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Year in Review: The Columbian’s Top 10 stories of 2016

By , Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter
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Some problems can’t be solved in 12 months.

So, the crunch in affordable housing and the homelessness problem are The Columbian’s top two stories of the year.

Again.

And — no surprise in a community with a lot of ongoing sagas — other familiar stories are making repeat appearances in the Top 10: David Madore’s role on the county council; the Cowlitz casino; and the proposed oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver.

The 26-item ballot asked members of The Columbian’s news team to pick their top 10 stories of 2016 (worth one point each). Then they picked their story of the year (worth two points).

Thirty-two ballots were returned. The affordable housing crunch and the homelessness issue were both listed on 29 ballots. But the housing crunch was the story of the year on 12 ballots (worth 24 points), netting a total of 53 points. The homelessness problem was No. 1 on six ballots (worth 12 points), for 41 points.

1. Affordable housing

(53 points)

A local housing advocate has mixed feelings about the story’s staying power.

“On one hand, it’s reflective of the deep need,” said Andy Silver, executive director of the Council for the Homeless. “In that sense, obviously we don’t want this to be a big story.”

On the other hand, he said, the community is not  ignoring what’s happening.

Awareness is how Proposition 1 passed in Vancouver in November, he said. The levy will raise $6 million a year for seven years to help increase affordable housing.

Low vacancy rates continued as rents rose; the county’s market-rate rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,242 — behind only King and Snohomish counties.

Many potential purchasers are renting instead of buying homes because of the low inventory and high prices. The county’s median sale price for a home in 2016 was $290,000.

Affordable housing projects did open in 2016, such as 15 West in downtown Vancouver and Isabella Court in central Vancouver, but they can’t meet the demand.

 2. Homelessness

(41 points)

Despite advances, hundreds of people still don’t have a place to call home. Shelters turned 2,500 people away in 2016 because space wasn’t available.

The Columbian found that 96 different people were cited for violating Vancouver’s revised camping ordinance. (Camping in public is legal from 9:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.)

In addition to a new overnight shelter, improvements are needed at Share’s shelters and YWCA Clark County’s domestic violence shelter.

Lincoln Place, a 30-unit complex for the chronically homeless, opened as Clark County’s first “wet” or “housing first” apartment: Tenants don’t have to be clean and sober to move in.

A women’s shelter (Women’s Housing and Transition) opened at one church, then moved to St. Luke’s-San Lucas Episcopal Church.

Since the day shelter at Friends of the Carpenter can’t accommodate showers or laundry facilities, officials are exploring potential sites where people can get those services during the day.

3. David Madore

(37 points)

David Madore’s four-year tenure on Clark County’s governing body (it was a commission when he was elected, then became a council after voters approved a new charter) ended in December. His last year in office included continued clashes with fellow Councilors Jeanne Stewart and Julie Olson, as well as with Council Chair Marc Boldt and county staff.

County Planning Director Oliver Orjiako filed a whistleblower complaint, accusing Madore of violating the Growth Management Act.

A piece of Madore’s legacy went away last month when the fee-waiver program for businesses that he’d championed was overturned.

Madore finished third in the August primary with 24.4 percent. He trailed Democrat Tanisha Harris (45.3 percent) and fellow Republican John Blom (30.3 percent), who went on to win in the general election.

He recently took to Facebook to declare he would work to help Clark County prepare for the incoming Trump administration, specifically to secure funding for two toll-free bridges.

4. Cowlitz casino

(25 points)

In the coming weeks, Ilani Casino Resort is expected to hire nearly 1,000 workers ahead of its April 2017 opening.

It hasn’t been a smooth path. In 2016, the $510 million project wound up in the U.S. Court of Appeals. Opponents contended that the project is geographically misplaced and an economic drain on current businesses.

The court ruled in favor of the Cowlitz Tribe and developers Salishan-Mohegan LLC. While the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde and cardrooms in La Center hope to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the 368,000-square-foot casino is more than 80 percent complete and eyeing the spring grand opening. Ilani, the casino name announced in 2016, is the Cowlitz word for “sing.”

5. (tie) Oil trains

(23 points)

Oil trains continue to make news locally, with opponents urging officials to stop a proposal to build the nation’s largest oil-by-rail terminal at the Port of Vancouver.

But a new element was introduced this year on June 18: an on-the-track protest and mass arrests. Responding to a June 3 oil train derailment near Mosier, Ore., about 100 activists gathered in downtown Vancouver to block a railroad crossing; 21 were arrested for second-degree criminal trespass.

Meanwhile, the proposal and related issues continue to work their way through the process in Olympia. An evaluation council will make a recommendation to approve or deny the oil terminal project; then Gov. Jay Inslee will use the recommendation to decide the terminal’s fate.

5. (tie) Camas football

(23 points)

Camas beat Richland 24-14 on Dec. 3 to win the state 4A football title in Tacoma.

Coach Jon Eagle’s Papermakers finished with a perfect 14-0 record.

It was their second trip to the state finals, after losing a last-second heartbreaker in 2013. Camas reached the state semifinals in 2011 and 2012.

Camas has become a regular playoff participant by dominating locally. Camas has won 38 straight league games and has a 50-game regular-season win streak.

Quarterback Jack Colletto was voted the Associated Press Washington state player of the year for all classifications. He also was named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year.

7. Don Benton

(20 points)

State Sen. Don Benton found himself out of two jobs in a relatively short period of time. He retired from the Senate after 22 years to, he said, focus on his role as Clark County’s environmental services director. Shortly after his announcement, the county manager eliminated Benton’s department.

Long a high-profile political player, he carved out a reputation for staunchly opposing tax increases, working for veterans and for playing a key role in killing the Columbia River Crossing project. He also had a highly publicized spat with Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center.

His $110,000 county job also came with controversy. Two Republicans, sitting on what then was the three-person county commission, had Benton appointed to lead the department in 2013.

The move also cost the county $250,000 in a lawsuit, since the interim director didn’t have an opportunity to apply for the position.

8. (tie) Riverfront

(18 points)

The 32-acre swath of property along the bank of the Columbia River is set to transform into hotels, restaurants and offices. City officials and developers hope it will become an economic pulse for the region.

In 2016, the first five tenants were announced by Gramor Development, the Tualatin, Ore.-based company that has invested $1.5 billion in the project. Ground also was broken on a $17 million cable-supported pier and a 7.3-acre park.

Just upstream, the Port of Vancouver’s waterfront property, Terminal 1, unveiled the restaurant WareHouse ’23 at the Red Lion Inn at The Quay’s old site.

8. (tie) Presidential primary

(18 points)

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders drew thousands to his Vancouver campaign stop at Hudson’s Bay High School in March.

People waited hours in the rain to hear from the Democratic presidential candidate. When the gym filled to capacity, hundreds were left outside. But Sanders paused and spoke to the drenched crowd before entering the venue. An estimated 7,000 people heard his message of political revolution.

The next day, former President Bill Clinton visited Clark College in Vancouver to campaign for his wife, Hillary Clinton. The former president called the former secretary of state the best-qualified person he’s ever had a chance to vote for. The Clinton crowd, however, was significantly smaller — about 1,100 — and mellower than the younger and louder Sanders supporters.

10. Triple homicide

(16 points)

Court proceedings continue in a July triple homicide at a rural home southeast of Woodland. Brent Luyster is suspected of killing three people and trying to kill a fourth.

He has an arraignment set for Feb. 14. Luyster is due to be charged with three counts of first-degree murder, plus additional charges.

Police say he shot the four people on July 15, then left with a girlfriend who had arrived later. The shooting survivor crawled to a road, flagged down a motorist, got a ride to a convenience store and asked a clerk to call the sheriff.

After a daylong search, Luyster was found and arrested along Ocean Beach Highway, west of Longview.

The second 10 

(with points received)

Top Stories on Columbian.com 

Columbian-generated content, with number of page views and the date:

1. Three people slain near Woodland. 90,028, July 16.

2. Black lab Hunter returned to firefighter. 79,270, Aug. 21.

3. Dutch Bros. workers pray with woman. 57,685, March 22.

4. Body found at Orchards restaurant. 42,074, March 9.

5. Battle Ground boy, 3, dies from injuries. 40,258, May 24.

6. Woodland shooting suspect had trial set. 25,685, July 16.

7. John McKibbin reported missing. 25,329, March 24.

8. School employee faces porn charges. 23,981, Jan. 29.

9. Stolen motorhome shuts down I-205. 22,423, July 30.

10. ’90s Blazers’ names behind weed, brew. 20,707, Jan. 21.

11. Lead in water at schools (15).

12. Three-year-old ‘Pepe’ killed (13).

13. Two church fires (11).

14. Mayor’s salary debated (10).

15. Saga of Hunter the dog (9).

16 (tie). John McKibbin crash kills two (7).

16 (tie). Rainfall tops 100 inches (7).

16 (tie). Land-use plan adopted (7).

19 (tie). Evergreen teachers’ contract (4).

19 (tie). C-Tran launching Vine (4).

Also getting votes: Election results include Jaime Herrera Beutler’s win over Democrat Jim Moeller (3); former Superior Court Judge John Wulle charged with DUI (3); police imposter arrested (3); employment picture (2); Electric Lightwave’s $1.42 billion sale (1); Tom Mielke’s county council recall thrown out (1).

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Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter