Morning Press: New bridge, port pickets, sheltering the homeless, injury at Washougal MX, Camas Days

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Have your garden tomatoes started to redden yet? Local weather coverage is online here.

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

Floating ideas on a bridge

photoLinda Figg, president and CEO of FIGG Engineering Group, gives her pitch to build an east county bridge over the Columbia River at a presentation in late July at the Clark County Public Services Center in downtown Vancouver.

(/The Columbian)

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The shroud of intrigue has been lifted over the latest vision for a long-discussed third bridge across the Columbia River.

FIGG Engineering Group, the Florida-based bridge designer submitting an option for the possible project, on Friday presented its early concept for an east county bridge. Championed by Clark County Commissioner David Madore, the bridge would cross the Columbia River at Southeast 192nd Avenue and state Highway 14 and land on Northeast Airport Way in Oregon.

While unveiling the first glimpse of what exists of the design, Linda Figg, the bridge company's principal, said her firm is open to "bringing multiple options to the community."

The option presented Friday calls for a crossing that extends from the highway in Vancouver, jogs to the west slightly, crosses Government Island and connects to Northeast Airport Way. A second phase of the project, Figg said, could eventually connect the bridge to Interstate 84.

The concrete segmental bridge, held aloft by slender columns, would feature four lanes for cars and trucks and two covered lanes, on each side of the bridge, for bike and foot traffic. Figg called it a "minimalist" design, intended not to draw attention away from the area's natural beauty.

"Every bridge is connecting to the landscape, and it must respect that history," Figg said. "Every bridge has a story."

The project would cost no more than $860 million, she said, and could be completed in five years. That timeline takes into account permitting and the design-build phase, she said.

Such claims echo similar ones made by Madore, the Columbia River Crossing opponent, who's pointed to the potential of an east county bridge as a lower-cost, common sense approach to relieving congestion.

But the timeline, and dollar amount, raised eyebrows among those in attendance at Friday's meeting.

"How exactly are we going to pay for it?" asked state Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver.

Madore said there were funding options available, but it would take a partnership between Oregon and Washington to unlock them. He has vowed that the bridge will be toll free.

  • Read the complete story here.

Sheriff won't escort grain inspectors across picket line

photoILWU member Marcel DeBord walks in a crosswalk in front of a van entering the United Grain facility on Feb. 19 at the Port of Vancouver.

(/The Columbian)

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Offers by United Grain Corp. to pay the Clark County Sheriff's Office to escort grain inspectors past picket lines at its Port of Vancouver facility have fallen on deaf ears.

The sheriff's office Friday declined formal requests from the Clark County Board of Commissioners and United Grain to consider the proposal. Citing safety concerns, grain inspectors are refusing to enter the facility, where a labor dispute between the company and the Longshore and Warehouse Union has been underway for the past 17 months.

The sheriff's office said in a statement to The Columbian that it would not be "providing law enforcement escorts for grain inspectors at the Port of Vancouver."

Clark County commissioners Tom Mielke and David Madore on Wednesday directed staff to draft a letter to the sheriff's office, asking whether deputies could provide inspectors with escorts at United Grain's expense.

Acknowledging that the commissioners hold no authority over the sheriff, Madore said Wednesday that the commissioners were not staking a position on the ongoing dispute but were trying to find ways to keep the grain facility operational. Commissioner Ed Barnes, a local labor leader, was absent from Wednesday's commissioners meeting.

  • Read the complete story here.

Work to shelter homeless thwarted by scarcity of apartments

photoIrma Villarreal rents this Hazel Dell apartment without any housing subsidy but doubts she'll be able to afford that for long. She has been homeless before and worries about having to hit the streets again, especially because she has custody of her 11-year-old granddaughter, Leila. "I will not let my granddaughter be homeless," she vowed.

(/The Columbian)

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Something like 300 households in Clark County, including 90 families with children, qualified for private-market rental vouchers in the year after the new Housing Solutions Center opened its doors in March 2013 — but then couldn’t find a landlord who’d accept them.

And many others never even get that far, Clark County’s Council for the Homeless executive director Andy Silver said. After an extensive intake assessment and a careful examination of the half-dozen local agencies that operate approximately 40 discrete housing programs for needy people, too many clients are told: Here are the programs and supports you technically qualify for — except right now those programs are full. You’ll just have to wait.

“Resources for people who are literally homeless are tight, and resources for people who are doubled up are even tighter,” Silver said.

The Housing Solutions Center, the council’s coordinated system for connecting programs and services to the people who need them, has been a boon to many, officials said. There’s clearer, easier and more individualized access to a central database full of possible assistance, depending on your problems; clients who call the hotline or walk in the door with low expectations often walk out with new connections and high hopes.

The Housing Solutions Center received 13,428 hotline calls in its first year of business; it performed assessments of 1,292 households or individuals; and it determined that 498 of those households qualified for local housing programs — that is, they received assistance or offers of assistance.

But even with vouchers in hand, only 56 percent of those households found a landlord willing to rent to them. The local private rental market is so tight that landlords have their pick of tenants and generally opt for those without typical homeless “baggage,” such as previous evictions, unemployment, unstable incomes or criminal convictions.

“We didn’t realize what a crisis there is in the tight rental market” in Clark County, Silver said. “If Bill Gates gave us $1 billion tomorrow, we still couldn’t solve the problem.”

  • Read the complete story, and the stories of some hopeful tenants, here.
  • Read some landlords' point of view here.

Washougal motocross disturbed by worker's injury

 Photo Gallery: 2014 Washougal MX National

Photo gallery from the 34th Washougal MX National, held Saturday, July 26, 2014.

A Vancouver man working as a track worker at Washougal MX Park was critically injured Saturday when he was struck by a motorcycle that had gone off the track.

Bruce Barnes, 49, suffered broken bones and internal injuries in the morning crash during the Washougal MX National event, according to a bulletin from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

Barnes was treated by paramedics on the scene and taken by ambulance to an established evacuation point, where he was transported by a Life Flight helicopter to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center. He was later transported to OHSU Hospital in Portland.

He was conscious and talking to medical personnel, according to Ryan Huffman, the track manager of Washougal MX Park.

With more than 20,000 fans clogging traffic routes at this annual event, officials determined it was more beneficial and timely to transport the injured man via helicopter.

Barnes was reported in critical condition after the crash, but a CCSO bulletin Saturday evening said his condition had been changed to stable.

  • Read the complete story here.
  • Read about Ryan Dungey's continued domination of the event here.
  • Read about Marvin Musquin's sweep here.

Camas Days celebrates 40 years with parade, bathtub races

photoJerry and Larhea Steele, king and queen for the 40th anniversary Camas Days, greet their public Saturday at the Grand Parade. They remember the paper festival that was the city\u2019s previous annual community celebration.

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In the late 1950s, Larhea Steele was a princess in Camas’ annual Grand Parade.

This year, Steele, 72, was queen of the parade. She and her husband, “King” Jerry Steele, rode in a Mustang for the procession through downtown. Coincidentally, Larhea Steele said, her first car was a Mustang.

“I was in the parade when I was in high school, and it was called the Camas Paper Festival,” she said. “The floats all had paper on them — tissue paper, toilet paper.”

The two-day festival Friday and Saturday marked the 40th anniversary of Camas Days — a reincarnation of the paper festival — in the small city of about 20,000 people.

For some of the old-timers, the annual festival was a time to reflect on how much the city has changed in the past 40 years.

“There are a lot more people in Camas than when this (festival) started,” said Dennis Gilson, 54. “Camas has tripled in size since then.”

The parade — featuring businesses, politicians seeking election and community organizations — snaked down Fourth Street between Oak and Adams streets.

As Camas High School’s band marched in the procession, Gilson noted that Jerry Steele — the king of this year’s Grand Parade — used to be the director of the band when Gilson was in high school. Steele was Gilson’s band teacher from the fifth grade to the 12th grade, Gilson said.

“We didn’t march in the parade,” Gilson said. “Then, it was just football games and concerts.”

Some things, however, haven’t changed. Camas is still a wonderful place to live and raise a family, said Larhea Steele, who was born and grew up in the city.

  • Read the complete story here.