This week's top stories and news you may have missed:
The C-Tran Board of Directors on Thursday approved a hastily prepared plan to operate light rail in Vancouver as part of the Columbia River Crossing.
The 5-4 vote allows C-Tran to move forward on a set of draft agreements with TriMet under the proposed Interstate 5 Bridge replacement. That includes a plan to pay C-Tran’s annual share of financing a light rail extension to Clark College.
The vote came over strong objections by Clark County Commissioner David Madore and other CRC opponents on the board and in the audience. It also came after some confusion, as actual copies of the resolution — summarizing a proposal made public earlier this week — were passed out minutes before the vote was taken.
“I hardly know what to say. This is about the most stupid thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Madore said. “Big decisions of this magnitude, this is not the way you make them.”
When the final vote was tallied, CRC supporters in the room cheered.
Commissioners say split expected to save $300,000 per year
(Troy Wayrynen/The Columbian)Buy this photo
Clark County commissioners on Wednesday made the breakup official: the county is leaving Vancouver-Clark Parks & Recreation and starting its own department.
The move isn't unexpected. The city of Vancouver, which operates the joint city-county department, had been expecting this day to come. And seeing the signs from a distance, the city began planning a "new operational model" for its own parks earlier this year.
And come the end of this year, the split will be made official. The county will now do its own parks administration, planning and other central services it had been getting from the city.
The county intends to form a three-person department with a manager, program coordinator and office assistant. That department is estimated to cost $574,285 in the first year as startup costs are considered. Estimates show an annual operation cost of $372,569 starting in 2015.
If those numbers hold true, the new department will be a financial gain for the county. In 2013, the county budgeted $880,000 to purchase services, such as personnel time for operations and administration, from the city. The county has done its own park maintenance.
Rob Figley wed first gay couple married in Clark County in 2012
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Rob Figley, who brought joy to children and adults alike as Santa Claus and a wedding officiant, died Saturday night in Vancouver. He was 57.
He looked the part and worked as Santa for 15 years, his wife, Diane Figley, said. He served as president of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, a worldwide group with 1,100 members.
Diane said being Santa brought her husband "joy. Being able to create memories for families that were individual and personal."
He also married more than 1,300 couples throughout the Northwest, Diane said.
"I now pronounce you wife and wife," Figley declared to Ashley Cavner, 21, and Jessica Lee, 19, both of Vancouver, on Dec. 7, 2012. They are believed to be the first gay couple married in Clark County under Washington's then-new marriage equality law. The ceremony was at Vancouver's First Congregational United Church of Christ.
"Oh, it was his deepest honor," Diane said of Rob's officiating at the Cavner-Lee marriage. "He had no idea he was going to marry that first couple."
Local populations of the brown marmorated stink bug are on the rise
(Washington State University Extension)
Something stinks in Clark County — and it's only the size of a man's thumbnail.
Local populations of the brown marmorated stink bug are on the rise, making their presence known by damaging crops and letting off an intense odor that's described as freshly ground coriander.
"Once you smell it, you'll smell it all over the place," said Todd Murray, Washington State University Extension director for Skamania and Klickitat counties.
The local Master Gardener answer clinic has been flooded with calls, emails and visits from people who have herded these garden pests into mason jars. The mottled brown and gray bugs are relatively new to Clark County, but already causing a stir among area gardeners.
The bugs feed on about 300 types of plants. They use their straw-shaped mouth piece to stab plants and suck up the juices, leading to deformed leaves and dark, spongy blemishes on fruit.
River senior works to return to pool after cancer surgery
These days when Monica Bottelberghe carries around her water bottle, it's more than a simple reminder to hydrate throughout her day at Columbia River High.
The bottle bears the quote: "Strength is the product of struggle. You must do what others don't, to achieve what others won't."
Bottelberghe, the All-American and two-time defending Class 3A swimming state champion in the 200-yard freestyle, often reads that inspirational message as she takes careful but progressive steps while recovering from surgery to remove thyroid cancer.
"Just because of everything that's happened in the past couple months," Bottelberghe said, "I really think it's changed me for the better and has made me a stronger person."
Slave-labor assignment got her out of infamous Auschwitz concentration camp
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Diana Golden probably owed her life to a slave-labor assignment. It got her out of Auschwitz.
The longtime Vancouver resident, who died Sunday, recalled that pivotal chapter in her life in a 2006 Columbian story.
Golden got a chance to leave Auschwitz late in October 1944 when she and her sisters were chosen as labor-camp candidates. Each woman had to take off her dress and stand naked so her potential for hard work could be evaluated.
"Those who were emaciated were put to death at the end of the day. They didn't want to give a piece of bread to a dying person," Golden said.
The 22-year-old Golden, her 20-year-old sister, Felicia, and a cousin were selected.
"Our sister was only 14, and she was rejected," Golden said. "We cried because it was the end of her life."