A look back at the top 10 stories of 2013

2013 was a landmark year in America as well as Crook County.

Gun control legislation and healthcare drew action and debate at the federal level, while news of a new hospital and new elementary school made local headlines.

As these major projects emerged, community leaders considered additional ambitious ideas such as an urban renewal district and a large-scale sports and entertainment complex.

The following are the top 10 stories, in no particular order, covered by the Central Oregonian during the past year.

Following ongoing maintenance concerns about several local school facilities, Crook County voters passed a school bond that paved the way for a new elementary school.

The bond, which passed by a narrow 2,401 to 2,232 margin, provided $18 million for construction of a new elementary school that would replace both Crooked River and Ochoco elementary schools. The bond also includes another $15 million in funding for repairs to other schools throughout the district.

The bond continues a tax of $1.03 per $1,000 of assessed property value that originated in the 1990s to fund the construction of Crook County High School. The high school will be paid off in January 2014, at which time the new bond will take effect.

In February, before the bond passed, school officials participated in a tour of schools to determine what the primary design of the new school would be. Each school they visited had a pod design in which each grade shares a common area, with classrooms and offices attached.

Toward the end of the month, the Crook County School Board selected property in the IronHorse subdivision as the site for the new school. The location was chosen over the Ochoco Lumber property and land in the Yellowpine area.

The school is slated for completion in time for the start of the 2015-16 school year.

In April, Pioneer Memorial Hospital (PMH) members voted to dissolve the local hospital with the intent of building a new St. Charles Hospital in Prineville.

Members voted 83 to 7 to terminate the lease between St. Charles Health System and PMH 30 days after St. Charles receives a certification of occupancy for the new facility, and the voted 79 to 10 to dissolve PMH assets and turn over the assets to the St. Charles.

Moving quickly, St. Charles selected the Ochoco Lumber property later that month for construction of the new hospital. The St. Charles board approved the purchase of 20 acres of land.

"This is an exciting time for Prineville and Crook County," said Bob Gomes, CEO of St. Charles Prineville and Redmond. "I am very excited that the St. Charles’ board voted ... to support the community with the new facility."

In late August, St. Charles System unveiled plans for the new hospital and surrounding grounds during an open house held at Prineville City Hall. St. Charles displayed plans for the hospital, a two-floor facility with the majority of its medical services housed on the first floor.

"It's all right there - it's efficient," Gomes said. "It's a 40-percent reduction in the number of steps patients have to take through our facility."

The open house also revealed St. Charles' Ochoco Lumber site plan, including mixed residential areas as well as additional property for commercial and retail.

St. Charles has already begun preliminary work on the Ochoco Lumber property and hopes to begin construction of the new hospital during the beginning of the upcoming year.

On April 9, Crook County lost a local leader and state lawmaker as Lynn Lundquist unexpectedly passed away at the age of 78.

Lundquist passed away in his home in the morning after completing some ranch work on his Powell Butte property.

"The guy just worked all of the time," said Crook County Judge Mike McCabe. "He just kind of stayed active right up until now (the day he passed away)."

Lundquist spent much of his life as a rancher in the Powell Butte area, and took on leadership roles in the Deschutes and Crook County cattlemen's associations as well as the Oregon Cattlemen's Association.

In 1994, he won a seat on the Oregon Legislature and ascended to House majority leader in 1997. He later lost the majority leader position to Lynn Snodgrass in 1998, and lost to the lawmaker in the 2000 primary election for Secretary of State.

Lundquist returned to politics in 2007, winning a seat as Crook County Commissioner. He ran for a second term in 2010, but lost in the primary election.

His death immediately prompted reactions from lawmakers at the federal, state, and local level. Statements were issued by U.S. Rep. Greg Walden and Sen. Jeff Merkley, and Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber. In addition, Rep. Mike McLane spoke on the House floor regarding Lundquist's death before a moment of silence was held for the former lawmaker.

"All of us will have done well if they say of us one day that we never let anything get in the way of what's best for Oregonians, and that we always knew how to lend a hand with a smile," McLane said. "That was Lynn Lundquist."

In late June, the Central Oregonian changed ownership for the first time in 44 years.

Pamplin Media Group purchased the Prineville newspaper from Eagle Newspapers, a company that had owned it since 1969.

The purchase followed Pamplin's initial purchase of six other Eagle Newspaper publications, including the Madras Pioneer. With the purchase, Pamplin now owns 25 community newspapers. Eagle Newspapers owner Denny Smith said at the time that it just made sense strategically for Pamplin to own the Prineville operation along with the Madras newspaper. Eagle President Tom Lanctot echoed that sentiment.

"Pamplin Media Group (PMG) is a quality newspaper company and this purchase strengthens their presence in Central Oregon," he said. "PMG's commitment to quality community journalism mirrors Eagle's longtime commitment to journalism and service."

Lanctot added that PMG owner Bob Pamplin Jr. is passionate about community journalism and service to the communities in which they publish.

About four months after the purchase, the Central Oregonian saw a change of leadership as publisher Vance Tong took a job with Pamplin as the associate publisher for the Portland Tribune. His last day with the Prineville publication was Oct. 31, after which time Madras In 2013, local leaders began investigating ambitious projects that they hoped would boost the local economy and elevate the presence of Crook County.

After initiating discussions about a possible urban renewal plan earlier in the year, the Prineville City Council approved a feasibility study in July. The council committed $7,500 toward the study to determine if Prineville could move forward with an urban renewal district.

The district would freeze the property tax rate in a selected location for a period of time up to 20 years, and any tax growth in that area would be allocated to an urban renewal account. The money would be used to make improvements to that area.

In October, the completed feasibility study determined that the city could choose to proceed with an urban renewal plan for the Prineville downtown area, or take a phased approach of improving the area via grants or other investments.

Councilors were leaning toward the phased approach, but they want to involve the public in whatever plans they go with.

"I want to have a length of time where we really get down in the nitty gritty of all of the questions that will pop up, and we need to start having some public meetings," said Prineville Mayor Bette Roppe.

In November, another potential project was unveiled, as the Crook County Foundation announced the completion of a feasibility study for a new sports and entertainment complex. The proposed facility would include multiple baseball and softball fields as well as an outdoor amphitheater, community pool, and a lodging facility.

"I think if it was built, it would be very well used," said Jeannie Searcy, business manager for the Crook County Parks and Recreation District.

Following an encouraging feasibility study, the Foundation and other local leaders hope to move forward with a planning phase for the more than $40 million complex.

At the end of 2012, two bills aimed at allocating more water for the City of Prineville and enabling hydroelectric power production on Bowman Dam failed to pass before the end of 2012.

The bills would have provided the city with 5,100 acre feet of Prineville Reservoir water and moved the federal Wild and Scenic boundary of the Crooked River to a location one quarter-mile downriver, allowing for a hydroelectric power plant on the dam.

Early in 2013, Rep. Greg Walden and Sen. Jeff Merkley each said they hoped to work together to produce new legislation that Congress would later approve. In late October, Walden introduced a virtual carbon-copy of his 2012 legislation, which received unanimous approval in the House. About a month later, Merkley introduced a bill similar to his 2012 version in the Senate.

The House and Senate bills accomplish the same basic goals of water allocation and the Wild and Scenic boundary. However, Merkley's includes additional language intended to ensure fish habitat needs are met.

As in 2012, Walden contends that the Senate should act on his bill, which already has House approval, but Merkley prefers his bill because it addresses the needs of all the different stakeholders involved with Bowman Dam and the Crooked River.

No other action has been taken on either bill at this point.

The tragic Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., resulted in a considerable gun control push as 2013 began.

As firearm ban proposals and gun control legislation began to emerge at the federal level in January, it prompted a bold and controversial reaction from Crook County Sheriff Jim Hensley and other sheriffs throughout Oregon.

Following the lead of Linn County Sheriff Tim Mueller, Hensley mailed a letter to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in resistance to any gun control laws that violate the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

"I took an oath to uphold the Constitution," Hensley said. "I am a firm believer in the Second Amendment."

The letter said that any federal regulation enacted by Congress or by executive order of the President offending the constitutional rights of citizens will not be enforced by him or his deputies.

Hensley was one of a handful of sheriffs who either copied Mueller's letter or penned their own. The action garnered considerable media attention, with national television network Fox News reporting on the letters.

In February, the Oregon Legislature took on gun control during its 2013 session as lawmakers introduced seven bills intended to prevent firearm violence. Some of the bills addressed guns in schools while others required background checks or restrictions related to firearms or ammunition allowed by law. Ultimately, none of the bills were approved by the legislature.

Facing a move by movie studios to discontinue film movie prints and produce digital motion pictures going forward, Prineville's Pine Theater launched an ambitious fundraising campaign to convert to digital movie projectors. Otherwise, they would face the prospect of closing the theater.

Theater owners Ali and Oniko Mehrabi launched the Walk of Fame Horseshoe Campaign in early March, in which they sold engraved horseshoes at $400 apiece. The horseshoes would then be embedded in the sidewalk outside the theater similar to the Walk of Fame in Hollywood.

The Mehrabis set a deadline of July 4 to raise the nearly $90,000 needed to convert their project equipment. As July 4 approached, they had collected just $52,000 of the required money, so they extended the deadline to allow others to participate in the fundraiser.

In early August, about a month after changing the deadline, the Mehrabis were able to secure the necessary funds thanks to some help from the Bank of the Cascades. The bank agreed to refinance the existing movie theater debt and extend a line of credit, which enabled the owners to convert the projectors.

Oniko expressed gratitude to the Bank of the Cascades as well as community members who contributed about $68,000 in horseshoe purchases.

"We live in an incredible community," she said.

The projectors were converted in September and Pine Theater has been showing digital movies ever since.

Prineville police personnel came under fire twice in 2012 resulting in a protest outside the police department. In 2013, the two incidents that prompted the protest navigated the legal process with one case settled and another awaiting future court dates.

In March, a case in which Curtis Hooper sued the Prineville Police Department, Crook County Sheriff's Office, and Jefferson County Sheriff's Office for police brutality reached a settlement. Hooper settled with Jefferson County for an undisclosed amount, while charges against the Prineville and Crook County agencies were dropped.

Ryan Cole, owner of Crook County Compassionate Club/Clinic (5C), a medical marijuana dispensary, also participated in the police protest following his arrest for drug charges. In February, he was evicted from his place of business, when the local Veterans' Club who owns the location, received a letter from the U.S. District Attorney for Oregon. The letter stated that as landlords, they could lose their building if they allowed the dispensary, which violates federal law, to operate there.

In June, Cole filed for a change of venue to ensure he would receive a fair trial regarding this drug charge. His motion to change the venue to Deschutes County was later rejected.

In early August, Cole was arrested on another drug charge in which he was accused of serving people at his dispensary who did not have a valid medical marijuana card.

At this point, both drug charges are still pending with court dates yet to come.

With the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, set to take effect in 2014, multiple states began their insurance exchange programs, including Oregon.

Oregon launched Cover Oregon on Oct. 1, amid considerable fanfare from exchange officials and Gov. Kitzhaber.

"This is a big day for our state and the nation, and a new era for delivering high-quality health care to Oregonians," Kitzhaber said.

The exchange came with a deadline of Dec. 15 to enroll people in time to be covered by Jan. 1. Otherwise, they might face a tax penalty built into the federal health care bill. From the beginning, the Cover Oregon website failed to work as designed, prompting the state to resort to paper applications. Despite attempts to streamline the process and commit more resources to enrolling people in the health exchange, enrollment progressed much slower than anticipated. The problems prompted Cover Oregon to extend its enrollment deadline to Jan. 6. As of Dec. 27, about 14,000 people had enrolled in the exchange.

Locally, the Crook County Health Department and Mosaic Medical are assisting people with enrollment in the health insurance exchange.

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