In Our View: Cheers & Jeers

Local home building increases;pipe company pays for lapses

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Cheers: To slowly improving economic times for local home builders. In July, Clark County issued 64 permits for single-family homes to be built outside the city limits. That's the best showing in five years and is up 52 percent from July 2011. Although there is room for optimism, the industry is still recovering. In July 2004, for example, the county issued 246 single-family home permits.

It helps to recall that residential housing is only one part of the local economy; job-creating industrial and commercial development remains a greater priority.

Still, the July mini-rebound is encouraging. Broker Terry Wollam of RE/MAX Equity Group says about 20 percent of the demand is from investors' building rental housing such as duplexes or common-wall housing that was approved before the market melted down almost five years ago. The rental market is tight and construction costs are still below their peak.

But even as the market accelerates, a lack of development-ready lots may put on the brakes. Few subdivisions have been platted in recent years, and many of the available lots are already spoken for.

Jeers: To accounting problems at Northwest Pipe, a Vancouver-based manufacturer of steel pipe used for drinking water and other fluids. The company recently agreed to pay $13.25 million to settle four lawsuits filed by shareholders that had accused the company and its former management team of accounting fraud. Three other cases will be settled for $750,000, according to a company filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The problems came to light when NW Pipe announced it would be late reporting its financial results for the third quarter of 2009, leading to turmoil including management shake-ups, stock listing troubles and the stunning admission that it had overstated its profits by $37 million to $47 million over the course of several years.

As recently as March the company was still announcing new "material errors" in accounting procedures and fending off problems with its Nasdaq exchange listing. The good news is, the company has won a $69 million deal for a Texas pipeline.

Cheers: To an 8.76-acre donation in the Burnt Bridge Creek Greenway by Hinton Development Corp. The Vancouver firm developed a business park off Northeast 127th Avenue, and donated the land nearest the creek to the city. The donation extends city control of the greenway east of Interstate 205 for the first time. The city manages the greenway as wetlands, which helps control stormwater runoff and reduces the severity of seasonal flooding in Burnt Bridge Creek. In addition, the green space provides a swath of natural area through an urbanized part of Clark County; much of it can be enjoyed by the public along the Burnt Bridge Creek Trail.

Jeers: To a disturbing correlation between inflammatory bowel disease and proximity to a smelter that for years dumped pollutants into the Columbia River. A Harvard Medical school study determined the rates of ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease are 10 to 15 times more than the normal rates for citizens of the border town of Northport. The small community is just downriver and downwind of the Teck Resources smelter in Trail, B.C. Researchers believe the bowel diseases have an environmental trigger, so they are studying the town and its residents carefully. Though contamination from the smelter has not been proved to be the cause, several other factors such as a genetic influence have already been ruled out.

Cheers: To road burritos. Clark County Public Works is trying a new technique that involves a giant gravel "burrito" to repair a trouble-prone spot on Northwest Pacific Highway near La Center. Here's how problematic that spot been: The decades of patches applied to the road were eight feet thick. Holy guacamole!