Editor's note: The following are capsule summaries of the top news stories covered by The Enterprise in 2007. This week, in Part One, we look back at January through June of 2007.
Despite a series of raucous exchanges among White Salmon City Council members -- culminating with a walkout in protest by council member Richard Marx -- the city continued with its efforts to craft a definitive policy regarding how to handle water service connections. During a Jan. 3 session, council member Brad Roberts presented a two-page draft proposal of what the city's policy should be.
The Columbia River Gorge Commission agreed to draft a proposal to alter the "recreation resort" section of the Management Plan within the National Scenic Area. The decision was prompted by a request from Broughton Lumber Co., which was seeking to convert the former Broughton Mill property near Underwood into a tourist resort.
The White Salmon City Council voted to approve a new type of residential development that would bring cottage housing to the city. The council's vote cleared the way for a "pocket neighborhood" -- guided by renowned Northwest architect Ross Chapin -- that would replace the area of White Salmon that formerly held Timms Trailer Court, a mobile-home park. The new subdivision featured smaller-scale, lower impact housing units ranging in size from about 600 square feet cottages to 1,500 square feet townhouses.
Mike Wellman, White Salmon's water projects engineer, warned that the city might face a serious water shortage when summer comes. He reported that the aquifer feeding the city's well-field continued to drop.
"I'm concerned about how much water we will have this summer," Wellman said. "We are currently using less than 400 gallons per minute, but in the summer it may be four times as high -- up to 1,600 gallons per minute." Wellman pointed out that the city could only depend on having about 1,300 gallons per minute.
Vandals were going on a graffiti spree in Bingen and White Salmon, as businesses, school buildings, and other property was being defaced with "541" tagging. Police officials said the "541" represented a group of taggers apparently from Hood River and elsewhere on the Oregon side of the Columbia River; the "541" is the telephone area code for that region. Thriftway, Columbia High School, and the Bingen post office were among the victims of the spray-paint vandalism.
The Bingen City Council voted to approve a contract with a local engineering firm to try to fix ongoing flooding problems along Dry Creek. During heavy rainfall and snowmelt events, water from the creek has flooded over State Route 14 near Bingen's Walnut Street. The engineering firm was asked to design ways to reduce the likelihood of flooding in the area.
Klickitat County was in negotiations in a plan to begin bringing in trash by barge from Hawaii to deposit at the regional landfill in Roosevelt. County officials said the deal could bring an added $600,000 per year to the county. However, environmental groups warned that the scenic Gorge area would be reduced to being a "garbage haul route" if the deal was approved, and also pointed out that there was a serious possibility of introducing harmful species to the Columbia River Gorge.
"The potential for importing exotic weed and pest species is huge," explained Brent Foster, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper.
The City Council of White Salmon voted unanimously to authorize a $10,000 "groundwater source study" to try to meet the city's growing demand for water. City officials explained that the proposal was designed to determine whether additional groundwater sources were available within White Salmon's water service area. The move was in response to warnings that the city was using more water than its aquifers could replace, and a summer water shortage was looming as a possibility.
Despite uncertainty regarding the disposition of the legal case involving former police chief, Rich Cortese, the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department went ahead with the testing of four candidates vying to be the community's new police chief. Barbara Hylton, a member of the local Civil Service Board, cautioned that the testing could be moot, as the police chief situation remained in legal limbo because of an ongoing lawsuit filed by Cortese. Cortese contended that he was terminated without cause and was seeking a court judgment in his favor. The court had the option of ordering Cortese to be reinstated as chief.
Despite strong citizen opposition, the White Salmon Planning Commission approved another housing development project for Spring Street. Residents of the area attended the meeting and raised concerns about congestion, safety, and quality of life issues if a pair of two-unit townhouses were allowed to be built on a half-acre parcel at 185 NW Spring Street. Nevertheless, the Planning Commission voted 3-1 to OK the townhouses.
On April 21, the body of 21-year-old Sean Brown of Klickitat was found in the Klickitat River. Brown had been missing for several days, and family members had contacted law enforcement officials for help in searching for him. The Major Crimes Unit of the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office was investigating the case because Brown had last been seen in the Klickitat area on April 6 and had been involved in an altercation before his disappearance.
Klickitat County Superior Court Judge E. Thompson Reynolds sentenced Michael Lindsey of Washougal to 40 years in prison following Lindsey's conviction of first degree murder for the shotgun slaying of James Dwayne Morris, 22, of Washougal. Morris was killed and buried near Husum in March 2005.
A long-awaited ruling from Superior Court Judge James Gavin in the case of Richard Cortese vs. City of White Salmon left both the city and Cortese without a clear decision. In effect, Gavin -- who said the "material facts" were in question -- determined that he could not rule in favor of either party in the case. Cortese, hired in June 2004 and then terminated in April 2006, filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming he was terminated without cause. Cortese was seeking his job back, along with full back pay from the time he was fired.
"I was really hoping this would be settled and all parties could go forward, whereever it landed," said Civil Service Board member Barbara Hylton.
After court battles, physical confrontations, and tough negotiations that stretched over many years, members of the Yakama Nation were finally able to purchase 33 acres of land at Lyle Point. On May 15, about 150 tribal members and supporters gathered for a public ceremony, which included tribal songs and drumming, to mark the purchase of the parcel from Trust for Public Land. Tribal members consider the Lyle Point land to be sacred to the tribe. It had been a Yakama village, tribal burial ground, and fishing site for thousands of years before white settlers moved into the area in the mid-1800s.
In a move geared to save money and improve efficiency, the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to conduct all county elections entirely by mail-in balloting. The commissioners pointed out that a large percentage of the county's voters -- more than 64 percent over the previous four elections -- had been casting their ballots by absentee ballot anyway. The resolution authorizing the change also noted that 35 of the state of Washington's 39 counties had already moved to conducting entirely vote-by-mail elections.
White Salmon's water projects engineer, Mike Wellman, warned the City Council that the city's water shortage had reached a crisis point. He advised Mayor Francis Gaddis and the council members that the city's wells were not recharging sufficiently, and the city could run out of water in the heat of the summer. Wellman urged the council to approve a $13,600 contract with a Lyle consultant, John Grim & Associates, to help the city resolve the water troubles.
"We're in an emergency situation," Wellman explained. "I think we're liable to find ourselves without water at a very critical juncture this summer ... If we run out of water -- and we may well -- there will be hell to pay."
Sgt. Bruce Brending of the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department, who had been serving as acting police chief, was officially promoted to be the new chief. Brending had served with the local police force since 1989, and had been serving as interim/acting police chief since April 2006. Former Police Chief Ned Kindler pinned on Brending's chief badge during a short ceremony at the Pioneer Center.
Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel warned that possible water shortfalls could hit the Bingen community hard, and called on citizens to voluntarily restrict their water usage.
"For example, don't wash your sidewalks and driveways with water -- use a broom," Prigel requested. "We are concerned going into summer. When irrigation starts, our own wells may not keep up. We have a potential problem, and we're trying to make people aware. We need to encourage conservation in hopes we can avoid more severe, mandatory conservation measures."
Next week: We look back at the year's top stories between July and December.