The Morning Press: Year's top stories, marijuana sales, top restaurants

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As the year comes to close, we look back with some of the top stories of the year and some recent news you may have missed:

Top 10 Clark County stories for 2013

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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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.

See the full list here.

Looking back at 2013 in Clark County business

photoA home for sale on Oregon Drive in Vancouver.

(/The Columbian)

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Clark County's business sector wanted a bridge to bring more trade, more jobs and an easier commute by car or train.

Instead, the business community got entangled in debates over an oil transfer terminal at the Port of Vancouver and coal trains en route to Longview. The projects, with lots of transportation impacts but not many Clark County jobs, received decidedly mixed reviews.

The year, business stories on transportation for people and natural resources made The Columbian's overall top story list. But there was no shortage of other business news. Most visibly, a lockout by United Grain Corp. of International Longshore and Warehouse Union workers led to a string of labor-management skirmishes and pickets at the Port of Vancouver and at United Grain's Vancouver offices for much of the year. Another sore spot was a decision by PeaceHealth, one of the county's biggest employers and a once-promising prospect for job creation, to cut hundreds of jobs to balance its budget.

Still, the overall employment picture was promising, with the county posting a healthy annualized growth rate of 2.3 percent for the 12-month period through November. ...

Here are this year's top business stories, as selected by The Columbian's business staff.

See the top business stories here.

2013 in review: Year for gridiron greatness

photoCamas wide receiver Slav Mikhalets scores on a 33 yard pass. Chiawana scores on the final play of the game to beat Camas 27-26, winning the State 4A football championship at the Tacoma Dome, Saturday, December 7, 2013. (Steven Lane/The Columbian)

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Camas quarterback Reilly Hennessey looked up at the scoreboard, saw the big lights, and it was all so real. The Papermakers were up by 13 points, late in the fourth quarter.

"I actually thought to myself, 'The only way we're going to lose this game is if they come up with a miracle finish that they will talk about for the next 30 years. It could only be something everyone will remember.'"

Hennessey relayed that story nine days after Chiawana scored two touchdowns in the final 55 seconds to beat Camas 27-26.

It was a sports miracle, alright. The only thing Hennessey got wrong is the 30 years thing. Everyone associated with that finish will remember it a lot longer than 30 years.

The Camas Quest for a perfect season fell a game short.

Put it all together, the second-place finish for Camas, capped with that wild, unforgettable finish to the season, makes the Papermakers football season The Columbian's top sports story of 2013.

The Papermakers were not the only ones making memories.

We had a video from one of Clark County's games that went viral, we had a runner from Clark County who went international, and we had fish making memorable comeback of their own.

What a year.

See the top sports stories of the year here.

Photography: a Powerful Medium for 2013

photoMandy Cooper, right, embraces Vicky Smith of Grace Ministries and Xchange in February, on her second day at the Grace Lodge detox center. At left is Vanessa Vaughn, a volunteer coordinator at the lodge.

(/The Columbian)

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Mandy's frail hands reached out, clinging, in a desperate embrace for help. Seeing the moment unfold in front of me, I was drawn to the despair in her hands and made my picture to begin a story of drug addiction in Clark County.

I share this moment because each photograph published in our annual best of photography issue has an equally compelling story, or provides an emotional connection, good or bad, we can all relate to at some level.

The photography staff at The Columbian worked on numerous stories and projects over the past year. From Steven Lane's story-telling images of the Camas High School football team and their quest for a state football championship to Zachary Kaufman's inside look at inmates celebrating Asian Pacific culture through chanting and dancing, each assignment and each image provided readers with a better understanding of our community and the people who live in Clark County.

See our picks for top photos of the year here.

Top five restaurant picks of 2013

photoCharlie’s Bistro in Vancouver serves a BBQ Pork Slider and a Smoked Salmon & Cucumber Slider with Sweet Potato Fries.

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I noted much better service experiences in my dining excursions. It was pleasant to visit many of our new restaurants and find the wait staff presenting themselves more as professionals than as employees just putting in their time. Many established restaurants also reflected this trend toward improved service.

Although 2010 through 2012 brought “seasonal, sustainable, all-natural, farm-raised and locally grown” to many menus, in 2013 the emphasis undeniably shifted to using these premium ingredients to create more innovative dishes.

See the full list here.

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A gift of freedom for paralyzed girl

photoDaniel Benson, 7, center, helps sister Emily, 12, show the ease of using the family's new wheelchair-accessible minivan.

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Emily Benson is a normal, happy sixth grader — blessed with great spirits and big smiles, vital friendships and typically overactive thumbs. Over Christmas break she's been sleeping late, playing video games with her brother and listening to her iPod.

"She's into Legos and nail polish. She can hang with her girlfriends and text all day long" — as appears to be the requirement for 12-year-old girls these days, her father Eric said.

But other than attending King's Way Christian School, Emily doesn't get out of the house much. For everything that's happily normal about her life, there's this one complication: Emily was born with spina bifida and secondary scoliosis. Spina bifida is a relatively common and often serious birth defect caused when the spinal cord is not fully enclosed and protected by the sheath that's supposed to surround it. Scoliosis is curvature of the spine.

Emily is paralyzed from the small of her back down — from the L4 and L5 vertebrae, Eric said — and so the smart and gregarious child can't go anywhere without help. She's got both manual and powered wheelchairs, but these don't easily fit into the family minivan. Eric and Triann, Emily's mother, have been obliged to lift and carry their daughter between chair and car — and then to go back to lug the wheelchair along too.

Read the full story here.

Officials dotting I's on pot business

photoClark County's small cities must decide soon if they will allow the production and sale of marijuana within their boundaries.

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While Washington's new marijuana law takes effect Wednesday, Clark County's cannabis aficionados will have to wait before they can walk into a local shop, slap down a $20 and buy a bag of pot.

Local jurisdictions will pause several months before issuing business licenses to retail operations interested in selling marijuana, meaning stores are unlikely to take shape until at least late next spring. For now, jurisdictions are locked into a wait-and-see period, cautious about being the first to authorize the sale of a substance the federal government lists as a Schedule 1 narcotic.

"None of us want to be the city that acts as the test case for this" said Camas Mayor Scott Higgins. "So much is unknown right now that it would be nice to have some of those questions answered."

To buy more time, jurisdictions have placed temporary moratoriums on the sale of recreational marijuana. They include Vancouver, unincorporated Clark County, Washougal, Camas and Ridgefield. Battle Ground hasn't addressed the issue.

Read the full story here.