Top 10 Clark County stories for 2013

Year was the area’s newsiest in recent memory

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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A surprising turn in a long-running saga, local implications of regional- and national-level issues, and things we just never saw coming.

Each element illustrates one way to define news. Ten of those stories helped turn 2013 into Clark County’s newsiest year in recent memory.

For the second year in a row, the topic of the Columbia River Crossing was voted the No. 1 story by The Columbian’s news team. But this year, it veered from a story about process to a tale of survival — a tale that’s still waiting for a conclusion.

The saga of the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project was voted the year’s top story by 17 of the 39 news staffers who participated in balloting.

There was some overlap: The next two stories reflected the immediate impact of County Commissioner David Madore, voted into office in November 2012. The hiring of state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, as a county department head came in No. 2, and Madore’s overall impact on county policies and direction was No. 3. Madore also was a player in the story that tied at No. 18, the “brain drain” among the county leadership team.

Voters could pick 10 stories from a list of 23 nominees.

They were asked to designate a No. 1 choice (3 points) and a No. 2 pick (2 points); each unranked story was worth a point.

1. Columbia River Crossing

photoA plan to replace the Interstate Bridge died, for the moment, when the Washington Legislature didn't authorize any money for the project.

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Foes of the Columbia River Crossing celebrated its apparent demise in 2013, only to see the project pop back up in a familiar position: stalled, with a murky path forward.

When the Washington Legislature didn’t authorize any money for a proposed $3.5 billion Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project, leaders shut it down.

But they didn’t withdraw pending permit applications. That led to an Oregon-helmed $2.7 billion proposal to replace the bridge and extend light rail here, but eliminate most Vancouver-area freeway work.

The revised CRC earned a crucial Coast Guard bridge permit; the light-rail plan has embroiled C-Tran in its own controversy.

Oregon lawmakers could consider a renewed CRC commitment in February. Construction has been delayed until at least 2015.

2. Don Benton hire

photoSen. Don Benton R-Vancouver

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When state Sen. Don Benton told his friend, Clark County Commissioner David Madore, that he was qualified to be county director of environmental services, things moved quickly.

On May 1, the county administrator was told to begin the process of hiring the Vancouver Republican for the $109,656-per-year job.

Commissioner Steve Stuart, a Democrat, walked out in the middle of a meeting, calling it blatant cronyism and shouting an expletive as he departed.

Interim director Anita Largent filed a discrimination lawsuit, claiming she never had an opportunity to apply for the job.

The commissioners declined to settle with Largent, so it appears the case is headed to court.

3. Madore’s influence

photoDavid Madore Clark County commissioner

(/The Columbian)

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As first-term county commissioner, Madore did what he said he’d do: Shake up government.

Madore ramrodded two resolutions opposing the Columbia River Crossing, even though the county has no say on it.

He did push policy changes. One removed parking fees at county parks; another, in a bid to create jobs, cut all county permit fees for commercial development.

Madore battled with the local Humane Society chapter on a contract for shelter service.

He pushed for more transparency in the commissioner’s office. His election prompted the audio recording of all commissioner meetings, creation of a smoother online document resource center, and easier access to the county’s finances.

4. Crestline school fire

Crestline Elementary was destroyed in a three-alarm fire on Feb. 3. Built in 1973, it was the first Clark County school to burn down since Vancouver’s Ogden Meadows High School in 1948.

About 500 students and 50 staff members finished the year divided by grades among five other Evergreen schools.

This year’s temporary home is the former Hewlett-Packard campus on Southeast 34th Street.

The new Crestline is going up at the original school site. It will open in fall 2014.

5. Oil, coal shipments

It’s economy vs. environment in battles over proposals to haul oil and coal on local rail lines.

Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies propose building the Northwest’s largest oil-handling facility at the Port of Vancouver. It could handle up to 380,000 barrels of crude daily, hauled by train from North Dakota.

The Port of Vancouver approved a lease agreement, but the facility is not a done deal. A state council will examine the proposal for at least a year; Gov. Jay Inslee has the final say.

In Longview, Millennium Bulk Terminals wants to export up to 44 million metric tons of Montana-mined coal to Asia a year.

6. Same-sex marriage

The trend of approval for same-sex marriage was felt locally. When Washington’s same-sex marriage law took effect on Dec. 6, 2012, license applications in Clark County jumped as gay and lesbian couples wed.

Gay marriages here increased in October, when Oregon, where they are illegal, decided as a practical matter to recognize same-sex weddings performed in other states.

Clark County had 785 same-sex weddings during the first 10 months of Washington’s new law, second only to King County (3,452). That was before the change in Oregon’s law, which pushed Clark County’s total even higher.

7. Bria-B.G. settlement

photoShonny Bria Former B.G. schools superintendent

Battle Ground School Superintendent Shonny Bria left in June with a $400,000 severance package that had been negotiated in secret.

The district financed about $300,000 of it by leaving two administrative positions vacant.

In an August letter, the school board acknowledged that it violated the public’s trust in handling the deal.

A permanent new superintendent likely will begin work by July 1, 2014.

8. Gun in school

A sixth-grade boy was accused of bringing a pistol and 400 rounds of ammunition to Frontier Middle School on Oct. 23.

Quincy J. Tuttle, 12, was found competent to stand trial for attempted murder of a student who may have bullied his friend.

The prosecution says Tuttle stole a gun from his parents, then brought it to school for three days in a row. He has been in juvenile detention since Oct. 23. A trial date has not been set.

9. Pearson museum

photoWorkers move out of the Pearson Museum, Wednesday morning. (Vivian Johnson, for The Columbian)

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The museum switched management on Feb. 6. Conflicts over event restrictions and other issues came to a head between the National Park Service, which owns the land and building, and the Fort Vancouver National Trust, which previously operated the site on behalf of the city of Vancouver.

A bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, has been on hold during mediation. The bill would move control of the museum and surrounding 7 acres from the Park Service to the city and the Trust.

9. (tie) Affordable Care

Washington’s plan for a state-based health exchange, where individuals purchase health plans, hit a local snag when the insurance commissioner initially approved just one carrier in Clark County.

After adding two more carriers, the are still had the fewest plans in the state.

Enrollment opened on Oct. 1. In the first two months, more than 179,000 state residents enrolled — 11,000 in Clark County.

There were technical and procedural glitches. Almost 290,000 state residents were notified that their existing plans were being canceled for not meeting requirements.


CONTRIBUTORS: Erik Hidle, Susan Parrish, Aaron Corvin, Scott Hewitt, Marissa Harshman, Sue Vorenberg, Tom Vogt.