Huckleberry fields benefit from flames

By Kathie Durbin October 3, 2011 6 a.m.

SAWTOOTH HUCKLEBERRY FIELDS — On a blue-sky late September afternoon high in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, firefighters from the Forest Service and the Yakama Tribe waited, drip torches in hand, for the state to give the go-ahead so they could set the woods on fire. When the green light came, they marched into a thinned mixed-conifer stand bordering the road, spaced themselves along the boundaries of a 20-acre plot, and began igniting huckleberry bushes and low-lying shrubs and grasses. Flames skipped across the forest floor and laddered into the crown of a tall subalpine fir. Smoke billowed into the clear sky. The hiss and pop of burning needles filled the air.

National Tea Party group rallies in Vancouver

By Kathie Durbin October 4, 2011 9:41 p.m.

A conservative-leaning crowd of about 75 turned out at Esther Short Park on a rainy evening Tuesday for a rally sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a Tea Party-affiliated national group that’s calling for $3 trillion in federal spending cuts, no new taxes and a balanced budget amendment with a hard spending cap.

Jill Arens stepping down as executive director of Gorge Commission

By Kathie Durbin October 5, 2011 6 a.m.

Jill Arens, the executive director of the Columbia River Gorge Commission, announced Tuesday that she will leave her job at the end of January. “This position has been exciting and challenging, and uncommonly satisfying,” she said in an email after informing Gorge commissioners, her staff and the governors’ offices in Olympia and Salem of her decision.

'Cut spending' rally is tonight

By Kathie Durbin October 4, 2011 9:41 a.m.

Americans for Prosperity, a Tea Party-affiliated political fundraising organization, will launch a national “Cut Spending Now” tour Tuesday with a rally in Vancouver’s Esther Short Park.

Hundreds of job seekers attend Herrera Beutler job fair

By Kathie Durbin September 28, 2011 4:03 p.m.

Close to 800 job seekers crowded into the Red Lion Hotel at the Quay Wednesday, many with résumés in hand, hoping to match their skills with the job openings that nearly 70 participating companies were looking to fill.

Postal workers rally outside Herrera Beutler’s office

By Kathie Durbin September 28, 2011 6 a.m.

About 60 postal workers from across Southwest Washington rallied outside the Vancouver office of U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler Tuesday to urge the congresswoman’s support for a bill that would rescue the U.S. Postal Service from crippling budget cuts. The service faces a multibillion-dollar shortfall due to the recession, rising use of the Internet and a 2006 law requiring it to prepay 75 years’ worth of retiree health benefits over a 10-year period.

Audit: Washington paid too much for child care

By Kathie Durbin September 23, 2011 6 a.m.

A new state audit finds that the state of Washington made more than $2.6 million in overpayments to child care providers employed by the Working Connections Child Care Program between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010. In addition, the state Auditor’s Office questioned the legitimacy of more than $241,000 in other payments and concluded that the agencies that administer Working Connections have inadequate controls to detect fraud and report errors.

Most local lawmakers support special session

By Kathie Durbin September 23, 2011 6 a.m.

Rep. Sharon Wylie is canceling an out-of-town wedding anniversary celebration. Rep. Ann Rivers won’t be taking her family on a holiday break. Gov. Chris Gregoire’s decision to call the Legislature to Olympia Nov. 28 for a 30-day special session will disrupt lawmakers’ private lives. But a survey of Clark County legislators Thursday indicated that most support the governor’s decision to deal with a new $2 billion budget hole in advance of the 2012 Legislature. And some said it should happen even sooner.

Vote effort targets students

By Kathie Durbin September 23, 2011 6 a.m.

Free pizza and warm sunshine lured about 60 Washington State University Vancouver students to a voter registration rally at the campus amphitheater Thursday, where organizers registered 13 new voters and collected 39 pledge cards in the first hour of an afternoon that also promised live bands and stand-up comedians. The event was organized by John Anthony Shahor, student body director of legislative affairs. His goal: To fight the voter apathy that’s so prevalent among young people, energize students and drive home the message that they have a stake in elections, whether at the national, state or local level.

Traffic fears near quarry become reality, neighbors say

By Kathie Durbin September 22, 2011 6 a.m.

The winding, two-lane county roads that connect Yacolt Mountain to State Highway 503 weren’t built to handle loaded gravel trucks traveling at 50 mph. In 2002, Clark County hearings examiner J. Richard Forester warned that the roads weren’t safe for the volume of heavy truck traffic a proposed mountaintop rock quarry would generate. At peak production, quarry developers estimated that up to 410 trucks per day, each weighing 105,000 pounds, would haul rock and gravel off the mountain and through a rural residential neighborhood to Highway 503, the nearest state route.

Neighbors fault Yacolt quarry for well woes

By Kathie Durbin September 22, 2011 6 a.m.

There was a time, seven years ago, when Todd Ford could put a hose in the hot tub at his Yacolt Mountain home and fill it with well water. His shallow well, just 15 feet deep, sat atop a natural spring, and the water was pure and plentiful. “Everybody who came up here thought I had the best water,” he said. No more. “If I were to fill the tub up now, I would get it half full before there was no more water and have to wait for the well to recover,” he said.

Skamania County braces for end of timber payments

By Kathie Durbin September 21, 2011 6 a.m.

With the Sept. 30 expiration of a federal program that provides payments to timber-dependent counties, Skamania County says it faces a “draconian” revenue shortfall next year that will strip as much as $6 million from its $13 million operating budget. A bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, set for a hearing in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, would address Skamania County’s plight by requiring national forests to meet annual revenue goals for counties through “active management” projects such as logging and grazing.

Zarelli eyes proactive approach to budget woes

By Kathie Durbin September 20, 2011 6 a.m.

Lawmakers learned last week that the state of Washington is facing another budget crisis, and state Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, thinks it’s worth borrowing an idea from that other Washington to help address it. Actually, Zarelli said his proposal — that the Legislature convene a bipartisan group to get a jump on closing a projected $1.3 billion deficit — is not modeled on the new congressional supercommittee, which is charged with finding at least $1.2 trillion in federal spending cuts by Thanksgiving.

Salmon moved to native waters before Condit Dam is breached

By Kathie Durbin September 17, 2011 6 a.m.

WHITE SALMON RIVER — Two dozen spawning fall chinook salmon took a ride home Friday to a place they’d never known. Fish biologists deployed boats, nets, weirs and truck-mounted tanks to move the husky spawners out of the way of the massive sediment plume that will be unleashed in late October, when 98-year-old Condit Dam is breached. These particular salmon were transported in tanks to the town of Husum, where they slid down a chute into the clear blue-green waters above Rattlesnake Rapid and, with a sweep of their muscular tails, swam away.

Redistricting Commission releases proposals to redraw state’s political map

By Kathie Durbin September 13, 2011 6:12 p.m.

The four members of the Washington State Redistricting Commission, meeting in Olympia Tuesday, unveiled maps showing their proposals for redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative boundaries.

Closure of plant will help clear Gorge air

By Kathie Durbin September 13, 2011 6 a.m.

The haze that blurs scenic views in the Columbia River Gorge for many days each year isn’t decreasing. But it isn’t getting worse either, even with population growth in the Portland-Vancouver metro area, and the closure of Oregon’s only coal-fired plant in 2020 will help restore the sweeping vistas that gave the nation’s only national scenic area its name. That’s part of the message Washington and Oregon air quality experts will deliver to the Columbia River Gorge Commission on Tuesday after more than a decade of research and monitoring of Gorge air quality.

No town halls with Herrera Beutler

By Kathie Durbin August 30, 2011 6 a.m.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler has been back in her Southwest Washington district for most of the month of August, but the freshman Republican has scheduled no town hall meetings.

Moeller to give 3 percent of his pay to Share

By Kathie Durbin August 26, 2011 2:40 p.m.

State Rep. Jim Moeller said Thursday he will send 3 percent of his legislative salary to Vancouver-based Share House, which works to help homeless and hungry Clark County residents. Moeller, a Vancouver Democrat, announced Thursday that he is making the contribution in view of what he characterized as “devastating and mind-numbingly endless cuts to important public-assistance programs.”

AG details legal battle against sex trafficking

By Kathie Durbin August 18, 2011 6 a.m.

Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna visited Vancouver Wednesday, but not to discuss his upcoming campaign to succeed Democrat Chris Gregoire as Washington’s governor. Instead, McKenna was wearing a different hat as president of the National Association of Attorneys General. The Vancouver Rotary Club invited him to talk about the campaign he is waging at both the state and national levels to combat human trafficking.

Crews prepare to let White Salmon River run again

By Kathie Durbin August 18, 2011 6 a.m.

NORTHWESTERN LAKE — There’s no turning back now. After a dozen years of planning, the White Salmon River, dammed 3.3 miles upstream from its confluence with the Columbia River since 1913, is on its way to becoming a free-flowing river again.

Veterans, their advocates tell Murray they need jobs, housing

By Kathie Durbin August 16, 2011 8:21 p.m.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray is holding a listening session to hear from area veterans on local challenges and to discuss her efforts to improve veterans care and benefits nationwide.

Still Gorge-ous scenery at 25

By Kathie Durbin August 14, 2011 6 a.m.

COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE — Atop Cape Horn, Saturday began with drizzle and thick clouds that obscured a dazzling view from the new scenic overlook at its rim. But as the clouds slowly parted, the sun emerged and the day unfolded with a series of ceremonies marking the 25th anniversary of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act. At ceremonies at Cape Horn and Skamania Lodge, veterans of the protracted battle to win federal protection for the Gorge recalled the struggle. Many invoked the name of the late U.S. Sen. Mark O. Hatfield, the Oregon Republican who went toe-to-toe with President Ronald Reagan on a bill the President had been expected to veto. Hatfield, longtime chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, died last Sunday at age 89.

Economy in Gorge counties continues to be pretty rocky

By Kathie Durbin August 14, 2011 6 a.m.

CASCADE LOCKS, Ore. — Over the past 25 years, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act has been more successful at achieving its first goal — protecting the scenery and natural resources of the Gorge — than at its second, boosting the economic vitality of Gorge towns and cities, one community leader said Saturday. The discussion occurred at an economic forum marking the act’s 25th anniversary in this struggling Gorge town.

Wylie has slight fundraising edge over Riley in 49th

By Kathie Durbin August 12, 2011 6 a.m.

Democratic state Rep. Sharon Wylie holds a slight fundraising lead over Republican challenger Craig Riley in the race to fill a 49th Legislative District seat through the end of 2012. Wylie, a former lobbyist for Clark County and a former Oregon legislator, was appointed in April to fill the seat of former Rep. Jim Jacks through the end of 2011. She had raised $32,915 in cash and in-kind contributions by the latest reporting deadline, according to filings with the Washington Public Disclosure Commission.

Herrera Beutler: ‘Super committee’ won’t cure ills  

By Kathie Durbin August 10, 2011 8 p.m.

Even if the 12-member panel comes up with a plan that can pass the House and Senate, she said, that plan will only whittle the national debt by $2 trillion — and won’t absolve Congress of its responsibility for the nation’s spending and economic woes.

Several Clark County residents join congresswoman’s staff

By Kathie Durbin August 7, 2011 6 a.m.

Jaime Herrera Beutler’s election to the 3rd Congressional District seat last November opened the door to federal jobs for several local Republicans. • Ryan Hart resigned his post as chairman of the Clark County Republican Party, a post he had held from 2008 to 2010, to become Herrera Beutler’s district director in Vancouver, where he oversees a staff that responds to the concerns of constituents.

Herrera Beutler acts to stall refuge restoration

By Kathie Durbin August 7, 2011 6 a.m.

Managers of the Willapa Bay National Wildlife Refuge regard the Bear River Estuary Plan as the logical next step in the ongoing restoration of Willapa Bay. It calls for removing more than five miles of dikes, numerous ditches and culverts, two fish ladders and a tide gate from the south end of the refuge, near Ilwaco. Its goal is to re-establish the natural channels of three streams that flow into the estuary and return more than 800 acres of pasture and freshwater impoundments to tidal wetlands and salt marshes, with benefits to juvenile salmon and migratory and shore birds.

Jaime Herrera Beutler’s voting record

By Kathie Durbin August 7, 2011 6 a.m.

Abortion • Voted for prohibiting use of federal funds for Planned Parenthood (Feb. 18, passed).

Jaime Herrera Beutler carves niche in debt fight

By Kathie Durbin August 7, 2011 6 a.m.

The Republican landslide that swept Jaime Herrera Beutler to victory in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District in November didn’t take long to hit home in Southwest Washington. For the first time since Republican Linda Smith won the seat in 1994, the 3rd is represented by a bedrock conservative.

Herrera Beutler: Debt limit ‘not an easy vote for me’

By Kathie Durbin August 6, 2011 6 a.m.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler wasn’t in the room on July 26 when House Speaker John Boehner admonished dissident Tea Party freshmen to “get their asses in line” and pass his debt-ceiling bill. “This freshman decided she wanted to gather information on the bill,” the Camas Republican told The Columbian on Thursday after returning home from Washington, D.C., for the August break. “I can make up my own mind.”

Herrera Beutler votes in favor of debt-limit deal

By Kathie Durbin August 1, 2011 9:09 p.m.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler , R-Camas, cast her vote for the debt limit-deficit reduction deal Monday but said in a statement that she shares the frustrations of Southwest Washington residents over the process that led up to the 11th-hour agreement.

Rep. Herrera Beutler votes for Boehner debt limit plan, releases statement

By Kathie Durbin July 29, 2011 9:52 p.m.

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler joined a slim majority of House members Friday in voting in favor of House Speaker John Boehner’s debt ceiling proposal. The measure needed 217 votes to pass; it passed 218-210, with 22 Republicans voting no. Herrera Beutler released this statement after the vote:

Tea Partiers skeptical of default

By Kathie Durbin July 29, 2011 6 a.m.

With a vote on a Republican debt-limit bill delayed in the U.S. House Thursday, about 40 Tea Party activists rallied outside U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s Vancouver office, calling for deeper cuts in federal spending and questioning whether the nation will really default on its $14.15 trillion debt if a deal isn’t reached by Tuesday. “I don’t think we’ll default,” said Lew Waters, a conservative Clark County blogger. But he predicted the nation’s credit rating likely will decline anyway because of its mounting debt and deficit.

Herrera Beutler backs listing endangered species

By Kathie Durbin July 28, 2011 6 a.m.

U.S. Rep Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, joined 36 other House Republicans and voted with Democrats on Wednesday to restore funding allowing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list new threatened and endangered species. The vote came on an amendment to an Interior Department spending bill co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., also voted for the Dicks amendment, which passed 224-202.

GOP spending bill threatens to gut U.S. endangered species protections

By Kathie Durbin July 27, 2011 6 a.m.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service no longer would have funding to protect new species as threatened or endangered under a Republican spending bill being debated on the House floor this week. The agency, however, would retain funding to remove species from the list and to reduce their level of protection. The bill, House Resolution 2584, funds U.S. Interior Department agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency in the budget year that begins Oct. 1. U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., plans to introduce an amendment that would restore funding enabling the Fish and Wildlife Service to study species proposed for listing.

Region calls Congress on debt limit impasse

By Kathie Durbin July 27, 2011 6 a.m.

Thousands of Washington residents Tuesday accepted President Barack Obama’s invitation to contact their members of Congress and express their views about the continuing impasse between Congress and the White House over a deal to reduce the federal deficit and raise the debt limit. Gregg Payne of Yacolt was one of many callers greeted with busy signals Tuesday. Payne said he tried repeatedly to reach U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, at her Washington, D.C., office, to no avail. He said his attempts to send the congresswoman an email also were unsuccessful.

Herrera Beutler bill wins praise from timberland owners

By Kathie Durbin July 25, 2011 11:05 a.m.

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler is winning praise from local forestland owners for co-sponsoring legislation that would undo a 2010 federal court ruling requiring logging companies to get discharge permits for runoff on logging roads. The ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last August undid years of federal Clean Water Act policy by declaring that runoff from forest roads must be treated the same as runoff from such “point sources” as factories and parking lots.

Fun on a sunny day

By Kathie Durbin July 24, 2011 6 a.m.

Warm sunshine and hot chili brought out the crowds at Esther Short Park Saturday as sun-starved families reveled in perfect summer weather after a cool, wet spring that overstayed its welcome weeks ago. The Vancouver Farmers Market, true to its name, overflowed with lettuce, spinach, cucumbers and blueberries. Hanging flower baskets and nursery plants adorned the stalls. Nearby, in the park itself, the 3rd Annual Vancouver Fire Fighters’ Union Fire in the Park was under way, with a pipe and drum band, antique fire trucks and a firefighters’ competition, a kind of slow-motion race in which volunteer firefighters competed to don heavy gear, hook up fire hoses and drag life-sized dummies to safety across Propstra Square.

Initiative to restrict tolls draws opposition

By Kathie Durbin July 22, 2011 10:45 a.m.

An initiative that would restrict the use of tolling to pay for state transportation projects appears headed for the November ballot, and a coalition of business, labor, environmental and community groups has formed to fight it, saying the measure threatens vital transportation projects and economic growth across the state. Initiative 1125, sponsored by anti-tax activist Tim Eyman, would change Washington law to ban peak-hour tolling, a key part of the funding plan for the Columbia River Crossing. The measure also would prohibit toll revenue from being spent on non-transportation purposes, require tolls to be dedicated to the projects they’re paying for, end tolling on individual projects when they are fully paid for and require the Legislature to set toll amounts.

Herrera Beutler's support of CRC hinges on solid financing plan

By Kathie Durbin July 22, 2011 6 a.m.

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s spokesman said Thursday that the Columbia River Crossing needs to “get its ducks in a row” with a realistic financing plan if it hopes to win the congresswoman’s support for a significant federal contribution to the project. Through her spokesman, Casey Bowman, the Camas Republican took note of mounting questions about the funding plan for the project. On Wednesday, Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler released a report that indicates bridge tolls, expected to provide a $1.3 billion local match for the project, may fall short by up to $598 million, due in part to a failure to account for reduced traffic on the Interstate 5 span.

PGE to cut emissions at coal-fired plant

By Kathie Durbin July 19, 2011 5:23 p.m.

Portland General Electric, owner of a northeastern Oregon coal-fired plant that is the major source of air pollution in the Columbia River Gorge, has agreed to pay $2.5 million to restore land on both sides of the Columbia River, create clean energy jobs and reduce pollution in advance of a 2020 state-mandated deadline for ending the burning of coal at its Boardman plant.

A wetland once, and again

By Kathie Durbin July 17, 2011 6 a.m.

Fargher Lake never was an actual lake. But a 113-acre portion of the large open area near Amboy, drained by area farmers for nearly a century, already is returning to its natural state as a forested wetland. Tall native grasses cover much of the site. As the first drainage tiles are removed, birds, deer and even coyotes are finding their way back to an area that once again provides food and cover.

A new life for Larch

By Kathie Durbin July 11, 2011 6 a.m.

The past 18 months have been a roller-coaster ride for the staff and inmates at Larch Corrections Center, the minimum-security prison in the woods of east Clark County.

Herrera Beutler hopeful about deal on debt limit

By Kathie Durbin July 7, 2011 6 a.m.

At her Vancouver town hall meeting in May, U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler vowed to vote no if presented on the House floor with “the option to raise the debt limit with no strings attached.” She would insist on deep cuts in federal spending, she said. Asked whether tax increases were a part of her plan to reduce the federal deficit, she said, “I’m not going to ask middle-class Americans to pay more than their fair share. “

Gregoire appoints transportation task force

By Kathie Durbin July 6, 2011 6 a.m.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has named a high-powered panel to design a 10-year plan for funding the state’s transportation system and present it to the 2012 Legislature. The “Connecting Washington Task Force” will review statewide transportation needs, recommend the most promising projects for investment and identify potential revenue sources.

Forest Service land purchases heighten area’s appeal

By Kathie Durbin July 4, 2011 6 a.m.

Visitors to the Columbia River Gorge have the U.S. Forest Service to thank for the dazzling variety of recreation options available within a couple of hours’ drive from the Portland-Vancouver metro area. A former historic homestead dotted with apple trees and once overrun with blackberries east of Washougal is now St. Cloud day use area, an oasis of quiet where visitors can picnic and walk along the Washington shore of the Columbia River.

Columbia River Gorge balancing act

By Kathie Durbin July 2, 2011 4:42 p.m.

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act marks its 25th anniversary this year — even as the bistate commission that administers the law struggles to carry on its work in the face of deep budget cuts. Regular visitors to the Gorge recognize the tasteful dark green signs that announce when they’re entering or leaving the scenic area and signal viewpoints, trailheads, day-use areas, waterfalls and campgrounds. Where the scenic area starts, sprawl stops and nature dominates the landscape.

Cape Horn view to be enhanced

By Kathie Durbin June 30, 2011 6 a.m.

The Cape Horn pullout on state Highway 14 is the premier Washington viewpoint looking east up the Columbia River Gorge. It’s also along one of the most dangerous stretches on the winding highway — and not only for motorists.

Inslee brings gubernatorial campaign to Vancouver

By Kathie Durbin June 28, 2011 5:53 p.m.

U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee told a small crowd of Democratic supporters and elected officials at a Vancouver shipyard Tuesday that if elected Washington’s next governor, he’ll work to bring high-tech jobs to Southwest Washington, which continues to struggle with double-digit unemployment. Flanked by two enormous yachts at Christensen Shipyards — one under construction, the other in for a refit — the 60-year-old Democratic congressman from Bainbridge Island vowed to use his personal influence as governor to spur innovation and boost technology business clusters across the state, including in Clark County.

UPDATE: BPA power line opponents rally

By Kathie Durbin June 24, 2011 9:24 p.m.

Members of three groups united in opposition to running a new Bonneville Power Administration high-voltage power line through populated areas of Clark and Cowlitz counties rallied at the BPA’s Vancouver office Friday morning to press their case with the federal energy marketing agency. About 100 people, ranging from homeowners concerned about their property values to kids in wagons toting red balloons, were marching on the sidewalk in front of BPA’s leased office building at 7600 N.E. 41st St., in the VanMall Neighborhood.