no workable solution is found, the libraries are expected to close during the first half of 2017.
- FERC denies Jordan Cove ENERGY Project
The Jordan Cove Energy Project and Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline applied to construct a liquefied natural gas pipeline and export terminal through Southwest Oregon, including Douglas County.Umpqua Community College nursing school graduate Maria Krogh looks on with classmates during graduation ceremonies at
UCC on Friday.
After the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied the project in March, the companies involved requested a rehearing.
The controversial pipeline proposal has been met with protests across the state from opponents who believe the project would cause harm to landowners and wildlife habitats along the route, while proponents claim the pipeline would provide jobs and energy to Oregon.
After FERC denied the request for rehearing in December, Jordan Cove LNG announced that it plans to file a new application, though it withdrew its application to build a 420-megawatt power plant in addition to the pipeline.
- UCC moves forward
Debra Thatcher was named president in April, becoming the school’s first full-time president since former president Joe Olson retired in June 2015.Two interim presidents served since then, Rita Cavin, who held the position during the mass shooting on Oct. 1, 2015, and then Walter Nolte. Also in April, the newly constructed observatory that was not yet complete at that time was named after UCC astronomy professor Paul Morgan. The Dr. Paul Morgan Observatory was completed in May with a grand opening in September.
In early September, the Bonnie J. Ford Health, Nursing & Science Center held its grand opening on the UCC campus. The center will serve as a boon to the medical community.
Oct. 1 marked the first anniversary of the fatal shooting that took place in 2015 on the UCC campus, with special events taking place to honor the date on campus and around town.
Snyder Hall began deconstruction on Oct. 17, after the state awarded the college $4.2 million to reconstruct the building that was the site of the UCC mass shooting.
- Susan Morgan bows out
County Commissioner Susan Morgan surprised many when she announced in January that she wouldn’t seek re-election, even though she had just won the right to run for a third term.Morgan’s decision followed a successful court challenge to a two-term limit on commissioners. The limit had won strong support from voters, but a judge agreed with Morgan’s claim that it violated the state constitution. Critics were at times vehement in opposing Morgan’s actions, and she was the subject of a failed recall effort. Morgan said if she had stayed in the race, the term limit question would have become a distraction at a time when the county needed to unite and focus on its fiscal challenges.
Morgan’s withdrawal from the race cleared the way for another candidate, longtime photographer and businessman Gary Leif. Leif, who had lost a 2014 bid for commissioner to Chris Boice, won Morgan’s seat in May this year, and was sworn into office last week.
- Housing and Homeless Issues
Addressing housing and homelessness were some of the major topics debated by council candidates in this previous election. With rental housing vacancy rates plummeting, rent prices skyrocketing, and the homeless population growing, Douglas County residents are looking to new city councilors for solutions.Meanwhile, former and current councilors have taken some steps in addressing their city’s housing and homelessness issues.
Earlier this year, Roseburg councilors adopted ordinances aimed at preventing crime in Roseburg’s downtown area. Critics argued that they unfairly targeted homeless people.
Two of those ordinances created what has been called an “exclusion zone” in downtown. They allow Roseburg police to ban repeat criminals from downtown and hold owners of businesses and so-called “nuisance properties” accountable for allowing criminal activities. Another ordinance required shopping cart providers to put their name and phone numbers on carts. That way police have someone to contact when they run across errant carts.
In housing, property managers are saying their rental vacancy rates hover around 1 percent, a painfully low number that has pushed some people out of the county or into homelessness. Agencies in Roseburg have created a housing group that meets about once a quarter to address the issue.
- Parks controversies continue
Environmentalists and other parks supporters, some using the slogan “Remember Busenbark,” kept up the pressure on the Douglas County Parks Advisory Board in 2016. Busenbark County Park was clear-cut in 2015. Fearing more of the same, many turned up regularly to parks board meetings to voice their concerns.One main point of contention was the county’s Parks Master Plan, which ultimately won approval this year from the parks board and the county commissioners. Another conflict surrounded four vacancies on the parks board itself. After an unusual procedure in which 10 applicants for those slots took exams, three incumbents were reappointed. Umpqua Valley Audubon Society President Diana Wales was snubbed for the fourth position, despite logging the fourth-highest score on the exam. Greg Logan, while technically not reappointed, continued to fill that seat but became an outspoken critic of the process, which he said lacked transparency. At the end of the year, two entirely new applicants joined the board, one filling Logan’s seat and the other a new vacancy.
This year also saw the retirement of Parks Director Gary Groth and the hiring of new Parks Director Rocky Houston.
- “No” on marijuana sales
It’s legal to smoke marijuana throughout the state, but selling it is another question altogether. It’s a question Douglas County voters had on their ballots this November. At that time, they rejected a measure that would have allowed the production and retail sale of both recreational and medical marijuana in rural parts of the county.Proponents of the measures said marijuana businesses would improve the county’s economy and create jobs. Opponents said legalizing the businesses would make it easier for teens to get their hands on the drug, which they said is a gateway drug to more serious addictions.
The two countywide measures won’t affect sales within incorporated cities. Also this November, Roseburg and Myrtle Creek voters approved city taxes on recreational sales, while Canyonville and Sutherlin residents voted against allowing medical or recreational sales in their cities.
- Sale of the Elliott State Forest
The state of Oregon was mandated to use revenue from timber harvests on the Elliott State Forest, inland from the Douglas and Coos county coastlines, for the State Common School Fund, but has instead been losing money on managing the forest. The state put 82,500 acres of the Elliott up for sale for $220.8 million, which would go toward supporting local schools.In November, Lone Rock Timber Management Company, the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians and the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians submitted the only bid to purchase the forest, which the Oregon Department of State Lands deemed to be responsive to its requirements for sale. At its December meeting, the State Land Board heard from the public and directed the department to work through details and return to the board’s Feb. 14 meeting for updates before any announcement regarding the sale.
The proposal states that the forest will be managed for timber harvest, creating 40 full-time jobs for 10 years and leaving at least 41,250 acres for public recreational access and 20,625 acres of protected habitat.
- Mental health merger
The nonprofit Adapt, best known for its drug addiction treatment programs, took strides in 2016 to consolidate its position as the future provider of mental health services in the county.The company purchased the old Douglas County Health Building on Madrone Street in Roseburg this summer for $1.5 million.
In August, the company settled a lawsuit that had aimed to block its merger talks with the Community Health Alliance. The latter
organization had been providing mental health services since the county government dropped its mental health program in 2014. CHA board member Kevin Campbell had sued both Adapt and CHA in an effort to block the merger. Adapt has said it wants to hire most of CHA’s 120 employees, and to collaborate with Mercy Medical Center to start a mental health respite facility.
- BLM Resource Management Plan debated
The Bureau of Land Management finalized its Resource Management Plan in August, outlining how 2.6 million acres of western Oregon forests are protected for habitat and harvested for timber.The plan was met with mixed reviews. While environmental groups argued the plan doesn’t go far enough to protect wildlife and fish, timber industry representatives said it doesn’t offer enough timber for harvest.
BLM claims the plan provides for 74 percent of reserved land to be protected for the northern spotted owl and other wildlife, waterways and old growth forests while it would create 554 new jobs in Roseburg, increase recreational visits by 40 to 70 percent by 2036, allow for 37 percent more timber for harvest than the 1995 Northwest Forest Plan and use newer technology and sciences.
Just The Facts:
1. Library issues
2. Pipeline controversy
3. UCC moving on
4. Susan Morgan bows out, Gary Leif in
5. Housing and homeless issues
6. County parks controversy
7. County pot sales rejected
8. Lone Rock/Elliot sale
9. Mental health issues
10. BLM management plan debate