Klamath Basin News, Monday, 2/14 – Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Interior Department Meet to Solve Irrigators, Tribes and Conservation groups Dwindling Klamath Basin Water Supply

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Monday, February 14, 2022

Klamath Basin Weather

Today A chance of rain before 4pm, then a chance of rain and snow showers. Snow level 5000 feet. Partly sunny, with a temperature falling to around 38 by 5pm. Chance of snow just 30% today with a total daytime snow accumulation of less than a half inch possible. Overnight a 30% chance of snow showers before 10pm, with a low around 25.

Tuesday Sunny, with a high near 45. North northwest wind 5 to 13 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph. Overnight low of 24 degrees expected.
Wednesday Mostly sunny, with a high near 49.
Thursday Sunny, with a high near 55.
Friday Mostly sunny, with a high near 57.
Saturday Mostly sunny, with a high near 57.

Today’s Headlines

Oregon reports 2,653 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, 12 new deaths

There are 12 new COVID-19-related deaths in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 6,355, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) reported Friday afternoon. OHA reported 2,653 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 as of 12:01 a.m. today, bringing the state total to 674,500.

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Baker (13), Benton (53), Clackamas (226), Clatsop (19), Columbia (39), Coos (59), Crook (31), Curry (25), Deschutes (155), Douglas (52), Grant (3), Harney (4), Hood River (11), Jackson (186), Jefferson (21), Josephine (113), Klamath (93), Lake (5), Lane (266), Lincoln (39), Linn (169), Malheur (6), Marion (207), Morrow (8), Multnomah (310), Polk (81), Sherman (1), Tillamook (14), Umatilla (40), Union (15), Wallowa (3), Wasco (9), Washington (310), Wheeler (1), Yamhill (66).

The Oregon Health Authority said Friday the peak of the Omicron surge is likely over, as state hospitalizations dropped below 1,000 for the first time in three weeks. 

The latest forecast from Oregon Health and Science University, released Thursday afternoon, projects that hospitalizations will continue to steadily recede in the coming weeks, reaching pre-omicron levels by the end of March. 

With the mask mandate set to end on March 31, the director of the Oregon Department of Education, Colt Gill, discussed some options for possible masking for school districts on Friday.

He said each district should talk to local health officials and make a decision that is best for them. Whether it is staying with universal masking, making masks optional, or any other options; Gill said making sure students stay inside the classroom should be a big part of the decision making process. He also said Oregon has done a great job keeping schools in-person all year long.  Gill said he is talking to school district leaders across the state to make sure masks stay on until March 31.

Oregon’s daily cases peaked at 10,941 on Jan. 20 and have since receded to a 7-day average of 3,214 as of Thursday — a massive reduction, but still high by historical standards. Prior to omicron, the state’s highest-ever single-day case tally was 3,207 on Aug. 27 at the peak of the delta variant wave.

On Thursday, for the first time since President Biden took office, the Interior Department gathered a diverse group of irrigators, tribes and conservation groups scrambling over the Klamath Basin’s dwindling water supply — all under one (virtual) roof.

Though the feds couldn’t make it rain, they’re about to release a river of cash to help fix the watershed in the long term. More than 100 people attended the all-day meeting on Feb. 10, representing stakeholder groups from the basin’s headwaters to the sea and the government agencies who help manage it.

Federal bigwigs like Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland communicated Uncle Sam’s commitment to solving the basin’s complicated natural resource issues, which are only worsening due to climate change. McCreary said the forum appeared to signal that the wide swath of groups who depend on the Klamath’s water are willing to come back to the table to talk for the first time since the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement failed in 2015. But it remains to be seen how long they’re willing to stay there.

For the first half of the meeting, staff from the Departments of Interior, Commerce and Agriculture explained how stakeholders could make use of billions made available by the recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which gives federal agencies deep pockets to fund much-needed ecosystem restoration and agricultural modernization projects throughout the basin.

The Fish and Wildlife Service also briefed participants on the selection process for projects for the $162-million ecosystem restoration fund made available specifically for the Klamath.

Klamath Community College aviation students and local pilots will soon be able to earn flight hours and complete Federal Aviation Administration testing at the KCC campus.

The KCC Testing Center is in the final stages of approval to administer the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airman Knowledge Testing exams, which assess knowledge for private, instrument, commercial, and remote pilots; maintenance personnel; dispatchers; parachute riggers; and flight and ground instructors.

The KCC Testing Center has four dedicated stations for FAA exams to ensure access to aviation students and aid in their academic and professional success.

According to aviation advisor James Scott, KCC’s fixed-wing aircraft and helicopter aviation degrees are two-year programs. To earn a degree, students must pass six FAA exams, meaning in the past, they had to travel at least six times outside of Klamath County during the program to test. Alongside classes at KCC, flight training is conducted through a partnership with Precision Aviation. In addition to local testing, students and current pilots seeking recurrency training can get flight hours using KCC’s new Redbird MCX, an advanced full-motion flight simulator that can be programmed for single or twin-engine aircraft.

The Redbird MCX offers sophisticated flight simulation that provides real-world instruments and scenarios for students and pilots to practice a variety of skills such as taxiing, flying at altitude, and landing. The simulator has a full range of motion and can be programmed to mimic turbulence and poor weather conditions such as fog, heavy rain, snow, and wind.

Firefighters extinguished an apartment fire in the 1900 block of Dawn Court late last week.

Klamath County Fire District 1 crews were dispatched to the structure fire at 5:42 p.m. on Thursday, said Battalion Chief Fire Marshal Chad Tramp. A Facebook post from the department on Thursday stated that the fire was in a “multi unit apartment” and that numerous occupants were displaced.

The blaze was contained 30 minutes from the dispatch time, Tramp said, adding that the fire was still under investigation on Friday.

Fire officials in Klamath and Lake counties are urging both residents and visitors to exercise caution in the days ahead with anything that could spark a wildfire.

Though it’s only February, dry conditions and the arrival of gusty winds could cause any escaped burns to spread quickly. The South Central Oregon Fire Management Partnership (SCOFMP) said that its particularly worried about this weekend, when a cold front moves into the area. The weekend featured unseasonably warm temperatures in the region just as winds from the cold front arrive.

Several weeks of dry conditions and melting snow has increased the risk of wildfire at lower elevations. After a chance of rain and snow today (Monday), the weather is expected to be dry for another stretch. Landowners cleaning their property to prepare for the coming fire season are asked to delay burning until weather conditions improve.

Around the state of Oregon

The odds that The Flying Lark in Grants Pass will open with its proposed suite of gaming machines intact just got much worse.

An opinion released by the Oregon Attorney General’s office on Friday makes clear that the state’s top attorney considers the venture to be an unlawful casino. While not in itself an automatic rejection of the Flying Lark’s proposal to install 225 historical horse racing (HHR) machines, the opinion was issued at the request of Jack McGrail, executive director of the Oregon Racing Commission — the body upon which Dutch Bros cofounder Travis Boersma has been waiting for the green light.

Boersma filed a request for approval with the Oregon Racing Commission back in October, but the matter has been repeatedly delayed due to pressure from a coalition of Tribes that oppose the project.

The Tribal criticism has been that the Flying Lark’s HHR machines will essentially turn it into a casino. Under the Oregon constitution, non-Tribal casinos are banned, as are lotteries outside of the official Oregon Lottery.

The DOJ’s opinion, made public on Friday, concurs with what the Tribes have been saying. Boersma has said that the loss of these machines would not only sink The Flying Lark, it would likely take Grants Pass Downs and Boersma’s efforts to revive Oregon horse racing down with the ship.

Another idea how to deal with the homeless population which is now over 3,000 people in the Portland metro area, is getting mixed reaction from politicians and the public. 

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and a former mayor, Sam Adams, are working on a plan to create three mass shelter areas for the homeless, which would be staffed by the Oregon National Guard, forcing the homeless off public streets and near freeways.  They are looking to buy private land and use land claimed by eminent domain according to insiders.

A memo from Wheeler to one of his aides, apparently says “The theme of these notes is creating better places for those houseless Portlanders living outdoors, often living in camps with horrible conditions and sited in hazardous locations. Without more and better places for the houseless to live, we are just moving them around. For example, move them off freeways, and many will go to the closest neighborhood or business district. Move them out of the neighborhoods and business districts, and without somewhere else to go, they will be forced to go to the next one over.”

Commissioner Dan Ryan, who is leading the effort to establish 6 managed Safe Rest Villages, opposes Wheeler’s mass shelter ideas.

Adams’ memo says his project, which would aim to start in June 2022 over the next three years, would “end the need for unsanctioned houseless camps in Portland.”  It would also ban unsanctioned camping within the city.

Regarding Wheeler’s plan, Ryan added today:

“I have grave concerns with the concept of creating high-population outdoor camping zones, along with corresponding zones in which no camping is allowed. I believe that the creation of these zones would quickly lead to extremely detrimental outcomes for people experiencing houselessness. These are our most vulnerable community members, and requiring them to move out of certain parts of the city and into large encampments with little to no social services is a recipe for disaster. Instances of human trafficking, widespread drug distribution and various other illicit and highly harmful activities would almost certainly occur at much greater rates among such a large, concentrated population.”  Stay tuned.

With school boards increasingly becoming the battlegrounds for America’s culture wars, Democrats in the Oregon Senate have passed a bill intended to insulate school superintendents from being ousted on purely political grounds.

Senator Michael Dembrow (D-Portland) chairs the Senate Committee on Education and carried Senate Bill 1521. There have been several high-profile firings of Oregon superintendents within the last year after they ran afoul of politically charged school boards, and they appear to have inspired lawmakers to intervene. Under SB 1521, a school board may not direct a superintendent to take actions that conflict with state or federal law — which includes executive orders or Oregon Department of Education policy.

It also limits the instances in which a school board can terminate a superintendent’s employment without cause.

Two Skiers Die Over Weekend at Mt. Bachelor

After two skiers died at Mt. Bachelor ski area Friday and Saturday, a helicopter was dispatched to the mountain Sunday morning on a medical emergency call, transporting a 64-year-old man to St. Charles Bend.

Two injured skiers die in two days at Mt. Bachelor | KATU

A spokesperson for Mt. Bachelor confirmed a man was flown to St. Charles Bend at around 9:53 a.m. after he experienced a medical emergency.

First on Friday, and then again on Saturday, a skier suffered fatal injuries while skiing on Mt. Bachelor.

The skier who died on Friday was a 66-year-old man, and on Saturday, a 60-year-old man succumbed to his injuries after crashing on the mountain.

While the exact circumstances and conditions that led to the fatal accidents are not currently available from official sources, other recreators said on social media they believe the latest fatality could have occurred due to an exposed log, usually covered in snow, on the mountain.

Mt. Bachelor said in its conditions report Sunday that high pressure and warm temperatures has caused variable snow surface conditions.

“Substantial icy/choppy patches are still very much present. Naturally, this adds an element of risk and warrants the need for extra caution when exploring the mountain,” the report said.

Leigh Capozzi, the communications director for Mt. Bachelor, has yet to respond to a list of questions emailed to her Sunday in regards to the conditions and circumstances of Saturday’s fatal accident.

However, Capozzi did provide information on the Sunday morning medical call and helicopter dispatch.

“At approximately 9:05 a.m. on Sunday, February 13, Mt. Bachelor Ski Patrol responded to a guest experiencing a medical emergency,” she said. “Upon assessing the guest’s condition, Ski Patrol contacted 911 to dispatch an Airlink helicopter.”

“The guest, a 64-year-old male, was transported to patrollers to the West Village landing zone, where the Airlink helicopter transported the guest to St. Charles (Bend) at 9:53 a.m.,” Capozzi added.

The names of the two skiers who died have not been released.

Man Indicted in Death of SOU Student

On January 27, 2022 a Jackson County Grand Jury indicted Elijah Benbow, a 22 year old Ashland resident, on a single felony charge of Failing to Perform Duties of a Driver to Injured Persons. This is a class B Felony.

This charge stems from an incident on August 15, 2021 at 1:00 a.m., involving the death of Southern Oregon University student Hunter Roberson. In this incident Roberson was found on Tolman Creek Road near Ashland Street, having been struck by a motor vehicle. 

The investigation determined that Benbow was driving a vehicle that struck Roberson, and left the scene knowing he had done so.

Since August 15, 2021 the investigation has been ongoing and APD has been assisted by members of the Jackson County Sherriff’s Office and the Medford Police Department. Benbow is not in custody and is scheduled to be arraigned on March 3, 2022.  Ashland Police Dept.

On Friday, February 11, 2022, at approximately 10:39 PM, Oregon State Troopers and emergency personnel responded to the report of a single vehicle motor vehicle crash on Highway 238 near mile post 18. Preliminary investigation revealed an eastbound silver Kia sedan, operated by Donnie Clough Jr. of Jacksonville, collided into the side of the Applegate River Bridge while negotiating the corner.  Clough Jr. sustained fatal injuries was pronounced deceased.  Hwy 238 was reduced to one lane for approximately three hours for collision reconstruction. OSP was assisted by Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, Applegate Fire, and ODOT.

Oregon Unemployment Payments Fall But Worker Shortage Persists

Oregon began last year paying out nearly $600 million each month in unemployment assistance, providing aid to well over 200,000 people.

Monthly payments fell rapidly through the year, though, as the economy rebounded from the pandemic recession. Aid then plunged off a cliff in September when expanded federal benefits expired.

In December, the state paid just over $60 million in benefits — only 10% of what was paid at the start of that year, and only a little higher than benefits payments in the months before the pandemic.

In addition to the end of federal pandemic assistance, last year’s record decline in unemployment aid reflects one of the strongest labor markets in Oregon history. The number of vacant jobs exceeds the number of unemployed workers.

The state added 107,000 jobs in 2021. That’s far above the prior one-year record, which was 61,000.

And yet Oregon employers are still hunting for workers, and state economists say Oregon won’t have recovered all the jobs it lost to the pandemic recession until next fall.

Expanded jobless assistance in 2020 and 2021 is one reason why, according to Gail Krumenauer, economist with the Oregon Employment Department. Federal pandemic aid paid as much as $600 extra a week in jobless benefits in 2020, which meant that laid-off workers at the bottom of the pay scale were actually earning more than they did when they were working.

“They were getting, on average, full wage replacement,” Krumenauer said.

Meanwhile, just about everyone received three rounds of stimulus payments during the pandemic, part of a broad federal aid package that spared many people from the pain of the steepest, deepest economic downturn in U.S. history.

“That did build up people’s savings,” Krumenauer said.

As a result, she said, some people have a financial buffer that’s letting them take their time returning to work and be choosy about which jobs they’ll take.

The worker shortage has pushed up wages as employers compete for labor and seek to lure workers back. The average private-sector job paid $31.76 an hour in December, according to state data, up 15% since the pandemic started.

People who might have worked two jobs to make ends meet before the pandemic can now get by with one, Krumenauer said, which only makes the labor market tighter.

“That’s a great condition for workers to be in,” she said. “And it’s more difficult for employers.”

There are many other reasons Oregon employment hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels. Childcare remains in especially short supply, for example, and some prospective workers continue to choose to stay home because of COVID-19.

It’s not likely that Oregon’s job growth in 2022 will match last year’s torrid pace. And with so few workers left on the unemployment rolls, Krumenauer said it’s getting harder to match individual people to the skills required for the jobs available.

Still, she said that as the omicron spike in coronavirus cases fades and Oregonians draw down their savings from pandemic stimulus payments, more workers will likely be drawn back into the labor pool.

“It seems like if COVID can finally get under control after this and some of that cushion goes away,” Krumenauer said, “then more people will start getting back to work.”

Tax Breaks for Oregon’s Most Wealthy Homeowners

Oregon lawmakers, who years ago agreed to discontinue huge property tax breaks for historic homes, now want to give the mostly wealthy homeowners who have long benefitted from the deal more time to lock in the tax savings for another 10 years.

That decision would reverse a nascent effort championed by a pair of lawmakers, one a Portland Democrat and the other a rural Oregon Republican, to make the state’s historic preservation incentives more geared to regular Oregonians and less so to real estate elites by shifting to grants instead of property tax cuts for homeowners.

Bill SB 1587  Would Allow Lien On Property Of Unlawful Hemp Growers

This bill subjects building or premises used for unlawful growing or handling of industrial hemp to lien, and allows buildings or premises to be sold to pay all fines and costs. Allows immediate enforcement of lien by civil action, and strengthens premise laws.


Medford ‘Polar Plunge’ for Special Olympics Oregon

Local police officers, firefighters, paramedics, students and several community members dressed in their best costumes took the ‘Polar Plunge’ in support of athletes a part of Special Olympics Oregon. The event brought out 22 teams who raised over $30,000 for the Southern Oregon Special Olympics team.

The annual event, which raises awareness and money for thousands of athletes, returned in person after a hiatus last year due to the ongoing pandemic.

“We love to have all the fans come to support and watch us,” Luis Sanchez, an athlete with Special Olympics Oregon said. “It was the best day ever.”

The event was held at the Rogue Valley Country Club in Medford with several people baring the freezing water for the cause.

This year, the organization added two cities and fun runs throughout the state. Several Olympic athletes who live in Southern Oregon attended the event and shared their gratitude for the support.

“It makes me proud to have a disability, and it shows that people with disabilities can do anything that they want,” Carol Davis said.

This summer, two Rogue Valley athletes will represent the state during the Special Olympics 2022 USA Games.

Cindy Miguel, the Director of Program and Volunteer Services for Special Olympics Oregon, said Shaun See and Walker Hill will be heading to the games come June.Miguel explained the athletes are thrilled to be able to gather together again after the coronavirus virus kept them apart.

“We have been having to really creatively train and he’s (See) has an amazing coach, Kathy Hence, who is virtually training these guys, she meets with them weekly, gives them training, programming tips, and check they are doing what they are supposed to be doing,” Miguel said.

Miguel said the organization is grateful to each person who has donated and volunteered to help the athletes continue doing what they love.

She said 25 athletes, their families, and coaches will head to Orlando, Florida for the Special Olympics 2022 USA Games. The games begin on June 5th, 2022.

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