Klamath Basin News, Friday, 4/16 – Klamath County With Another 46 New Covid-19 Cases Reported Overnight

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The latest and most comprehensive coverage of local News, Sports, Business, and Community News stories in the Klamath Basin, Southern Oregon and around the state of Oregon from Wynne Broadcasting’s KFLS News/Talk 1450AM / 102.5FM, The Herald & News, and BasinLife.com, and powered by Mick Insurance.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Klamath Basin Weather

Today Sunny, with a high near 66.

Saturday Sunny, with a high near 72.
Sunday Sunny, with a high near 77.
Monday Sunny, with a high near 75.
Tuesday Mostly sunny, with a high near 69.

Today’s Headlines

There are six new COVID-19 related deaths in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 2,455, the Oregon Oregon Health Authority reported 733 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 as of yesterday, bringing the state total to 172,931.

Klamath County reported 46 new cases yesterday.

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Baker (16), Benton (18), Clackamas (63), Clatsop (3), Columbia (10), Coos (9), Crook (5), Curry (3), Deschutes (53), Douglas (10), Grant (1), Hood River (6), Jackson (34), Jefferson (5), Josephine (13), Klamath (46), Lane (74), Lincoln (6), Linn (23), Malheur (2), Marion (56), Morrow (1), Multnomah (120), Polk (22), Tillamook (3), Umatilla (9), Union (3), Wasco (8), Washington (98) and Yamhill (13).

The Oregon Health Authority reported that the seven-day running average is now for vaccinations is now 38,728 doses per day. The number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 across Oregon is 195, which is five fewer than yesterday. There are 53 COVID-19 patients in intensive care unit (ICU) beds, which is one more than yesterday.

Elliott Donald Parker

The trial for a Klamath Falls man accused of kidnapping, torture and mutilation has been postponed after he asked a judge Tuesday for a new attorney to help him defend himself.

Elliott Parker appeared in Judge Alycia Kersey’s courtroom ahead of a scheduled hearing about the state’s motion to consolidate two of Parker’s cases. Parker’s trial on the kidnapping and torture charges was scheduled to begin next week.

He was represented on Tuesday by Scott Fournier of Grants Pass, and before that was assigned local public defender Diana Bettles as his defense attorney. The state later assigned Fournier because of a conflict between Parker and Bettles.

Kersey on Tuesday reminded Parker that it took the state five weeks to find him a new attorney after the last change. Kersey asked if sure he understood the risk of seeking a new attorney: That it may take weeks to secure one and weeks more for them to catch up on the case. Kersey told Parker he was guaranteeing himself more time in the Klamath County Jail.

A Bonanza man was arrested April 9 after Klamath County Sheriff’s Office investigations found him linked to stolen vehicles and equipment. Daniel James Lee, 31, was on probation after being convicted of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in November 2018.

KCSO responded to a report of an abandoned Jeep that investigators found had been stolen and linked to Lee. While investigating Lee, they also found a motorcycle stolen out of Bakersfield, Calif., a stolen canoe and stolen tool and agricultural equipment, according to KCSO. The Oregon State Police stopped Lee April 9 for an outstanding warrant.

A Klamath County deputy went to the traffic stop to arrest him for the additional charges of theft, two charges of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and probation violation.

Ron Woita, the long-time nursing director of Sky Lakes emergency services, has been named the new Sky Lakes Medical Center’s vice president of patient care services.

Woita, 47, replaces Annette Cole, another veteran nurse who held the position for nearly a decade before moving out of the area. Woita had served as interim chief nursing officer at Sky Lakes since early February. His selection follows a national search that included interviewing several candidates, said Paul Stewart, Sky Lakes president and CEO.

Woita moved to Klamath Falls in 2011 to fill a position in the Sky Lakes emergency department. Prior to that, he worked in Lincoln, Neb., as an emergency department coordinator.

Norma Jean Wilder, founder and director of the Chiloquin Christian Center “Blessing Pot” program, was selected the 2021 Klamath Country Volunteer of the Year Thirty-seven nominations were reviewed by a panel of local media members with Wilder receiving the highest score based on leadership, commitment, community impact and achievement. 

“The individuals and organizations nominated were exceptional and we should all feel very proud that the Klamath spirit of volunteerism is alive and well throughout Klamath Country.  National Volunteer Week starts April 18th through the 24th,” said Marla Edge, United Way Volunteer Center Chairperson. Wilder started the “Blessing Pot” program 12 years ago after retiring from owning and operating several restaurants. 

The Chiloquin Christian Center, equipped with a large kitchen and serving area, is where Norma Jean and her team of 21 volunteers cook and serve nearly 400 meals every Tuesday.  The meals are either delivered to shut-in seniors and those in need throughout the Chiloquin area by volunteers, or a drive through option is also available at the church.    

Their work starts at 5:15 a.m. making fresh biscuits, cutting fresh vegetables and meat, and preparing Norma’s special soup recipes (Yankee Pot Roast, Zuppa Toscana, Chicken and Pierogi) and many others. 

Hundreds of farmers who rely on a massive irrigation project that spans the Oregon-California border learned yesterday they will get a tiny fraction of the water they need amid the worst drought in decades, as federal regulators attempt to balance the needs of agriculture against federally threatened and endangered fish species that are central to the heritage of several tribes.

Oregon’s governor said the prolonged drought in the region has the “full attention of our offices,” and she is working with congressional delegates, the White House and federal agencies to find relief for those affected.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation briefed irrigators, tribes and environmental groups early Wednesday after delaying the decision a month. The federally owned irrigation project will draw 33,000 acre-feet of water from Upper Klamath Lake, which farmers said was roughly 8% of what they need in such a dry year. Water deliveries will also start June 1, two months later than usual, for the 1,400 irrigators who farm the 225,000 acres.

Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, said in a statement that Oregon water regulators are reviewing a plan to allow irrigators to pump more than twice as much groundwater per acre for their crops as allowed last year when drought reduced water supplies to a lesser extent.

U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden say they are working with Congressman Cliff Bentz to get aid for the Klamath Basin as it faces a particularly dry year.

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Klamath County received an official drought declaration from Governor Kate Brown at the end of March — citing low snowpack, sparse precipitation, low streamflows, and predicted warm temperatures. Meanwhile, irrigators in the Klamath Basin say that the Biden administration has withdrawn Trump-era legal guidance that was more sympathetic to their cause.

While drought has increasingly impacted all stakeholders in the Klamath Basin, there is long-running conflict over the limited water supply between farmers and ranchers on one side and local Tribes, environmentalists, and Pacific coast fishers on the other.

In a statement released Wednesday, Senators Merkley, Wyden, and Congressman Bentz said that they had met with newly-confirmed Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to discuss the dire outlook for the Klamath Basin and the emergency resources that will be needed for relief.

Meanwhile, The Bureau of Reclamation has officially released temporary operating procedures for this spring and summer, acknowledging that there’s not enough water in the Klamath Basin to fulfill the agency’s obligations under the Endangered Species Act, let alone provide meaningful irrigation diversions to the Klamath Project.

As usual It appears that the current plans prioritize lake levels for endangered Lost River and shortnose suckers which are in the midst of their spring spawning season.

Around the state of Oregon

Democrats have agreed to give up an advantage in redrawing the state’s political districts for the next 10 years in exchange for a commitment from Republicans to stop blocking bills in the Oregon Legislature with delay tactics. Oregon Public Broadcasting reports the surprise deal was reached Wednesday evening after a weeks-long standoff. With the agreement, Democrats, stymied so far despite holding supermajorities in both legislative chambers, appear to have gained an easier path to passing much of their agenda. But they’ve essentially granted veto power to Republicans, who can now block any map of legislative or congressional districts from passing.

The wildfire season “is coming quickly and it’s coming earlier.” That’s the message from meteorologist Eric Kurth and the National Weather Service in Sacramento, California, as the state deals with a crippling drought and vegetation and grasses that are already beginning to brown. He is concerned about this year’s fire season on the heels of an extremely dry year in 2020, and the most active fire season that California has ever recorded. He and his students visit various sites every two weeks to take samplings of the plants to study their moisture content. On April 1 they noticed something quite alarming when they went to Blackberry Hill just outside of San Jose. He tweeted this graph that illustrates the grim discovery.

Medford’s Rogue Retreat Urban Campground For Unhoused Could Double In Size

After Medford’s city council voted to approve a new prohibited camping ordinance earlier this month, Rogue Retreat has been discussions with the City about adding an additional urban campground to the existing site on Biddle Road.

The urban campground expansion could come to fruition if approved by the Medford City Council. Under the proposal, the new location would also be on Biddle Road, right across from the current site.

If passed, the new campground could help Rogue Retreat house 50 more people. The urban campground houses more than 70 at present.

“So, if they’re a couple, they can come in as a couple, which will increase that number past 50. It’ll open up more opportunity for people as they progress forward,” said Justin Hon, the operations manager for Rogue Retreat.

The new campground will have on-site case managers to help those who are homeless get back on their feet.

“Sometimes they just need a spot to rest their head, and connect with services — like a home base, where service providers can come find them,” Hon added.

This week, Rogue Retreat also welcomed 14 wildfire survivors into the new Project Turnkey Housing program, which will see the Redwood Inn motel on Riverside converted into emergency housing.

The non-profit has been working with Oregon DHS to help house those who have been displaced by the September Wildfires.

“New units will provide people that were fire survivors a place where they can decompress, de-escalate. And ideally, with case management support, find their way back into permanent housing into the community,” said Matt Vorderstrasse, Program Director for Rogue Retreat.

Vorderstrasse said that renovations on the Redwood Inn are expected to begin in May. When the transition is complete, the new shelter is expected to provide 47 apartments with kitchenettes for families and individuals in desperate need of housing, with Rogue Retreat operating the facility.

Democratic U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon is voicing his support for a proposal to end the draft. Wyden, who is co-sponsoring the bill, says the Selective Service program disproportionately harms disadvantaged young men and should be eliminated.

He adds that it costs 25-million dollars a year to operate. Republican co-sponsor Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky says it’s been 50 years since the draft was used, and he believes that if Congress votes to declare a war, people will volunteer to serve.

Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley is one of the chief sponsors for a bill that proposes greatly expanding Medicare access — a potential stepping stone to “Medicare for All,” Merkley’s office said in a statement.

Merkley joined Democratic Senators Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Dianne Feinstein of California in introducing the bill, dubbed the Choose Medicare Act. According to Merkley’s office, the bill would allow anyone who is not currently eligible for Medicaid or Medicare the opportunity to enroll in Medicare as an individual, and allow employers the ability to purchase Medicare coverage for employees. If passed, the bill would create an addendum to Medicare, called Medicare Part E, that would be open to consumer access. Merkley’s office said that the Medicare expansion would be “fully paid for by premiums” and would be offered on all state and federal exchanges. Current Affordable Care Act subsidies would then apply to help pay for it.

Employers would also be able to choose the new Medicare Part E instead of a private insurance plan.

Red Flag Warning Issued for Much of Northwest Oregon – The West Coast Experiencing Increased Risk of Fire Danger

EXTREME Fire Danger - Burn Ban for Oregon City in Effect | City of Oregon  City

Much of northwestern Oregon will be under a Red Flag Warning on Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

Starting Friday morning, the warning will last into the evening, from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Red Flag Warnings are issued when warm temperatures, combined with low humidity and gusty winds create an increased risk of fire danger.

According to the NWS, northeast to east winds of 10 to 20 mph, with gusts up to 35 mph, are expected late Friday morning and will last through the day. Minimum humidity is projected to be around 15 – 25%.

The warning covers the Willamette Valley and extends west out to the coastal towns of Florence and Newport, as well as northwest of Portland.

The memory of wildfires from last fall are still fresh. And fire officials are taking extra precautions as the weather turns hotter and drier. On Wednesday, several counties, including the tri-county area, implemented burn bans. This restricts the outdoor burning of yard debris, campfires, and fire pits. 

It comes after several counties in the Portland Metro area issued burn bans on Wednesday, including Washington, Clackamas, and Multnomah counties. Polk, Linn, Marion, Yamhill counties also announced burn bans, as well.

On Thursday, Clark County and Cowlitz County also issued temporary burn bans.

The wildfire season “is coming quickly and it’s coming earlier.”

That’s the message from meteorologist Eric Kurth and the National Weather Service in Sacramento, California, as the state deals with a crippling drought and vegetation and grasses that are already beginning to brown.

“We are seeing record levels of dryness for this time of year. It’s more like what we would see later in June than mid-April,” said Kurth.

He is concerned about this year’s fire season on the heels of an extremely dry year in 2020, and the most active fire season that California has ever recorded.

Vegetation still dormant, making fires more likely

Someone who gets up close to California’s vegetation is Craig Clements. He’s a professor of meteorology and director of the Fire Weather Research Laboratory at San Jose State University.

He and his students visit various sites every two weeks to take samplings of the plants to study their moisture content. On April 1 they noticed something quite alarming when they went to Blackberry Hill just outside of San Jose. He tweeted this graph that illustrates the grim discovery.

“April 1 is usually the time of year we have the highest fuel moisture content, and this year they are still dormant because lack of rain,” said Clements.

“They are stressed and there’s no new growth. The plants aren’t responding because of the lack of moisture.” In fact, two out of the three sites they visited, plants were showing no new growth.

Moisture in plants and new growth are what California depends on to help keep wildfires at bay. When the plants lack moisture, fires ignite much more easily and spread faster.

Clements’ trip up to Blackberry Hill uncovered a record low for new growth. A dire situation, but one he isn’t surprised by. “It’s a telling sign of the impact of drought,” said Clements.

He said the plants still have a small window of time to sprout new growth, but because of the delay in new growth, the plants most likely won’t reach their peak and will dry out faster.

Clements said this could lead to more large fires in June than California typically would see.

April is National Safe Digging Month

Oregon Utility Notification Center – Call Before You Dig

SALEM, Ore. – In honor of National Safe Digging Month, Oregon’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) reminds Oregonians to call 811 at least two business days before digging to have underground utility lines marked to avoid life-threatening injuries and prevent damage to necessary services.  

“With the continuation of the pandemic into 2021 and the return of nice weather, we recognize more people may be spending time doing yard-improvement projects, so we want to remind homeowners and contractors to call 811 before any digging is done to reduce the risk of striking an underground utility line,” said Megan Decker, PUC Chair. “This is essential to ensure utility services are not interrupted for community members as we continue to deal with COVID-19, as well as to avoid costly repair bills.”

The Oregon Utility Notification Center, who operates the free 811 one-call center, notifies the utility companies that serve the area of the planned project. Utility personnel then visit the project site to mark the approximate location of the underground lines, pipes and cables in the planned digging area at no cost to the homeowner. 

“Never assume a digging project is too shallow and won’t hit a utility line,” added Decker. “Whether planting a tree or a shrub, building a deck, or installing a fence, always call 811 at least two business days ahead to have your lines located. This is the only way to know what’s below.”

Statistics show that a majority of line strikes occur during the warmer months when excavation and construction work is being done. In 2019 an estimated 453,766 line strikes occurred nationwide, 22 percent of which were due to insufficient notice to the 811 service.

Call 811 or visit digsafelyoregon.com to submit a locate request or to learn more about safe digging practices.

NASA Launches Research Balloon Over Oregon

Pamplin Media Group - NASA balloon set for release in Madras

A NASA-sponsored research team launched the balloon at about 6 a.m. Thursday from the Madras Municipal Airport. The balloon carried a 100-pound cone-shaped device that later in the day was dropped with a parachute over the high desert east of Prineville.

The 150-foot-tall balloon, made of plastic thinner than a sandwich bag, rose above the high desert at sunrise with the goal of helping future missions in space. The helium-filled balloon shined in the early morning sunlight as it disappeared into the atmosphere, on its way to an altitude of 110,000 feet.

“That went well,” said Kevin Tucker, president at Near Space Corp., who oversaw the test flight. “It’s always interesting. The wind was actually changing, and that’s a big deal. We were very careful about that.”

Tucker’s company, which produces balloons for scientific tests, partnered with researchers from the University of Kentucky to launch the balloon and test a delivery system that could be used to return individual items from the International Space Station back to Earth. The team tracked the balloon’s flight Thursday and recovered the dropped device.

“The Kentucky team will be gathering a lot of data as this travels from 110,000 feet back to the Earth’s surface,” Tucker said before the flight.

The university engineering students call the delivery system the Kentucky Re-Entry Universal Payload System and their research was sponsored by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, said NASA spokesperson Megan Person.

“The flight aims to enable testing of the technology’s electronics and communications systems in preparation for further research as part of a commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station later this year,” Person said.

NASA regularly identifies projects, such as the balloon launch, and connects research teams with companies and locations to help generate a test. In this case, NASA connected the Kentucky students with Tucker’s company and coordinated with the Madras airport.

“Today’s successful flight is one example of how the Flight Opportunities program helps advance promising space technologies before they move on to riskier orbital missions,” said Paul De Leon, NASA Flight Opportunities campaign manager.

Tucker and his crew originally scheduled the balloon flight Wednesday, but called it off because of high winds. On Thursday, conditions were mild enough to allow the launch.

Tucker, who runs his company out of Tillamook, said Madras was the ideal location for the balloon flight. The open spaces around Madras offer several options to drop and retrieve the device from the balloon, Tucker said.

In addition, the Madras airport is smaller and quieter than other commercial airports in the region, which allows the team to work without interfering with other aircraft. The team still has to coordinate with the Federal Aviation Administration.

“The airport doesn’t have a huge amount of traffic,” Tucker said. “We are not causing mayhem if we do a launch.”

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