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This week’s top stories and news you may have missed:
The U.S. Coast Guard on Friday granted a crucial permit allowing the Columbia River Crossing to build a new Interstate 5 bridge between Vancouver and Portland.
The agency’s blessing had been one of the major hurdles still standing in front of the project, declared dead three months ago. Instead, the $2.7 billion effort appears to be gaining momentum with Oregon now in the lead. Washington largely pulled out of the CRC financially earlier this year after lawmakers in Olympia adjourned without authorizing any money for the project.
The Coast Guard’s blessing clears the way for a new Columbia River span with 116 feet of clearance over low water. CRC planners scrambled to reach that number last year after initially designing a fixed span at just 95 feet high — a level dismissed as too low for the economic and navigational needs of the river. The existing I-5 Bridge offers up to 178 feet of head room when lifted.
The revised height of 116 feet still isn’t high enough to accommodate all existing traffic on the river. Earlier this year, the CRC reached mitigation deals with three upriver manufacturers whose largest products wouldn’t fit under the proposed bridge. The agreements would pay the companies a combined $86.4 million.
Camas Mayor Scott Higgins Friday said City Administrator Nina Regor will not be able to return to work from her indefinite medical leave.
The city announced Tuesday Regor was on leave and quickly scheduled a Friday meeting to hire Vancouver-based financial consultant Paul Lewis to assist with drafting the city’s budget and other tasks. Higgins named Human Resources Director Jennifer Gorsuch interim city administrator.
At Friday’s meeting, Higgins announced Regor would likely not recover from her illness.
“We are brokenhearted by this news, and yet I report to you she is at peace,” Higgins told council members. “Things will go on, but this week we are sad … deeply, deeply sad.”
The city is not disclosing the exact nature of Regor’s health problem. But for the past two weeks, Higgins said, her condition has deteriorated rapidly and she’s now in the hospital.
Higgins, pastor at Hockinson Church of Christ, has also been acting as Regor’s spiritual adviser.
News of Regor’s serious illness has come as a shock. Camas hired her at the beginning of the year to succeed Lloyd Halverson, who retired from the city after 23 years.
The PeaceHealth Southwest Foundation raised more than half a million dollars in a show of community support for the Vancouver hospital.
The fundraising campaign, The Beat Goes On – HeArts of Clark County, raised $522,800 to build a new surgical theater at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center’s Heart and Vascular Center. The money was raised through ticket sales for a Sept. 21 gala, business sponsorships, donations and the auction of 30 fiberglass hearts — or HeArts, as they’re called — that were on display throughout Vancouver.
The campaign exceeded the foundation’s $500,000 goal.
“It was a heartwarming event and exciting to see the community come together to generously support furthered excellence in heart and vascular care,” said Connie Kearney, the campaign chairwoman.
Each of the 30 fiberglass HeArts featured the work of local artists. The statues — which are 6 feet tall, 3 feet wide, about 16 inches thick and weigh 200 pounds — were placed around downtown Vancouver and other areas across the city in early August. They spent about six weeks on display before being moved to PeaceHealth’s Shared Services Center in east Vancouver for the gala.
Community members expressed appreciation for the temporary public art and raved about the number of talented artists in the area, Kearney said. Most had a hard time picking one favorite, she said.
Whether the U.S. government will partially shut down Tuesday is still anyone’s guess, but federal workers in Clark County are preparing for the worst.
At the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, part of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, officials were busy Friday making sure they had everything lined up in case they need to close their gates. The refuge’s annual Bird Fest event takes place next weekend, but if a government shutdown lasts more than a week, the refuge will need to go with Plan B. That includes moving its bird-watching activities elsewhere and postponing one of its most popular attractions, the sandhill crane tour.
“Bird-watching on the refuge is different than it is off the refuge,” the site’s deputy project leader, Randal Hill, said. He added that Bird Fest is a chance for the refuge to raise money and show the public the role it plays in protecting wildlife. School field trips and volunteer events at the refuge also would be cancelled during a shutdown.
The last time Congress brought the nation close to a government shutdown, in 2011, Hill recalled, “We wasted a huge amount of time just going through the preparation process for a potential shutdown.” Now it’s happening all over again, he said.
The refuge is just one example of the various ways a looming shutdown is inconveniencing agencies in Clark County and the state. As officials who oversee health programs, social services and parks brace for the impact, many say the negative effects on their agencies would depend upon how long a shutdown lasts.
Sometimes the best way to get to know your community is on foot.That’s exactly what 49-year-old Noland Hoshino was doing downtown Tuesday as he strolled along Main Street in Vancouver — his home of 13 years — stopping every few blocks in the light rain to point his camera at the historical buildings and public art pieces that caught his eye. He’s seen it all before, but felt the urge that afternoon to do some sightseeing in his own town.
“There’s a lot in our backyard I don’t take advantage of or appreciate,” he said.
The Columbian ventured into Clark County at the start of fall to find five local strolls that require minimal time investment or hiking skills, but reveal a bounty of wonders to explore: all in your own backyard.