Morning Press: Fatal crashes, VA vows, East Vancouver, oil papers, GOP PCOs

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Were you away for the weekend? Catch up on some big stories.

More local traffic crashes bring death

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Twenty-six people have lost their lives on Clark County roadways so far this year, a number that far outpaces local traffic fatality trends over the last decade.

It’s a stark statistic without a straight explanation. The collisions followed no pattern; they happened in scattered locales around the county, and in some no cause has been determined. The people who died represent a diverse mix of people using roadways — drivers, passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists and skateboarders.

Two women were killed by a hit-and-run driver on their way home from a baby shower. A security guard found a man dead in a field after he was apparently thrown from his all-terrain vehicle. A Vancouver man was struck by a Mustang while attempting to cross six lanes of Northeast Highway 99.

The most recent death was Thursday afternoon, when Trina Wase drove her SUV into a Clark Public Utilities substation at Northeast 28th Street and 112th Avenue.

“There are no common themes,” said Clark County sheriff’s Sgt. Dennis Pritchard, who supervises the deputies that investigate traffic fatalities. “We’ve got them in every corner of the county.”

As a result, it’s difficult to say what could be done to prevent more fatal accidents, other than to increase traffic patrols everywhere.

Read the complete story here.

VA vows improvements in the region

photoSloan Gibson Deputy Veterans Affairs Secretary

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Upgrades of health care for veterans at Vancouver’s VA campus were announced today by a top administrator.

Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan D. Gibson visited the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which includes a Vancouver site. Gibson is on a tour of VA facilities across the country as part of an effort, he said this morning, to “restore the public’s trust” in the agency.

In a news release, Gibson highlighted national as well as regional initiatives.

In June, the Portland Medical Center realigned space and bought additional equipment for Vancouver, Hillsboro and Portland to open additional eye lanes and increase eye procedure capacity to meet demand. Once installed in early fiscal year 2015, this will increase total capacity by approximately 500 slots a month.

The medical center is adding Saturday schedules to manage the 300-veteran caseload in Vancouver.

The Portland VA also has added two new full-time permanent providers, with eleven additional providers expected on board by Oct. 1. The Portland center has received commitments from 15 additional primary care providers.

And, as part of a nationwide expansion of health-care resources, the Veterans Health Administration is ensuring that $7.9 million from within the VA’s budget be made available to the Portland Medical Center to accelerate access to care. The Portland VA has tabbed more than 6,000 veterans for referral to community providers for needed care.

East Vancouver's shopping, though abundant, is not people-friendly

photoEast Vancouver offers endless shopping opportunities, but its auto-oriented commercial district does not create a sense of coziness that would cause visitors to want to linger. Here, a man walks down Mill Plain Boulevard just east of Southeast 164th Avenue in an area of wide boulevards, parking lots, and large signs.

(/The Columbian)

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A quiet revolution in the past 20 years has changed the way we shop in Clark County.

During Vancouver's younger years, downtown was the action place for many of our purchases. In time, shopping faded in the downtown core as what is now Westfield Vancouver mall became the next big shopping destination. Gradually, cluster malls sprang up to serve new neighborhoods. And on the east side of the city, 164th and 192nd avenues developed mileslong strings of malls and stand-alone retail stores.

All the while, shoppers headed to Portland to avoid paying sales tax. Developers saw opportunity on the border and happily obliged with Jantzen Beach mall, Costco, Home Depot and Cascade Station just across the state line.

But as consumer dollars bleed to Oregon and online retailers, some Clark County businesses and shopping districts are fighting back. They are working to recapture some of that money by creating a sense of adventure surrounding shopping.

Vancouver's Downtown Association spends time and resources to create a happy ambiance of flower baskets, banners and upbeat events such as concerts, First Friday activities, Pub Crawls, Art Walks, Auto Shows and other events. This brings people to town for fun and opportunities to shop.

The newer shopping clusters around 164th and 192nd avenues have been built without benefit of a master plan or a central vision. They have plenty of free parking and nationally recognized stores selling many of the essentials we need for our families and homes. Merchandise at these stores is useful and functional but holds few surprises. The young trees in parking lots hold promise of shade in future summers.

These shopping areas are new and efficient. There is little ambiance such as benches and outside seating to linger and rest between shopping. Some sidewalks do not connect to other stores. In many cases, walking between stores is unsafe. Inconvenience is built into the strip mall experience if it means driving to the stores or putting the kids back in the car and driving to the other side of the mall.

Read the complete story here.

East Vancouver site near Columbia River is targeted for development

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A Portland developer has submitted preliminary plans to develop an 84-acre former quarry on Southeast 192nd Avenue immediately north of state Highway 14 with a mix of uses include housing, retail, commercial, and offices and a hotel.

The preliminary application to the city's Community and Economic Development department proposes a master plan for the entire property at 4601 S.E. 192nd Ave. The site, which is both east and west of 192nd Ave. and on both sides of Brady Road, contains 51.5 acres of land that can be developed. Because of excavation, much of the land is below grade.

The development proposal calls for about one-quarter of the property to be developed as singe-family residential housing, another one-quarter as retail space. About 20 percent would be multi-family residential, with 14 percent as office space and 8 percent as parks and open space.

Weston Investment Co., a major Portland housing and commercial developer, is the property owner and a partner in the development firm, called 192nd LLC. Planning consulting firm Otak Inc. of Vancouver submitted the proposal for a pre-application conference on the project, which it is calling Riverview Gateway.

WSDOT sold the quarry to Weston Investment in March 2006 for $17.6 million, said Magan Reed, a spokeswoman for the agency. In April of this year, the state sold a small additional piece of land north of the quarry to the developers for $1.5 million, she said.

Read the complete story here.

Oil terminal backers dig through opponents' documents

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The companies proposing the Northwest's largest oil-by-rail transfer terminal at the Port of Vancouver are digging for information about two major roadblocks standing in their way: the Vancouver City Council's resolution opposing the oil terminal and the $1.3 billion plan to redevelop the city's former industrial waterfront.

The Seattle office of the Van Ness Feldman law firm, representing Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies, has filed public disclosure requests with the city of Vancouver seeking documents connected to the City Council resolution, approved by a 5-2 vote in June. The law firm also is pursuing details related to the commercial/residential redevelopment proposed by Columbia Waterfront LLC.

Jay Derr, an attorney with Van Ness Feldman, largely declined to comment on the companies' requests for information. He said he wouldn't comment on "legal theory or strategy" and that it would be inappropriate to share information that "might be discussed with my clients."

Nevertheless, the requests, made under Washington's Public Records Act and obtained by The Columbian under the same law, could prove significant. They suggest Tesoro and Savage are hunting for evidence to undercut arguments against the oil terminal, and to bolster their own case for it. They come as opponents and proponents of the oil terminal prepare to go before the Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which is reviewing the companies' permit application.

Read the complete story here.

Moderate Republicans truncate some Tea Party PCOs' tenure

photoClark County Auditor Greg Kimsey arrives with primary election results Tuesday at the Clark County Public Service Center in Vancouver.

(/The Columbian)

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The battle for the future of the Clark County Republican Party has been waged in neighborhoods across the county in the past couple of months.

The factions within the local Republican party are not new. In 2012, there was a push to elect anti-establishment Republicans by those who considered themselves more conservative grass-roots Republicans. Like now, the two sides rallied behind getting like-minded precinct committee officers elected.

In many ways, the precinct committee officers are the heart of the party and its worker bees. They invigorate the voters in their neighborhoods and elect the leaders who will set the platform and tone for the party.

When Christian Berrigan of Brush Prairie helped create the PCO Liberty Alliance in 2012, he backed more than 150 PCO candidates — more than 90 won — which sparked an overhaul of the GOP Party leadership.

There are 247 precincts, and each can have a PCO from each party. Only contested races go to the ballot. There were 42 contested Republican races on Tuesday's ballot, compared with three contested Democratic races.

Even though it appears the bulk of Republican contested PCO seats were won by established Republicans, there were enough non-contested races going to more conservative candidates that party officials believe the local GOP will likely remain controlled by those of the grass roots persuasion. The party will vote in December on new leadership.

Read the complete story here.