Monthly 2023 year in review



Clark County acquires state land along Hantwick Trail

The land around the Hantwick Trail by Moulton Falls was secured for recreational use, as the Washington State Board of Natural Resources approved measures which placed the state-owned property into Clark County’s hands.

During its Jan. 17 meeting, the board voted unanimously to bestow the roughly 80 acres surrounding the trail to Clark County for public park use.

The property transfer was spurred after the Washington State Department of Natural Resources called for a timber harvest on the land. When the harvest was announced for 2019, the department received “substantial comments from the community,” said Deborash Whitney, the project manager with DNR’s land transactions program.

“I am excited that the years of community support and hard work of staff will create a win-win for the state and the people who recreate along the Lewis River,” Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz stated in a release announcing the development.,307770

Local artist pays homage to Miller Paint’s history with in-store mural

The Miller Paint store in Battle Ground in January debuted a new hand-drawn mural that captured the theme and culture on which the store was founded.

Pace Aho, a local artist aspiring to turn his passion into a successful career, crafted the mural with only a sketch as reference.

“We talked a little beforehand about what I was thinking with a [Pacific Northwest] theme, American flag and our culture,” store manager Kyle Huffstutter said. “Pace went onto our website and figured out what our culture meant, and I really enjoyed how he was able to tie everything together in one scene.”

The mural prominently features Ernest Miller, the founder of Miller Paint. As a young artist, Miller moved to Portland from Germany in the 1800s. At that time, few paint supply businesses existed in the Pacific Northwest.

Orders of paint from the East Coast led to constant backorders, and the paint was not suitable for the rainy weather of the Pacific Northwest, so Miller began to create his own paint in 1890, which was more suitable to the region’s weather.

Now, 130 years and counting, Miller Paint has been made in Portland and provides paint for 50 stores throughout Washington, Oregon and Idaho.,308196

First chaplain for Clark County Sheriff’s Office sworn in

Clark County Sheriff John Horch swore in Cari Arnsparger as the first chaplain for the sheriff’s office on Jan. 4.

Arnsparger was sworn in with an honorary commission, a release from the county stated. She came to the sheriff’s office through her volunteer work at County-Wide Chaplaincy.

Arnsparger had been with County-Wide Chaplaincy as a police and fire chaplain for five years, the release stated. She completed an extensive two-year training program through the County-Wide Chaplaincy and the Responders Resource Program.

As chaplain, Arnsparger is assigned to the sheriff’s office’s peer support team. She provides counseling and emotional support to employees of the agency, their families and members of the public.

Her honorary commission gives her no law enforcement authority but allows her to be an emotional support per state law, the release stated. CCSO outfitted Arnsparger with sheriff’s office uniforms and protective gear.,308042

Julio’s Coffee and Breakfast opened in Battle Ground

A new restaurant in Battle Ground began serving up breakfast and lunch for eager new patrons Jan. 17.

Julio’s Coffee and Breakfast, located at 705 SE First St., features a diverse breakfast menu with omelets to combinations with gravy. For the lunch crowd, the menu includes four types of burgers and three options of sandwiches. 

Yadira Cisneros, a resident of Battle Ground and owner of Julio’s Coffee and Breakfast, knew there was a hole to fill in the community’s restaurant scene. Prior to the opening of her mostly breakfast-based restaurant, the community of Battle Ground lacked a dedicated breakfast spot since the pandemic caused the closure of Hockinson Cafe. 

The restaurant is named after Cisneros’ husband.

Cisneros’ favorite part of her new restaurant was providing customers with the attention they deserve while receiving many compliments throughout the process, she stated through a translator.,313965

Lewis River Rotary Club celebrates 30 years of service

The Lewis River Rotary Club celebrated 30 years of service at its Jan. 28 Charter Night ceremony, which was held at Windy Hills Winery in Ridgefield.  

The club has been serving the North Clark County area since its inception in 1993. They celebrated with a catered dinner, celebration cake, and a program to recognize this year’s outstanding members, stated a news release from the organization. 

Lewis River Rotary’s main service projects include over $20,000 in college and vocational scholarships each year, growing fresh produce and providing financial support to the North Clark County Food Bank.

The club also adopted and revitalized Battle Ground Central Park and the Citizen of the Year Rose Garden. They hold regular highway 502 trash cleanup events, provide mock interview experiences for students at Battle Ground High School, and provide vouchers for coats and underwear for in-need students in the Battle Ground school district.

The club volunteers and provides financial support to the Pomeroy Living History Farm, sponsors and supports a Boy Scout Troop, and sponsors one to two young adults each year to the Rotary Youth Leadership training.,313619?


Tax exemption for Main Street apartment complex in Battle Ground approved

After months of appearances on meeting agendas, the Battle Ground City Council finally approved a property tax exemption program for a planned development featuring hundreds of apartments and commercial space.

During its Feb. 6 meeting, the City Council voted unanimously to approve an ordinance to add a multi-family tax exemption program to city code. The program is specifically for a development known as “West Main Commons,” an $85 million project that features 220 market-rate apartments ranging from studio to two-bedroom units.

The project area was approved by the council during its Jan. 17 meeting. The exemption, allowed under state law, would allow for abatement on property taxes on the residential portion of the property. It would not affect the commercial property or the land value itself prior to development.

For the approved exemption, the development must make 10% of its units “affordable.” Affordability is defined in code as rent that does not exceed 30% of a household’s monthly income based on 80% of the adjusted median income for Clark County.,313961?

Battle Ground resident celebrates 100th birthday

Grace Jemison-Martin reached the century milestone on Saturday, Feb. 11. 

Raised in the North Clark County area, Jemison-Martin witnessed a lot of change in many aspects of her life.  

On Thursday, Feb. 9, Battle Ground’s Mallard Landing Assisted Living, where Jemison-Martin is a resident, hosted a birthday party in her honor.

Jemison-Martin was born in Portland on Feb. 11, 1923. She was born a month earlier than expected. At the time of her birth, consistent snowfall and freezing temperatures made travel difficult. 

When she was 3 months old, her family bought an 80-acre farm along present-day Northeast 299th Street. 

During that time, the roads were dirt and easily turned to mud. In the process of moving, her family’s truck became stuck in the mud on present-day Highway 503. The house she grew up in was built by a Civil War veteran. It had no electricity, no radio, and Jemison-Martin referred to it as pioneer living at the start. 

“I was 9 years old before we got electricity,” Jemison-Martin said. “I used to study my schoolwork by an old kerosene lamp.” 

The muddy roads eventually became gravel roads. Jemison-Martin wished she had electricity earlier in life, noting it’s something many people take for granted.,313970


New Ridgefield port office, home of police station opened

Despite a handful of development setbacks, the Port of Ridgefield’s new home officially opened.

During a ribbon-cutting ceremony on March 1, staff and officials from the port, alongside representatives of nearby ports, the city and other local groups, celebrated the opening of “The Bluffs.” The 15,000-square-foot building at 101 Mill St. can house a number of tenants. The first official entity to move into the building was the port.

The port offices moved from the previous location at 111 W. Division St. last month as administration brought their operations to the other side of the railroad.

Ridgefield Mayor Jennifer Lindsay mentioned the Ridgefield Police Department will move into the facility, as well.

Lindsay said the move represents the first steps to transform the Ridgefield waterfront.

“For the waterfront, it’s like all of these pieces of a puzzle that so many of us have been working on for years and years and years are kind of starting to fall into place,” Lindsay said. “I’m really excited to see what that final picture ends up looking like.”,315021

Law enforcement welcomes home deputy from CCSO

Drew Kennison, a deputy with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, returned home from a rehabilitation facility on Wednesday, March 8 after he was injured in a weather-related accident on Feb. 22.

Kennison, a 14-year veteran with the department, had his leg amputated above the knee after a snow-laden tree fell on his vehicle in Skamania County.

To welcome Kennison, the Pioneer Street overpass in Ridgefield was lined with patrol cars from various agencies like the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, the Ridgefield Police Department, Cowlitz Tribal Police, the Washington State Patrol and others as Kennison rode by on his way home. The Carty Road overpass to the south was lined with numerous fire and EMS personnel.

Other overpasses on Interstate 5 in Clark County were also lined with first responders who greeted Kennison.

“Drew is really doing amazingly well considering everything and is in really good spirits,” the sheriff’s office stated in a release. “His attitude and determination have been inspiring to everyone who has gone to visit him.”,315400

Best of BG charity pageant raises money for Clark County teen

Seven seniors at Battle Ground High School competed for the honor and crown of being the “Best of BG” on March 25 during a charity pageant that raised money for teenager Luke Montei, who was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome.

The Best of BG charitable pageant provides fun and entertainment, but the proceeds raised through the auction, seat sales and donations went toward a heartfelt cause.

This year, the Sparrow Club raised money to help cover medical expenses for Montei, a 15-year-old from Vancouver. Montei had been in and out of hospital for his whole life. He had 20 surgeries, including a heart transplant.

The pageant took place on Montei’s 85th day at Seattle Children’s Hospital. It raised $2,743 for Montei’s family. A silent auction that was held earlier that day at Rocky’s Pizza raised upwards of $4,000.

“I really am appreciative of the cause. Hearing Luke’s story was difficult,” Battle Ground Deputy Mayor Cherish DesRochers said. “I think everyone did a really fantastic job. It was definitely difficult to pick a winner.”,316288

Hundreds of homes coming to south Battle Ground

Those driving along state Route 503 on the south side of Battle Ground may have spotted a series of structures sprouting from old grazing land in March.

The residential development, known as Woodin Creek Station, features a variety of housing on about 55 acres to the south of Southwest 30th Street and east of state Route 503.

Woodin Creek Station will include just shy of 500 residential units when complete. Those units include 128 townhomes, 191 detached lots and a 180-unit apartment complex, Mark Miller, the senior developer for project applicant Hurley Development, said.

The property on which the development was built was historically used for grazing and hay farming, said Jason Ritchie, Hurley Development director of innovation and creative.

Amenities proposed for the complex include a workout facility, business center, barbecue area and outdoor activity centers, development director David Armesy said. The first units were planned for fall 2023. The project is expected to be completed in late spring 2024.,315393


Port of Ridgefield adjusts fees for boat launch

During a visit to the Ridgefield boat launch on Lake River earlier this year, longtime boater Rick Grenz discovered a note on his vehicle’s windshield that shocked him.

When he went to buy the pass, he learned about the significant changes to the waterfront’s pass policy. As of this year, the port charges a $12 daily use fee. Those who live within the 98642 ZIP code — the geographic area of the port’s tax base — can receive an annual unlimited pass for $50.

This is a change from past years, where daily use was $10 and annual passes were available for $45 for in-district users and $55 for those who lived outside of the ZIP code.

On Sept. 28, the Port of Ridgefield Board of Commissioners voted to change the use fees on port-owned property along Lake River. Every year the port commissioners set the rates for the boat launch use as part of the annual budget process, Port of Ridgefield CEO Randy Mueller said.,316742

Audubon Society provides tips to help birds migrating in Clark County

The peak of spring bird migration throughout North Clark County is estimated to take place between April 15 and May 19. 

An estimated 2,800 birds crossed through Clark County during the night of April 3, followed by an estimated 17,500 birds on the night of April 4, according to Birdcast. Birdcast estimates state there could be close to 70,000 birds that will fly through the area on a nightly basis in early May. 

During peak migration dates, audubon societies encourage homeowners to turn off their outdoor lights once the sun goes down.

Even indoor lighting can disorient birds, so closing blinds or curtains can be an easy solution. Numerous studies have estimated that at least 100 million bird deaths are related to light pollution in the United States each year. 

There are also hazards during the daytime, since windows can also harm birds. To fix that issue, people can purchase circular decals to add to their windows.

Another issue nationwide that impacts the bird population are outdoor cats. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology estimates that between 1.3 billion and 4 billion birds are killed each year by pet cats in the United States alone.,317055?

Yacolt mayor highlights improvements and vision for town

Yacolt Mayor Katelyn Listek has seen many of her visions come to fruition for the town over the last year.

The town has created a new gathering place, has improved its local event offerings and has focused on public safety with the addition of speed bumps in town.

Even with all of the improvements, Listek said she would like to see other entities provide opportunities to invest and promote the town of Yacolt.

Listek said Yacolt has established a Central Park, or a town square, equipped with benches, an embankment slide and a stage, which can be used for the town’s major events.

Listek said Yacolt experiences many of the same problems as other municipalities, which includes speeding.

To help combat that, Yacolt installed some new speed bumps.

“I make half the town upset with that, but I make the other half really happy,” Listek said.,317511 

Gluesenkamp Perez, USDA under secretary visit north Clark County

Clark County’s new representative in Congress visited Woodland in April alongside a key figure involved with federal agriculture policy to discuss issues local farmers face in the shifting industry.

U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Skamania, met with farmers from Clark and Cowlitz counties during a roundtable discussion at Our American Roots, a wholesale flower seller located between La Center and Woodland.

Gluesenkamp Perez was joined by U.S. Under Secretary of Agriculture for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small as they learned about the struggles and success farmers have experienced. 

“If we’re not supporting farmers, we’re not supporting our long-term security … we’re not supporting the health of our country, and we’re not supporting economic vitality,” Torres Small said.

Though the challenges Clark County has in agriculture are shared across the county, Torres Small said the local community’s efforts to preserve the industry stands out.

“It was neat to see the ways farmers are working together on that issue and the way people are stepping up into elected office,” Torres Small said.,317061?


Debris slide blocks highway to Johnston Ridge

A debris slide on May 14 blocked the highway to Johnston Ridge.

The Washington State Department of Transportation stated the slide, which happened around 9 p.m., closed both directions of Spirit Lake Memorial Highway/state Route 504 at milepost 45 near Coldwater Lake. 

The landslide washed out an 85-foot bridge on the road to Johnston Ridge Observatory at Mount St. Helens. Seven cars were left abandoned.

Fortunately, the incident hurt no one, and because it was at night, only a dozen people were stranded at the observatory King County Sheriff’s Office helicopters rescued them the following day.

On July 14, exactly two months after the landslide, the vehicles and owners were reunited.

After the landslide, WSDOT hired an engineering firm to install a temporary, one-lane bypass road over culverts.

In an email to local lawmakers and stakeholders on Nov. 5, WSDOT broke the bad news. A “localized event,” wrote Carley Francis, Southwest Region administrator for WSDOT, caused the culverts to collapse.

The incident had “no impact” to current travelers on the road, which remains closed. Upper stretches of the Spirit Lake Highway are typically only open from late spring to late summer.,319308

Federal, state grants awarded for East Fork Lewis River rehab project

The East Fork Lewis River could see some significant reconstructive surgery after the restoration project received around $13 million at the state and federal levels.

On April 21, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell announced $7.5 million in funding for the Lower East Fork Lewis River Floodplain Reclamation Project.

The project is intended to reclaim land on and by the river affected by past mining operations a few miles upstream from La Center.

The funding was recommended by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and was among nearly $60 million in funds awarded through the administration’s Climate-Ready Coasts initiative in Washington, a press release stated.

That funding was a part of about $67 million for the state’s Floodplains By Design program, Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, spokesperson for the partnership, said.

The project’s long-term outlook focuses on the restoration of three miles of the river and riverside habitat to the benefit of properties and animal populations, Zimmer-Stucky said. In the short term, the project brings jobs to the area as the restoration work is completed.,318492

Battle Ground High School’s advanced jazz band earns first place at Kansas City competition

Traveling from Battle Ground to Kansas City, the advanced jazz band of Battle Ground High School had quite the trip. They recently learned about history and got invited to perform at the Basically Basie Jazz Heritage Competition during the Kansas City Jazz Summit from April 25 to April 28.

Battle Ground’s advanced jazz band achieved first place, and upright bass player Dalon Goodwin was honored as Outstanding Musician for the rhythm section. 

“It was a packed house and everybody was there including all of our competitors. When we played our last number, when we were done the whole place was standing,” music director Greg McKelvey recalled. “That’s when I said, ‘OK, maybe we probably did pretty well.’ It’s one thing to get a standing ovation from parents and people that know the kids, but when you get a standing ovation from people including other band directors that know music, that means a lot.”,318948?

Clark County Republican Party endorses Joe Kent

The Clark County Republican Party endorsed Joe Kent as its pick for the 3rd Congressional District race for Congress in May.

Matthew Bumala, the CCRP chairman, stated in an email that 84% of the votes supported Kent in the election, which will take place in 2024. The vote needed the support of two-thirds of the party’s precinct committee officers to approve the endorsement.

“This speaks volumes in comparison to the last election cycle, which had several Republican candidates in the race going into the primaries without any of them having the endorsement from the county party,” Bumala stated in the email. “In Washington state, we have a jungle primary. The divided vote hurt us unnecessarily and gave little runway time for people to rally behind Kent going into the general election. Had our party rallied behind him earlier, we’d see a different congressional representative in D.C. right now.”

Bumala stated those who voted for the endorsement hope the move can unite people “behind one candidate now and avoid the division and infighting over different candidates.”,320092?


Two-alarm fire destroys at least seven businesses in Salmon Creek

A fast-moving, two-alarm fire destroyed at least seven businesses in an industrial building in Salmon Creek on June 6. 

According to Clark County Fire District 6, employees at the building located at 14615 NE 13th Court reported seeing smoke coming from an upstairs window and heard fire alarms sounding. The smoke began to fill the building shortly after, and tenants evacuated it and called 911.

The “violent” fire “ripped” through an estimated 110,000-square-foot building, which was fully engulfed in flames when Clark County Fire District 6 firefighters arrived, according to a news release. 

“Firefighters from Vancouver Fire and Clark Cowlitz Fire Rescue assisted in fighting the blaze, which was quickly called a two-alarm fire,” the release stated. “Firefighters established a defensive mode to keep the fire from spreading to nearby buildings.”

No one was injured in the fire, and at least seven businesses were impacted.,320582?

Woodland library breaks ground on new location

The future of a new Woodland library became physical in June.

During a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Woodland Community Library, dozens gathered to celebrate the turning of dirt on a project years in the making.

Judy Musa, the business development officer for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library Foundation, had seeds on hand to plant on the grounds where the new Woodland Community Library will be placed.

She led off the ceremony that was held to kick off Woodland’s library construction, located on the corner of Goering Street and Lakeshore Drive.

The 7,500-square-foot building will have different sections, a community room and a children’s area, according to blueprints.,321104?

Titan VanCoug blooms again at WSU Vancouver

Titan VanCoug, the rare corpse flower housed on the campus of Washington State University Vancouver, bloomed in June. The stinky corpse flower could be seen in four stages of life, a spectacle that had never been seen from one flower pot.

After a suspected overwatering accident cloned the corm, or tuber, of the corpse flower, visitors could see the four plants in one pot in different life stages on June 30. People could see a leaf, fruit from the 2022 bloom and the 2023 bloom.

WSU Vancouver professor emeritus Steve Sylvester cultivated Titan VanCoug in a desktop pot until it outgrew its small space.

During a public viewing of the bloom on June 30, Sylvester, Freeman and classroom support technician Mark Owens were there to answer questions and care for the corpse flower.

“It is really rare to have that and super exciting to be able to share that with the world that you know. Titan really put on a show for us,” Freeman said regarding the opportunity to view four separate stages of life.,321713

Clark County to pay $600,000 in employee racial discrimination suit

Three employees of Clark County Public Works received $600,000 in total after a federal jury found the county violated Washington state’s law against discrimination over their treatment when they worked for the county.

On June 20, a jury in the Western Washington District ruled in favor of Elias Peña, Isaiah Hutson and Ray Alanis in their suit against Clark County.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and Seattle-based law firm Breskin, Townsend and Johnson filed a federal lawsuit in June 2021 on behalf of the plaintiffs.

The three were members of a Clark County Public Works Department road crew. Peña and Hutson worked for the county since 2016, the initial complaint read. Alanis joined them in the roads division in 2018. Prior to Alanis joining the department, Peña and Hutson were harassed by non-Latino supervisors and co-workers, which included racist remarks, a release from the firms representing them stated.

“After years of experiencing a hostile work environment at Clark County, our clients have finally been vindicated,” Luis L. Lozada, a MALDEF staff attorney, stated in the release. “The jury heard their stories and believed them.”,321393


Miss Clark County crowned as Miss Washington

Vanessa Munson, a Prairie High School graduate and current sergeant in the U.S. Army, increased her status from Miss Clark County to Miss Washington on July 1, during a pageant in Olympia.

“I grew up watching the Miss America pageant on TV and I knew nothing about the Miss America Organization until I entered my first pageant at 15,” Munson said. “All I knew was that I just wanted to make a difference in the world. So I competed for several years, and I actually hadn’t won any title until this last year when I took home the title of Miss Clark County.”

Munson’s first appearance at the state competition at 22 years old was highly successful as she now wears the crown and sash for the entire state of Washington.,322013 

Thousands gather for Ridgefield Fourth of July

The 2023 Fourth of July festivities and parade in downtown Ridgefield brought in thousands of people from the community and beyond.

People who attended were treated to Zumba, a parade, vendors, kids activities and entertainment on stage and more.

“I think the fourth of July went very well this year. It kind of brought us back to where we were pre-COVID with the community coming together and even people from out of town coming to see what it’s like in our small community of Ridgefield,” Festival Director Sandy Schill said. “We had a lot of support from our local businesses.”,322003

Forest Service says Pacific Northwest at ‘significant’ wildfire risk

Summer of 2023 was only halfway over, and low spring rainfall had resulted in abnormally dry conditions in the Pacific Northwest, noted a July 27 news release from the U.S. Forest Service.

Combined with persistent hot temperatures across the region, the Forest Service said the situation posed “significant risk of wildfires, and residents of Oregon and Washington are urged to take precautions to prevent human-caused wildfire starts.”  

The Pacific Northwest region had experienced drier-than-normal conditions over the past several months, the news release said, citing weather records from the Northwest Coordinator Center Predictive Services Outlook. 

“This dryness, combined with record and near-record heat, has resulted in excessively dry vegetation in many areas,” said the release.

Fire restrictions would likely increase in the coming weeks, the Forest Service stated. Already, fireworks were prohibited on Forest Service land at all times, and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest had burning restrictions in place.,323017?


Clark County Fair kicks off with rocking concerts, agricultural roots, games with big prizes and more

From Trace Adkins still proving why “Ladies Love Country Boys” to Blue Oyster Cult reminding everyone “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” to the fair being tried and true to its agricultural roots, the Clark County Fair kicked off Aug. 4.

The fair began with four nights of concerts, which included Trace Adkins, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Blue Oyster Cult and LOCASH. 

Following the concerts, the grandstands transformed into a dirt play box for a demolition derby on Aug. 9, side-by-side racing on Aug. 10, Tuff Trucks on Aug. 11 and Aug. 12 and closed the fair with Monster Trucks on Aug. 13. 

The fair was full of entertainment outside of the grandstands from dock dogs and DogTown, Curly the Camel and Friends, Wizard’s Challenge, Pirate’s Parrot Show and much more. But the fair stuck to its roots of being an agricultural fair with over 10 buildings designated for farm life.,323357

Paddle for Life dragon boat races raise money for good cause

Hundreds of paddlers from up and down the West Coast competed in Southwest Washington’s only dragon boat festival, Paddle for Life dragon boat races, on Aug. 5 at Lake River Ridgefield Kayak Launch.

Proceeds raised during the event supported Clark County’s only dragon boat team, Catch-22, to build and maintain a breast cancer survivor’s paddling community in Clark County.

The ancient Chinese sport of dragon boat racing has become a popular movement for breast-cancer survivors, allowing them to “feel empowered, build self-confidence and take back control of their lives thanks to the healing power of water, exercise, community and the unique camaraderie of connecting and competing with other survivors,” the release said.

Hundreds of attendees cheered on the teams as they paddled in unison to propel the boats down a 250-meter course to the finish line.,323703

Washington state’s capital gains tax generates more than $859M

Washington state received over $859.2 million in revenue from its new capital gains tax since collection began Feb. 1.

As of Aug. 23, a total of 6,012 capital gains accounts had been registered with the state Department of Revenue, 1,605 returns had been filed, and 3,457 payments had been received for the $859 million total, DOR Communications Manager Mikhail Carpenter said in an email reply to The Center Square.

The tax revenue is dedicated to education and facilities for Washington’s public schools. It is being collected even as litigation continues regarding its validity and application outside the state’s borders.

The deadline for filing a return was April 18, but affected taxpayers – an estimated 1% of the state’s adult population – could request an extension to Oct. 16. The department received 2,585 requests.,324442

Washington’s fatal drug overdose rate increases faster than any state

Washington’s fatal drug overdose rate increased in a one-year period the fastest of any state, according to a report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The report found that between March 2022 and March 2023, the number of predicted cases of fatal drug overdose increased by 28.4% from 2,356 to 3,024. The number of reported fatal overdose deaths increased by 25%, from 2,351 to 2,948.,324444?


Skydiving great-grandma from Battle Ground gets thrills for good cause

Not content with just one skydiving adventure to her name, a Battle Ground great-grandma, Shirley Romig, made her sixth jump in September, all for a good cause. 

Romig jumped out of an airplane Sept. 17 to raise funds for the fight against child sex trafficking. 

Romig’s jump took place at 12 p.m. on Sept. 17 with Pacific Northwest Skydiving Center based near Molalla, Oregon. 

Romig was inspired to raise funds for sex trafficking victims after watching the movie “The Sound of Freedom,” which is loosely-based on a true story.,324891

BG Main Street and Route 503 project enters its final stretch

The intersection of state Route 503 and state Route 502, which becomes Main Street, underwent work to add turn lanes beginning spring 2023. Throughout the project, the intersection experienced lane closures as crews brought the improvements to fruition.

The critical installation of mast arms for the new traffic signals and the switch over to the new system would occur in September, Battle Ground Public Information Officer Alisha Smith said.

After breaking ground in March, the project had surprisingly few hiccups, Smith said. Although the contract was awarded last summer, the contractor took until this spring to begin the physical work, which Smith said was due to ensuring there were no delays on getting the needed materials to finish.,324907

Pleasant Valley School spirit lives on through wood carving

Pleasant Valley School’s campus saw community identity live on through a wood carving of the school mascot, Buddy the Beaver.

When the campus opened in 1976, two red oak trees stood in the front lawn of the primary school. In spring 2023, an arborist noticed the larger of the two trees was dying, and, for the safety of students and staff, the red oak came down.

Principal Craig Pearson knew the tree meant a lot to the identity of the community on the far south side of Battle Ground Public Schools district. To preserve its memory, the school hired wood carvers and twins Patrick and Mike Bryson to create a statue — a Beaver — from the wood of the tree.

The twins recalled the overall work taking 46 hours to complete. The Buddy the Beaver carving was finished in time for students and parents to meet their teachers before the first day of school in 2023.,326132

Ridgefield Waterfront draft business plan released

A high-level plan for development at the Ridgefield Waterfront became available in September, and members of the public had the opportunity to comment before the port district put the plan into action.

During its Sept. 13 meeting, the Port of Ridgefield Board of Commissioners heard a presentation by Leland Consulting Group, who was tasked with drafting the Waterfront Business Plan. The next day, the port announced a public comment period for the plan.

“This is really us figuring out what we want,” Port of Ridgefield CEO Randy Mueller said about the plan.

The consultant’s work is an update on 2008 analysis the port has done for the waterfront. It also incorporates a community survey undertaken last year.

The largest change from the 2008 project that Mueller sees is the amount of office space speculated. The old plan had more dedicated office space.

Mueller noted that eight of the 41 acres will be designated the Ridgefield Waterfront Park, a public recreation area largely along the bank of Lake River.,325716?


Cowlitz Tribe, others receive more than $1.2 million in energy grants

The Cowlitz Indian Tribe is among three local governments and nonprofits that received part of $35.4 million grants announced by the Washington State Department of Commerce to plan and install solar and battery backup power systems in community buildings.

On Sept. 27, the department announced the grants, which included more than $1.2 million awarded locally, the largest portion going to the tribe. The projects funded by the grant will provide clean backup power for critical community needs during power outages, a release from the department stated.

Apart from handling outages, the systems will produce solar energy.

“Power outages impact everyone differently — some of our most vulnerable community members face significant risks when the power goes out,” Washington State Department of Commerce Director Mike Fong said in the release.

The Cowlitz tribe received roughly $1.2 million in a grant to install the tribe’s resilient energy and emergency power project, according to a project list from the Department of Commerce. Smaller grants included PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, which received more than $42,000. Battle Ground Public Schools was awarded $7,500.,326578

Paranormal investigators conduct exercise at Cedar Creek Grist Mill

A night out with investigators from Big River Paranormal at the Cedar Creek Grist Mill was full of spooky vibes.

From rapid temperature drops to a knock upstairs when investigators asked for a noise from a spirit, to the use of a non-science-backed tool that produced interesting results. The investigation began at 10:18 p.m. on Oct. 14 and concluded early Oct. 15.

Big River Paranormal has investigated the Cedar Creek Grist Mill in the past with positive evidence through first-hand vision along with electronic voice phenomenon recordings. Big River Paranormal is a team of investigators that strive to find a logical explanation for what their clients are experiencing throughout the Pacific Northwest.,327471

BG police chief announces retirement

Current Battle Ground Police Chief Mike Fort announced his retirement, effective January 2024.

The chief had served the Battle Ground Police Department since 2018, coming from the Portland Police Bureau. He assumed the role of chief following the retirement of Bob Richardson in early 2020, ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though a specific reason was not given, a release from the city stated “recent personal experiences” led to him to prioritize time with family. It mentioned Fort’s family has a “personal battle with cancer.”

“Given that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, I found it a fitting time to announce my retirement from law enforcement,” Fort said in the release.

During his tenure, Fort supported the department’s school resource officer program, developed a traffic unit, increased detective capacity and the implementation of a drone program, the release stated.

“The past six years at the Battle Ground Police Department have been the most rewarding experience of my career,” Fort said in the release.,327709

Ground broken on Woodland Civic Center

The fog on Oct. 18 cleared in time to have the first ground broken at Woodland Civic Center illuminated by the sun.
City officials and employees of Colf Construction gathered at the corner of Goerig Street and Lakewood Drive to celebrate the beginning of construction on the 1,200-square-foot facility. The facility will include reception, exhibit and office space, as well as public restrooms, according to a project page on the city’s website.

Getting a civic center built has been in the works since 2016, Mayor Will Finn said. The civic center originated from the need of a senior center included in Woodland’s growth planning document. The city administration wanted to broaden the community that a facility would serve, hence the more inclusive civic center, he said.

Finn said the center will also include an outdoor sitting area, pet relief station, exterior restrooms and shared parking with the new Woodland Community Library. The library had its own ceremonial groundbreaking during this year’s Planters Days festival.,327887

BGPD officer died from methamphetamine, fentanyl, investigation shows

A Battle Ground Police Department sergeant died from an overdose of methamphetamine and fentanyl he had in his office, an investigation into his death concluded.

On Oct. 26, the city announced the completion of an investigation into Sgt. Richard Kelly’s Aug. 10 on-duty death. He was found unconscious in his office at the Battle Ground Police station and pronounced dead at a hospital later that day.

According to a news release, Police Chief Mike Fort requested the Vancouver Police Department conduct an independent investigation “immediately” after Kelly’s death. That investigation determined Kelly’s death was “more likely than not caused by an intentional act and not an incidental workplace exposure.”

Alongside the death investigation, Fort ordered an independent audit of BGPD’s property and evidence procedures, the release stated.,328372


Chelatchie Prairie Railroad Christmas Train offers family holiday adventure

The 13-mile round-trip Chelatchie Prairie Railroad Christmas Train excursion takes riders from Yacolt to a 300-foot long tunnel, across the East Fork Lewis River and a stop at Moulton Station to visit Santa and Mrs. Claus.

The train departs from Yacolt and sets off on a two-hour venture south on the rails. The tracks took passengers by a beaver pond, and people could watch the busy animals at work.

After the beaver pond, the train went by Moulton Station. The 300-foot long tunnel soon approached and was quite a hit with the passengers on the 2:30 p.m. train excursion on Nov. 26. Passengers laughed, screamed and recorded video as day turned to pitch-black while in the tunnel.

Jerry Jacobus, the train conductor for the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad excursions, said his favorite part of his volunteer work is seeing the enjoyment on all the children’s faces. Jacobus has been volunteering with the railroad for 19 years and said the kids’ enjoyment of all the train rides never gets old.,329968

Plans for $5 million grant aim to coordinate mental, behavioral health support in BGPS schools

A $5 million federal grant awarded to Battle Ground Public Schools will benefit the district’s plans to address student mental and behavioral health, the grant application’s writer says.

On Oct. 25, BGPS announced the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration awarded the Project Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education grant to the district.

The $5 million will be administered over a five-year period and will fund new or renewed efforts by the district, such as increasing mental health services access and helping staff meet students’ social, emotional and behavioral needs.

This year’s grant will continue some of the mental health work that has been impacted by the pandemic.

The most recent data from 2021 showed a significant number of students in eighth and 10th grade experience anxiety, depression and feeling disconnected, BGPS Director of Instructional Interventions Tamra Scheetz said. Some of those experiences are a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.,328817

Furry Friends concludes 2023 with record-breaking adoptions as need for cat rescue rises

More than 600 cats found homes last year with Furry Friends cat rescue. Operating out of Vancouver, the rescue and adoption program expects to rehome a record-breaking 640 cats by the end of 2023.

The increased need for cat rescue has brought new challenges to Furry Friends as local shelters find themselves overwhelmed by an increase in homeless strays and surrendered pets. Furry Friends’ operations have expanded over the years, with over 150 volunteers giving 40,000 hours of their time in 2023. Furry Friends’ ability to rehome so many cats within a year is due to rapid medical care, the support of the community and the work of its volunteers, Executive Director Jenn Hutchman said.

A new medical facility will be in Furry Friends’ future, with Vancouver City Council approval and enough funding. The clinic is expected to be completed by 2025. The rescue can then employ a veterinarian and manage more complex medical care onsite, including spays and neuters.,329957


Five found dead after welfare check in Orchards

The Clark County Sheriff's Office Major Crimes Unit investigated an apparent murder-suicide in which five people were found deceased at a residence in Orchards, Sunday, Dec. 3. 

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) responded to the residence in the 11500 block of Northeast 92nd Street in the Orchards neighborhood of Vancouver at around 1 p.m. to conduct a welfare check.

According to CCSO, deputies believed the suspected shooter was an adult male. The victims were the suspect’s wife, their two adult daughters and the suspect’s adult brother.

A reporting party had requested CCSO check on their family after receiving a text message from a family member stating they had harmed others at the residence, a release by CCSO stated. 

The suspect was believed to be Stuart K. Rouse, 64, and the victims were: Cristina S. Rouse, 62, Ronald E. Rouse, 57, Kristina T. Rouse, 33, and Melissa A. Rouse, 19.

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Unit began its investigation into the apparent murder-suicide after someone asked for a welfare check at the residence.,330269

City of Battle Ground hosts police chief candidates for public meet and greet

The five Battle Ground police chief candidates met with the public at City Hall on Thursday, Dec. 9. The meet and greet was followed by a day of final interviews on Friday, Dec. 8.

Perry Phipps, Dennis Flynn, Sean O’Laughlin, Kevin Barton and Philip Lukens all interviewed for the opening.

To help with the process, people who attended the meet and greet got to provide their impressions of each candidate by filling out a questionnaire they turned in to offer input as part of the selection process, the city stated in a pre-event release.

After contracting with GMP consultants to begin the recruitment process in August of this year, the search for the next police chief of Battle Ground turned national. The five candidates came from as far away as Alliance, Nebraska, with the most local coming from the Gresham Police Department. The job opening officially takes place after Police Chief Mike Fort retires in January.,330759

La Center downtown 2.0 unveiled at council retreat

La Center Mayor Thomas Strobehn, along with Bryan Kast, public works and community development director, unveiled a plan to bring more commercial development and vibrance to downtown La Center. 

The concept for La Center downtown 2.0 was unveiled in front of city administrators, government officials and council members during a City Council retreat at the La Center Community Center on Saturday, Dec. 16. 

The downtown expansion vision marks the beginning of a historic process for La Center as the City Council already approved the downtown subarea plan, but Strobehn is looking to shift the subarea to land needing to be annexed into the urban growth area just west of current downtown La Center. 

The subarea plan will be guided by a new community vision being developed for healthy business and neighborhood growth, according to a flier about the downtown expansion.,331079

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers latest to accuse railroad of environmental damage

Portland Vancouver Junction Railroad faced more accusations that it has caused ecological damage and harmed the environment with its railroad expansion project in the Chelatchie area.

After visiting the site, this month, staff with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) issued PVJR a notice of violation, claiming the railroad violated the Clean Water Act in its construction.

PVJR began its construction project to expand Chelatchie Yard in early 2023.

On Sept. 29, Chelatchie resident John Nanney sent an email to Clark County representatives and local environmental agencies claiming PVJR and Temple did not provide residents notice of the work around Northeast 429th Street, nor were any permits filed for the project.

In an email to Clark County officials, Oct. 17, owner Eric Temple said the company is not guilty of ecological damage.

A number of state and federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and USACE, have conducted their own investigations since the original report released by DOE. In the most recent report, USACE Col. Kathryn Sanborn issued the notice of violation to PVJR in a letter, which claimed USACE found evidence of ecological damage caused by the company’s construction.,331579