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Warm Springs water, city progress, new developments, Ezra Thomas, and Metolius recall top our list for 2019.

DESIREE BERGSTROM/MADRAS PIONEER - The city of Madras led a community effort to build the Ethan Stovall Spray Park in Sahalee Park. The popular attraction opened in June. The park was one of many projects the city took on. Others include hiring a consultant to help downtown business owners, demolishing the old Rock Shop, and taking a number of steps to promote housing development.
Warm Springs faces water crisis

Nearly 4,000 people in Warm Springs were left without water for 86 days, beginning in May.

On May 31, 2019, the Tribal Council of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs declared an emergency disaster, a day after the fourth boil water notice in six months had been issued. The notice was lifted Aug. 14.

Warm Springs K-8 Academy and the Early Childhood Education Center, as well as Indian Health Services, the Warm Springs Health and Wellness Center, High Lookee Lodge and more were affected. Inmates were transferred from the Warm Springs Detention Facility to the Jefferson County Correctional Facility.

Dan Martinez, emergency manager for Tribal Emergency Management, and his team coordinated the response. They worked more than 16 hours a day, hand pumping water into gallon containers and distributing a total of 364,000 gallons throughout the community. They set up showers and emptied gray water.

Martinez said Dec. 30 that his crew is still dispensing 400 to 500 gallons of water a day. Some residents in the area near Kah-Nee-Ta are sometimes without water, he said.

"The repairs that we made a couple months ago's hanging in there," he said.

Despite the crisis, the Pi-Ume-Sha Treaty Days powwow and other events continued as planned.

Over the late spring and summer, the Shitike Creek water main crossing was repaired, and pressure reducing valves were replaced in five stations through the water distribution system.

State Rep. Daniel Bonham and State Sen. Cliff Bentz, both Republicans, pushed for aid from the Oregon Legislature.

"The closures of both Kah-Nee-Ta and the Warm Springs Forest Product Enterprises have devastated a community that is already 70% below the federal poverty level," they wrote in an April letter to the co-chairmen of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Capital Construction. "Few state priorities could be more important (than) providing drinkable water and working sewers."

The tribes asked for $13 million and received $7.8 million from Oregon House Bill 5030.

On Dec. 12, Oregon U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats, introduced a bill to "improve water quality and services for tribal communities in Oregon.

"Access to clean and safe drinking water is a basic human right, and yet, federal resources to help tribal governments in Oregon to fix damaged water systems are woefully lacking," Wyden said in a news release. "The federal government must step up and do more to support these communities working to make permanent fixes and ensure water security needed for their long-term health and quality of life."

"As the crisis on the Warm Springs Reservation illustrated, Native American communities in Oregon are facing serious water infrastructure challenges," Merkley said in the release. "We need to invest in replacing outdated pipe systems, to help ensure that tribal nations have reliable access to safe drinking water for years to come. This legislation provides a pathway to making those infrastructure upgrades happen, and I'm urging my colleagues to join us in fighting to get it across the finish line and signed into law.

CTWS Chairman Raymond Tsumpti praised the proposal.

"This legislation would throw a lifeline to tribes like Warm Springs that are in dire need of water infrastructure improvements to serve their tribal membership," he said.

City of Madras gets aggressive

2019 was a year of bold moves for the city of Madras — from hiring a consultant to help downtown businesses to sending a prepared food and beverage tax to voters.

In February, the city hired consultant Michele Reeves to help downtown businesses improve their curb appeal. She worked with Art Adventure Gallery on a $7,000 makeover, funded by a grant from the Madras Redevelopment Commission, and held a "Small Town Downtown Turnaround" workshop in May.

A plan 14 years in the making became a reality June 29 when the water turned on at the Ethan Stovall Spray Park in Sahalee Park. Many community businesses and organizations pitched in, including KEITH Manufacturing, Wilbur Ellis, Central Oregon Seed Inc., Deschutes Basin Farms, Oregon Embroidery/Shielding International, the Madras Redevelopment Commission, the Bean Foundation and TS&S Subaru of Bend, Greh Fab, Rip Q and many anonymous donors.

The Stovall family, owners of Brightwood Corp of Madras, made a substantial contribution to the project and the park was named after Ethan Stovall, who died suddenly after falling ill in 2018 at age 1.

The city pursued a grant from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, which suggested a 20,000-gallon cistern, rams for handicap accessibility and a larger grant. The total cost was about $540,000, and OPRD said more funds would be available to install a new concrete restroom.

The city bought the abandoned Rock Shop and four surrounding properties north of town on HIghway 26 for $34,000 in June. They'd been seized by the U.S. Department of Justice, and the city had fielded complaints about the aging building for years. The demolition was finally completed in November, to the relief of the City Council.

Community Development Director Nick Snead said, "The properties will be retained for future public uses related to sewer, water, stormwater and transportation."

The city took a number of steps to encourage developers to build houses in Madras in 2019. In April, the City Council decreased system development charges and streamlined the renewal process for subdivisions with expired land-use decisions. On Nov. 12, it went a big step further to incentivize residential development, passing a 30-year Housing Urban Renewal District. Inside the district boundaries, tax rates for all the taxing districts will be frozen, and the increases will be used to give incentives to developers. The city may borrow against future tax increases due to development and then pay the loan back with those tax revenues.

The efforts seem to be working. In 2018, the city approved permits for about a dozen homes and no apartments, Public Works Director Jeff Hurd said. By November, the city had approved permits for a 23-unit apartment building and 29 single-family homes, three of which were considered high-income.

Since the district's passage, SGS Development has reapplied to build a total of 303 single-family houses in two subdivisions in the district boundaries. Property owner Chet Antonsen credited the HURD for his renewed interest in developing the lots.

In a bid to raise funds for road improvements and maintenance, the Madras City Council will send a 5% sales tax on prepared food and beverages — mostly sold at restaurants — to voters in May. The proposal would raise an estimated $990,000 per year, according to estimates by consultant ECONorthwest.

New developments

Culver's new Dollar General store broke ground in January of 2019, and the store opened at the end of May. Corstone Contractors of Snohomish, Washington, worked through the winter to ready the store.

The Tennessee-based chain broke ground on its Madras site in September. The lot is on the east side of Highway 97, just north of Brush Lane and across the highway from Aaron's Sales and Lease.

Love's Travel Stop broke ground toward the end of November after announcing the $11 million project in August.

The 12-acre development includes a convenience store and an Arby's restaurant. It is currently being constructed on Highway 97, across from the Oregon State Police office and Burger King.

Delita Cordes is putting in a new office for D & D Realty Group, LLC, in one of the two buildings at the former Stag Restaurant downtown. "... the other one is still up in the air, but I would love to see a new restaurant or retail store," she said in an email interview.

She expects the project to be finished by Jan. 15.

The Madras Redevelopment Commission helped for the facade and asbestos removal.

"I have used some of the MRC money to do this project, and without that, I probably wouldn't be able to complete a project of this size," Cordes said.

"The office will be unique because of its age and original 75-year-old saw cut lumber in the ceilings," she continued. "We are incorporating all the lumber from the old Stag in many areas and simply polishing the original floors, so it will still have the flair of our beloved Stag Restaurant in it."

In addition, several businesses opened or moved. A few of the standouts include: Domino's Pizza moved into the old Apple Peddler in the Palisades Shopping Center, Yara's Cakes moved into the old Eagle Bakery building, as did BriLett, a formal dress and tuxedo rental shop. The Human Bean opened in the Les Schwab parking lot, and Dancing Bean moved into the Wild Bleu building downtown. And Israel and Blanca Reynoso announced plans for a three-kitchen outdoor eatery at Sunshine Corner downtown. Madras Brewing Co. opened in what was Geno's Italian restaurant in the Harriman Building on Fourth Street. Hummingbird Junction closed and is moving to a new location by the Elks Lodge off Culver Highway. The Madras Downtown Association opened its Fifth Street Co-op at what was Garden Gate Flowers on Fifth Street. Stay Center opened on Highway 97.

Ezra

The story of Ezra Thomas captured the community's heart in 2019. The boy, who is now 4, suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was 2 1/2. His mother's boyfriend at the time, Josue "Jair" Mendoza-Melo, pleaded no contest on Sept. 12 to the attempted aggravated murder and first-degree criminal mistreatment that caused Ezra's injuries. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He has appealed, arguing that the two counts should have been combined and therefore produced a reduced sentence. He also contested the need to pay the state of Oregon restitution in the case, and Judge Annette Hillman denied the state's request for restitution Dec. 27 after a hearing.

Ezra's grandmother, Tina Jorgensen, is now the boy's permanent foster parent, and she and his mother, Kaytlynne Rogerson, provide much of his care. He is legally blind and needs tubes to eat and breathe. But that hasn't affected his smile or the love of the people around him. His family and supporters — "Team Ezra" — plan to continue to fight for longer sentences for child abusers.

Metolius mayor recalled

Metolius voters decided to recall their mayor, John Chavez, by a margin of 124 to 73, despite a statement of apology and desire "to make things right with the courts and adhere to all the court orders."

The Oct. 8 vote came after Chavez was arrested July 12. He was taken into custody for failing to complete the last eight days of a 10-day jail sentence. He'd been jailed for fourth-degree assault constituting domestic violence after a fight with his brother.

Former City Councilor Tryna Muilenburg started collecting signatures when she learned he was in jail. She needed 43 to put the recall to a vote and collected 45 that were considered valid.

The City Council asked Chavez to resign at its Aug. 15, but he did not.

Chavez was initially arrested after Jefferson County Sheriff's deputies responded to a call of a fight between two brothers. He was charged with the assault, as well as harassment.

Before he was sentenced, he was arrested again on Feb. 24 for driving under the influence of intoxicants, recklessly endangering another person and reckless driving.

He was sentenced April 25, and the harassment charge was dropped. He pleaded guilty to the DUII charge and entered the DUII diversion program.

Because he did not serve his full jail term, he also violated the terms of his diversion agreement, which led to a warrant for his arrest.

Council President Foncie "Carl" Elliott took over the position after a City Council vote.

Top web stories

According to Google Analytics, the most-read stories from Jan. 1-Dec. 9, 2019 at madraspioneer.com were:

1. Baby dies in tragic accident at speedway

2. Nationwide warrant issued in shooting

3. Former MAC director faces charges

4. Mother, son plead not guilty to abusing foster kids

5. Former officer pleads to abuse


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