Klamath Basin News, Wednesday, 6/23 – Klamath County Moves To Moderate Risk from High Risk Effective This Friday, According to Gov. Brown’s Office

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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 Insuranceyour local health and Medicare agents.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Klamath Basin Weather

  • Excessive Heat Watch in effect from June 25, 02:00PM until June 29, 05:00PM
  • Red Flag Warning in effect from June 23, 02:00PM until June 23, 11:00PM

Today Sunny, with a high near 89. Light south southeast wind becoming south 5 to 10 mph in the afternoon. Overnight, partly cloudy with a low around 58.

Wednesday Sunny, with a high near 86.
Thursday Sunny, with a high near 91.
Friday Sunny, with a high near 94.
Saturday Sunny and hot, with a high near 96.

Today’s Headlines

Governor Kate Brown’s office issued updated county risk levels on Tuesday, bringing some long-awaited relief for Klamath County.  Klamath County, Jefferson and Marion counties were all approved to move down to Moderate Risk level from High Risk effective this Friday, June 25th. Polk County also acheived the 65 percent adult vaccination rate required for a move to Lower Risk. By Friday, there will be 23 Oregon counties at Lower Risk, seven at Moderate Risk, and six at High Risk.

Klamath County’s change means an increase in capacity for restaurants, allowing them to grow occupancy from 25 to 50 percent.

Gyms and Entertainment venues can increase capacity to 20 percent or 100 people, whichever is larger. For retail stores, the extra capacity amounts to 75 percent of maximum occupancy. Churches can extend indoor capacity to 50 percent occupancy or 150 people, whichever is smaller.

As of Tuesday, 68.7 percent of adult Oregonians had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

There is one new COVID-19 related death in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 2,757, the Oregon Health Authority reported today.  Oregon Health Authority reported 267 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 as of today, bringing the state total to 207,105.

Oregon has now administered 2,443,680 first and second doses of Pfizer,1,709,047 first and second doses of Moderna and 163,375 single doses of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines.

As of today, 2,357,258 people have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 2,110,737 have completed a COVID-19 vaccine series. The number of adult Oregonians needing vaccinations to reach the 70% threshold is 41,094. 

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Baker (12), Benton (4), Clackamas (22), Clatsop (2), Columbia (2), Coos (1), Curry (10), Deschutes (9), Douglas (12), Gilliam (1), Grant (1), Hood River (1), Jackson (14), Jefferson (1), Josephine (12), Klamath (2), Lake (1), Lane (18), Lincoln (4), Linn (10), Malheur (6), Marion (25), Morrow (1), Multnomah (25), Polk (12), Sherman (3), Umatilla (18), Union (2), Wasco (1), Washington (31) and Yamhill (4).

Nighttime wildfire crews sets day crew up for fire relief success

BONANZA, Ore.— Night shift resources made good progress on the Cutoff fire. Crews worked on containing the 5 acre spot fire from yesterday afternoon.

Firefighters also carried out a small, controlled burn of unburned vegetation in the fire’s interior. Today the plan is to mop-up 150 feet into the fire’s perimeter. Crews will continue to strengthen containment lines until the fire reaches full containment. The biggest threat to spread is hot spots close to the fire’s edge.

Tonight, an infrared drone will fly over the fire to map the hot spots near the fire’s perimeter. This resource maps heat that cannot be seen by the naked eye. Residents in the area may notice this aircraft as it operates after dusk along the perimeter of the fire. Members of the public are not allowed to fly drones near wildfires – if you fly, we cannot!

ODF Incident Management Team 1 held a community meeting last night. The meeting was recorded and is posted on the fire’s Facebook page. Local fire managers and team members spoke at the meeting and answered numerous questions from participants.

Today’s weather is expected to be more moderate with warm, dry, and sunny conditions. There is a chance of thunderstorms today after 3 p.m. The best chance for a thunderstorm will be to the north and east of the fire.

As a reminder there are still evacuations in effect in the area near the fire. A Level 2 (GET SET) evacuation is still in effect for the area east of Bly Mountain Cutoff Road, between Jaguar Lane/Racoon Lane and Spaniel Lane/ Crocodile Lane, west of Thrasher Drive. A Level 1 (GET READY) evacuation notice is in place for other areas. There are still hazards around the fire, so residents are urged to stay vigilant when traveling through the area.

Firefighters in South Central Oregon respond to lightning, continue work on Pool Fire near Chiloquin

Chiloquin, Ore. – Wildland firefighters for the South Central Oregon Fire Management Partnership (SCOFMP) have been responding to new fire starts today from the current lightning activity while work continues on the Pool Fire.

The current lightning event started at 4 p.m. yesterday, with numerous lightning strikes throughout South Central Oregon, mostly east of U.S. Highway 97.  There has been rain reported with many of the storms.

Firefighters have responded to 28 potential incidents.  Of those, 18 were confirmed lightning fires.  Three of those fires were confirmed yesterday, the remaining 15 today. 

These incidents are scattered across the landscape and are on lands under the protection of ODF or the federal agencies in the SCOFMP area.  The largest of these fires was three-tenths of an acre.

Detection flights are being conducted in the area to look for smoke from lightning fires.  These resources are being shared to increase capacity throughout Southern Oregon.

As conditions dry out in coming days, it is expected more lightning fires will be discovered.  SCOFMP wildland firefighting resources are prepared to respond. 

9 Ways to Prevent Forest Fires in California | One Tree P - One Tree Planted

Only two days into summer and Oregon is already experiencing a number of wildfires across the state. The situation is likely to only gets worse, considering the extreme drought, soaring temperatures and dangerous storms forecast across the region. 

The weather is also threatening to not cooperate in time for the Fourth of July, adding an extra layer of anxiety on an early, and already abnormally active fire season. 

Residents should continue monitoring current conditions and for homeowners to “make sure your house is firewise and safe, and make sure you have a defensible space.” 

It’s also important to be careful with anything that might start a wildfire such as a grill, a hot pipe in dry grass, or a chain that could cause a spark, to name only a few.

 On Tuesday, Klamath County Commissioners implored residents to be safe and to use caution around fireworks over the upcoming Fourth of July holiday. 

Klamath County Emergency Manager Brandon Fowler updated the commission on the state of two fires that sparked in the area, one near Bonanza and one in Chiloquin, reporting that crews have them contained. 

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Thunderstorms are in the forecast this week, and forestry officials across southern Oregon are bracing for the potential of lightning-sparked fires and winds that could become the catalyst for spread amid unseasonably dry conditions.

The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest said that it’s ready for an aggressive initial attack on any new wildfire starts.

According to the Oregon State Fire Marshal, the central Oregon location is no coincidence. The state has been staging resources here so that they are prepared to head wherever the fires are worst.

The threat of thunderstorms is especially high east of the Cascades and into Klamath County, where firefighters were already battling the Cutoff Fire and now the Pool Fire.

After a tough year full of lockdowns and cancelled plans, the Klamath Piano Project is back sprucing up downtown once again.

The goal of the Klamath Piano Project, now back for its third year, is to inspire people by bringing art and music to the community. Laty Xayavong, who originally brought the idea to town, said he hopes the project will bring people joy and a sense of togetherness.

Xayavong, who is the general manager at the Thai Orchid Cafe downtown, is on the Klamath Falls Downtown Association board, and after pitching the idea for the project, he scored a grant from the county to put it on. Now three years later, the project is gaining a lot of support.

Oregon State Police found more than 50 pounds of methamphetamine during a traffic stop on Saturday, the second large drug bust made by troopers in Klamath County this month.

Just after 7 p.m. on June 19 an OSP trooper pulled over a vehicle on Highway 97 near Hagelstein Park. The trooper noticed “factors consistent with drug trafficking” and conducted a consent search, court documents show. 

The search of the vehicle yielded nearly 55.1 pounds of methamphetamine, 2.2 pounds of cocaine and nearly 1,027 grams of pills suspected to be fentanyl, OSP said in a release.

Earlier this month, OSP found 87 pounds of methamphetamine in a similar traffic stop and search. 

The driver of the vehicle, Daniel Ponce Gonzalez, 36, was arrested and charged with multiple felonies including unlawful possession and delivery of methamphetamine, unlawful possession and delivery of cocaine, unlawful possession and delivery of a schedule II controlled substance and giving false information to a police officer.

Around the state of Oregon

In North Bend and across the state Oregon State Police are looking for one piece of the puzzle that remains missing after 30-year-old Oen Nicholson allegedly killed three people in North Bend and forced a woman to drive him halfway across the country.

After the homicides in Coos County, OSP said that Nicholson traveled along Highway 126 near Noti in Lane County, where he “ditched” his vehicle. Though he is believed to have resurfaced in Springfield before approaching 34-year-old Laura Johnson outside of her work, investigators are still trying to piece together what happened in between.

Nicholson was arrested in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Sunday morning, with officials indicating that he surrendered willingly. Johnson was found safe and returned to her home in Oregon.

Oregon State Police is requesting anyone with information or that might have given Nicholson a ride from Noti to Springfield to contact the Oregon State Police at 1-800-442-0776 or *OSP and leave information regarding OSP Case # SP21-166186.

ODF Southwest Oregon District — https://www.facebook.com/ODFSouthwest/

 𝙇𝙄𝙂𝙃𝙏𝙉𝙄𝙉𝙂-𝘾𝘼𝙐𝙎𝙀𝘿 𝙁𝙄𝙍𝙀𝙎: ODF firefighters are responding to multiple reports of fire in Jackson County following lightning strikes in the region. This incident pictured is on the on 6100-block of Sweet Lane northwest of White City. A lightning strike sparked a fire in trees and grass in the area.

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Firefighters with ODF and Fire District 3 were able to stop the spread of the fire at three-quarters of an acre. Despite the heavy rain, the fire was spreading quickly when crews arrived. Additional smaller fires and smokes have been reported; all have been extinguished by our firefighters. Our engines, dispatchers and detection specialists will remain on duty as long as reports of smoke and fires are coming in. If you see smoke or fire in areas where lightning has struck, call 911 immediately. #swofireseason2021#swofire2021#fireseason2021

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Updated 24 hour lightning map. 737 cloud to ground lightning flashes in our forecast area.

A former South Albany High School principal is suing Greater Albany Public Schools, claiming the district racially discriminated against him and created a hostile work environment.

Nain “Nate” Munoz filed the suit last month in U.S. District Court in Eugene, The Albany Democrat-Herald reported Monday. Munoz was interim principal and then principal of South Albany from July 2018 to June 2020.

The case is linked to two separate complaints Munoz filed with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries last year accusing the district of employment discrimination and retaliation.

The state agency co-filed the complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Both issued Munoz a “right to sue” letter earlier this year in connection with both complaints.

As of Monday, Wickiup Reservoir, which holds most of North Unit’s stored water, was just 22% full. In a normal year, the reservoir would contain three times the current amount of water.

That matters because when the reservoir reaches extremely low levels, which is expected to happen by mid-August, water may not be available for farmers to irrigate their crops until the end of the season. It leaves crops vulnerable and puts livelihoods on the line.

While Wickiup has never been this low so early in the irrigation season,  the rapid draining of the reservoir could slow down in the coming weeks as some farmers run out of their water allotment. While all patrons start with the same allotment, water is used differently and patrons will run out at different times.

Kyle Gorman, district manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department, said Wickiup will also get a little burst of water in July when 10,000 acre-feet of water are released from Crane Prairie Reservoir, upstream from Wickiup.Anti-government activist and militia figure Ammon Bundy is announcing his run for the Idaho governor’s office.  In a three-minute campaign video released online, Bundy rails against corruption in both the state and federal government and draws attention to his previous battles with the feds over the use of government land in Nevada and Oregon.  Idaho Republican Party Chairman Tom Luna has previously accused Bundy of dividing the party, calling his campaign political theater.  Governor Brad Little and Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin both make up what is already a crowded primary field.

Tracking $1.6 Billion That Oregon Got In Federal Money For COVID-19

Did you get a stimulus check last year? Maybe you spent the $1,200 – or more if you have kids – on rent, groceries or gas. Maybe you paid medical bills, splurged on takeout for your family or saved it for a post-pandemic vacation.

Your city and county and the state of Oregon got something similar: cash from the federal government. In March 2020, as the pandemic was taking hold, Congress approved $2 trillion in spending to respond to the pandemic through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES Act.

A crowd of home care workers gather at a candle-lit vigil for Oregonians who have died in long-term facilities during the pandemic, at the Oregon State Capitol in March.

The state of Oregon received $1.6 billion in relief funds meant to keep the wheels of state and local government turning, from the concrete slabs of Salem City Hall to the vast sagebrush expanses of Harney County. 

While the state kept a portion, it also allowed local governments to seek reimbursement for money they were spending to deal with the pandemic.

In ordinary times, local governments are focused on running schools, paving roads and making sure the drinking water is safe. In extraordinary times such as these, they also are tasked with facing the health and economic consequences of the deadly pandemic. 

Using relief funds authorized by the CARES Act, counties tracked the spread of COVID-19, provided protective gear like masks, handed out relief to businesses struggling to make ends meet and, eventually, helped to get lifesaving shots into arms.

The state did not require detailed accounting of that money but did make local governments sign contracts agreeing they were on the hook for paying the state back if they were ever found to have misspent money.

Records show, and state auditors also found, that local governments varied in how much detail they could provide of their spending, with some maintaining massive spreadsheets and others merely providing the summaries the U.S. Treasury required about how much they spent within certain categories.

When pressed about the state’s decision not to require more detailed accounting last fall, a spokesperson for the agency in charge of reimbursement, Liz Merah, said “adding additional requirements to the submission process for local governments would slow down a process that is already working more efficiently than those of other states.”

Many local governments paid to keep critical workers on their payroll using relief funds. Lane County, for instance, spent about $7 million to pay wages to its public health and safety workers and other workers whose jobs dealt with the impacts of the pandemic, like coordinating vaccine clinics.

The city of Turner spent $600 to rent Aldersgate, a Christian youth camp, to hold City Council meetings because its City Hall was too small to accommodate the spacing required for social distancing.

Local governments also distributed protective gear to their workers, adapted them to work-from-home and tried to solve existing problems exacerbated by the pandemic, like patchy access to high-speed internet.

As governments across Oregon sought reimbursement from the state, state auditors stepped into the deluge. They picked out several dozen spending choices from local governments to get a sense of whether the spending met the vague and changing federal guidelines.

In an October report, auditors said they didn’t find much reason for concern, but they recommended the state require local entities to provide more detailed information about their spending and monitor local governments for “reimbursement accuracy and back-up documentation” based on risk.

State officials had sent a questionnaire to local governments asking about their accounting systems and past federal audits. State officials planned to assess how much risk there was of local governments spending in violation of federal guidance, but that plan did not involve further monitoring of local governments or their documents, auditors said in that report.

The state’s top operations official said requiring more detail could delay the reimbursement process. She also said that between the small team handling relief funds, “the currently unknown number of high-risk subrecipients” and then-impending deadline when the funds had to be spent, when it came to monitoring the local governments, the agency “cannot commit to perform a task that is not mandated.” (The deadline for spending, at the time late December of 2020, was later extended).

Instead, she said, the agency was focused on actions that were required — like conducting a risk assessment of local governments who received funds. It intended to use those results “primarily to educate its more than 330 subrecipients, as appropriate, of their responsibilities associated with expending federal awards.”

Tracking the money — Auditors started looking at some of the spending last summer.

In October, they wrote to the state’s head operations official, Katy Coba, describing their efforts to examine a narrow slice of the CARES Act spending to gauge whether these small governments spent it in line with federal guidelines.

At the time of the letter to Coba, the expenses had to be related to COVID-19, incurred on or after March 1, 2020, and had to be unplanned in the budget as of March 27, 2020 — the date the federal legislation authorizing the relief funding was passed.

The state auditors said their goal was to help the state and local governments “reduce the risk” of federal, state or local government auditors questioning how they spent the relief money.

They also wanted to get their study done quickly so the entities could make use of the information and course correct if needed, state auditors said in an interview.

“Our review wasn’t necessarily a guardrail or a point-the-finger toward the local government,” said Andrew Love, audit manager on the project. “We’re really there to provide assurance to the Legislature and provide some critiques into the methods for which we were dispersing the dollars.”

In most cases, one of the main reasons for a government audit is to assure state leaders that local governments are spending money responsibly, according to Stephen Aikins, researcher and director of the Master of Public Administration program at the University of South Florida.

The scope of an audit — what auditors are asked to look at — and how much information auditors can get affect the results.

“Incomplete or undetailed data provided by the spending agency, as noted by the auditor, should be a red flag that warrants further probing,” Aikins said. “Relying on incomplete data to do audit work can result in inconclusive or misleading audit conclusions.”

The state provided limited guidance and monitoring of local government spending of relief funds, auditors said. The state wasn’t collecting detailed breakdowns of how funds were spent.

Oregon auditors sought to check whether the local governments could provide enough supporting information, like contracts, invoices and timesheets. They said they were able to get “clear and adequate” information from 22 of the 34 entities they sought records from.

Auditors were looking at cities, counties and special districts, such as park districts. Auditors knew they also wanted to check out specific categories — for instance, it was apparent that payroll and leave expenses were a big share of the money local governments spent in the first round of reimbursement requests.

In some cases, initially local governments provided high-level overviews of spending — totals they’d spent in each category.

It took Lane County about six weeks to provide “diaries,” or more detailed information about how it spent the relief funds, and charged $50 for it. Polk and Marion counties both took months to fulfill requests for detailed spending data.

When the information arrived, the differences were significant. Marion County provided reams of spending information in an Excel spreadsheet, free of charge, but eight months after the paper initially requested the information. A county lawyer cited “the wildfires and the ice storms” as reasons for the delay.

Polk County eventually sent dozens of pages of COVID-related transactions in a PDF, detailing roughly $2.7 million in spending. The county’s lawyer, Morgan Smith, noted that the spending was all COVID-related, but not necessarily covered by relief funds as was requested.

“In order to isolate which of the purchases on this ledger were specific to (The Coronavirus Relief Fund), we would have to delve deeper into the paper trail which would take considerable staff time,” Smith said.

While the provided information did detail specific transactions — how much money, for what and to whom — it largely didn’t include information that would indicate whether Polk County got a good deal for taxpayer money, such as how much was purchased or why the purchase was needed.

Polk County said it would have provided more information about how taxpayer dollars were spent for an estimated fee of $220.

But other entities, like the state’s Department of Administrative Services and cities such as Stayton and Detroit, readily provided detailed information.

Head auditor Kip Memmott, in response to a lawmaker’s question about relief money granted to arts venues, told state lawmakers during a December hearing that tracking money distributed by the state to third parties, or “sub-recipients,” can be challenging.

“Things like pandemic funding and disaster relief funding, they’re so important as we know, but they also, from an audit standpoint, are like a nightmare,” Memmott said, “because they’re big blocks of money coming into government control structures that are often, respectfully, weak or strained.”

There’s also a sense of immediate expectations for the money to have impact where it is needed – a “spend them quick” urgency, Memmott said.

The auditors recommended three measures the state could take to better track the spending — two of which Coba declined to pursue.

Coba agreed with one recommendation: that her agency reminds local governments to take measures to make sure their requests were accurate and hewed to federal guidance.

In their October letter to Coba, the auditors said some transactions were at higher risk of being questioned by federal watchdogs.

For instance, one local government sought reimbursement to cover 100% of pay for its parks and recreation workers “with no separate time tracking and little documentation to support the duties performed.”

Generally, auditors said, a significant share of the relief money helped pay for public workers’ salaries and leave costs.

Through mid-September, auditors noticed that two-thirds of local government reimbursements were for spending on payroll and paid sick, family and medical leave for public workers.

When auditors wrote to Coba, the federal guidance had already changed several times. But at that point, it was generally acceptable as an “administrative convenience” to allow entities to pay public health and public safety workers without specific tracking of hours spent on COVID-19.

Some entities were more precise than others.

Stayton, for example, tried to track the time that employees were spending on pandemic-related work, said city manager Keith Campbell.

“If I can show I was in a meeting with outside people, the (League of Oregon Cities), the White House did calls or other trainings, other things with groups or organizations that were specifically about COVID, here was a definitive time I could track,” Campbell said. “I spend a lot of time reading about it, but I can’t quantify that.”

Auditors suggested the state make local governments submit more detailed information about their spending.

Coba didn’t think that was necessary, saying “any potential benefit” didn’t outweigh the time it would take. She said it could slow down the process of reimbursing local governments.

“Oregon has been able to get (relief money) out to local governments quicker than other states, using a process that invests local governments with shared responsibility over proper use and administration of (the relief funds),” Coba wrote to auditors.

She acknowledged that the approach “may not identify all local government errors,” but said what auditors recommended wouldn’t either. 

Coba also disagreed with a recommendation the state monitor potentially risky spending in a more systematic way.

February’s report won’t be the final time the state’s auditors examine how federal relief funds were spent. Every year, the state is required by the federal Single Audit Act to probe how it spends federal money.

Auditors’ most recent yearly review of that spending, released in February, included the first few months of the pandemic. The state’s financial auditors found nothing of concern with respect to the coronavirus relief funds. 

In their next review of how the state spends federal funds, which will cover July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, financial auditors expect to examine a much larger amount of COVID-related spending.

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