Our opinion: Reflections on a momentous 2017
End-of-year issues of the Spotlight are always challenging, this one particularly so. Not only did it come on the heels of a short week due to the holidays, this was a momentous year — internationally, nationally and locally.
How do we decide, out of the year 2017's many occurrences, what to include or omit? We're certainly going to get some things right and, to some readers' thinking, some things wrong.
In several cases a grain of local involvement found its way into the year's big, national news stories. We had local firefighters with Scappoose Fire District and Columbia River Fire and Rescue dispatched to nearby and out-of-state conflagrations, including the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge and the still-burning Thomas Fire in California's Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
Eric Heassler of St. Helens provided the community with a local link to Hurricane Harvey and the devastation it wrought in the Houston area. Heassler was one of thousands of people from across the nation who responded to the call for relief aid, which provided a bit of a silver lining for humanity amid the darkness of destruction resulting from the hurricane.
This was also the year many pillars of entertainment, media and government exited their respective roles in shame and derision as the #metoo movement caught fire. Prior to the movement in Columbia County, sexual harassment claims against a former executive director, Steve Watson, at Columbia 911 Communications prompted his quick departure from the agency. The common theme? Men in positions of power, from movie producer Harvey Weinstein and NBC Today Show host Matt Lauer to Watson, have abused that power to advance sexual agendas in the workplace.
The year also marked a small victory for transparency in local government. A leaked release of a CRFR investigation — one CRFR board members and executive staff maneuvered to keep secret — placed in perspective troubling events in the lead up to the fire district negotiating retirement of its former division chief, Ron Youngberg. As a result of the Spotlight's reporting, Youngberg also was removed from the Office of State Fire Marshal's Incident Command Team.
We were on the forefront of reporting the sexual harassment and retaliation allegations at Columbia 911 Communications District, and only last month did we break the news about the use of a K9 unit in Columbia County Jail to subdue an inmate by way of dog attack. As a result of our reporting, the Sheriff's Office has suspended the use of K9 units in the jail in that capacity, and an investigation by the Columbia County District Attorney's Office has been opened.
Some stories carried over from 2016, or even from earlier, finally reached a resolution. Perhaps most notably was installation of the Rotary Children's Fountain in Scappoose's Heritage Park. The fountain was conceived in 2009 and there was an early expectation it would be concluded as soon as 2010. We're happy to say the unique Michael Curry-designed fountain, completed in October, was well worth the wait. A huge Scappoose community thanks is due to all involved.
In St. Helens, the installation of public art yielded a different reaction. Social media exploded over the aesthetic of the Salmon Tree Cycle sculptures, part two of the St. Helens Gateway Sculpture Project. We wonder if now, a few months after furor over the sculptures has died down, if there has been a reconsideration of the sculptures' merits and their place in the community. Such is the way of many developments; after a short burst of surprise or outrage, acceptance emerges. Then again, maybe not.
Regarding the local economy, watching the Oregon Manufacturing and Innovation Center in Scappoose take its first baby steps was exciting. We expect bigger announcements regarding OMIC in 2018. Also in Scappoose, Cascades Tissue opened its new facility on West Lane Road, employing 60 people in family-wage jobs. On the flipside, however, we already know of one bad news story to materialize next year: the shutdown of Armstrong World Industries
ceiling tile plant in St. Helens, an action that will displace 130 local workers.
There have obviously been many, many more occurrences over the past year, and at the Spotlight, as always, we were and are happy to deliver consistent, quality coverage of the news that matters to the Columbia County community. We look forward to continuing, and expanding, our role as the leader in local news in 2018.
Have a safe and happy New