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News / Clark County News

Top stories of 2022: Blue ripple holds off red wave

Between politics, homelessness, buildings old and new, Clark County residents had plenty to talk about last year

The Columbian
Published: January 1, 2023, 6:05am
11 Photos
Firefighter Leo Gonzalez, center, sprays smoldering ground in the Camas Creek watershed while working with colleagues to tackle the Nakia Fire on Oct.
Firefighter Leo Gonzalez, center, sprays smoldering ground in the Camas Creek watershed while working with colleagues to tackle the Nakia Fire on Oct. 19, 2022. Photo Gallery

Few observers gave an unknown Democratic auto shop owner from Skamania County any chance of capturing the reliably Republican 3rd Congressional District in last year’s midterm election.

But as a new year dawns, Marie Gluesenkamp Perez is about to be sworn in as a member of the 118th United States Congress in what Columbian staffers have rated as 2022’s top story.

The year also saw a small wildfire blow up into a major event that prompted widespread evacuations in eastern Clark County. It saw the fatal shooting of an off-duty Vancouver police officer by a Clark County sheriff’s deputy. And it saw the demolition of several long-standing landmarks.

Continuing stories were also significant, including work to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge, efforts to address homelessness and skyrocketing housing prices, and the drive to restore federal tribal recognition to the Chinook people.

Readers’ Poll

Columbian readers vote for the top 10 stories of 2022 in Clark County.

1. 3rd Congressional District flips: JHB out, MGP in.

2. Nakia Creek Fire burns 2,000 acres in Clark, Skamania counties.

3. Interstate 5 Bridge replacement moves forward.

4. Clark County rents skyrocket.

5. (tie) Homelessness/high rents/housing shortage

5. (tie) Janitor in Vancouver schools pleads guilty to 137 counts of voyeurism.

5. (tie) Refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan resettle in Vancouver and Clark County.

5. (tie) Clark County sheriff’s deputy fatally shoots off-duty Vancouver police officer Donald Sahota.

5. (tie) Safe Stay Communities in Vancouver and Clark County succeeding, with some controversy.

10. Big old buildings keep coming down: Red Lion at the Quay, Tower Mall, Academy smokestack.

It was a busy year with plenty to talk about.

No 1: 3rd District flips

In an unforeseen turn for Washington’s historically red 3rd Congressional District, rural Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez triumphed by flipping the district in one of the country’s biggest midterm upsets.

Perez, D-Stevenson, maintained a lead of 160,314 votes, or 50.14 percent, over Donald Trump-endorsed Joe Kent, R-Yacolt, who had 157,685 votes, or 49.31 percent. She will succeed Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who filled the district seat in 2010 and has represented the region ever since.

Both political experts and analysis tools projected that Kent, a former Green Beret, would be one of many Republicans nationwide to outperform Democrats during midterm elections. Instead, reality showed that Perez, co-owner of a Portland auto shop who campaigned on “fixing things” for Southwest Washington, defeated her opponent — a victory Perez attributed to support from moderate Republicans.

—Lauren Ellenbecker

No. 2: Nakia Creek Fire

An otherwise-mild fire year gave east Clark County residents a late-season scare when the Nakia Creek Fire sparked near Larch Mountain.

Residents in Camas and surrounding communities spotted flames in the remote forest area Oct. 9. It remained relatively small, with a few hundred homes under a Level 1 — Be Ready evacuation warning throughout the week.

But the following weekend, the fire jumped containment lines and spread tenfold to about 1,500 acres amid a red-flag warning for strong east winds. Nearly 30,000 residents were under evacuation warnings while officials struggled to regain control of the blaze.

Once an incident-management team from Oregon arrived, the increased resources allowed firefighters to quickly line the fire and return people to their homes. All evacuation warnings were lifted Oct. 20.

No homes were damaged. Officials are looking for people of interest who they believe sparked the fire by lighting pyrotechnic devices in the area, despite a burn ban.

— Becca Robbins

No. 3: Homelessness and the high cost of housing

Housing costs in Clark County have surged, with fair market rent for a one-bedroom apartment reaching $1,610 in fiscal year 2023 — more than double what it was 10 years ago. Clark County residents are feeling the squeeze, and many are finding themselves homeless or at risk of homelessness for the first time.

Last February’s Point in Time Count conducted by Council for the Homeless found a 21 percent increase in people experiencing homelessness in the county compared with 2020. Affordable housing, meanwhile, is hard to find. People face long waitlists and low vacancy rates for subsidized apartments.

Vancouver’s Affordable Housing Fund levy, which is set to expire at the end of 2023 unless voters renew it in February’s special election, has funded 405 shelter beds and 1,061 affordable housing units in the past six years, helping address the deficit between supply and demand.

—Kelsey Turner

No. 4: Sahota shooting

Vancouver police Officer Donald Sahota was mistakenly shot and killed Jan. 29 at his home near Battle Ground by a Clark County sheriff’s deputy during a manhunt for a robbery suspect.

Deputies were pursuing Julio Segura, 21, of Yakima, from Orchards before he ran from his immobilized car to Sahota’s house.

Sahota, 52, who was off duty, struggled with Segura in his driveway and was stabbed three times. Sahota was pursuing Segura toward his house when he was shot by Deputy Jonathan Feller.

Although Sahota was off duty when he was killed, the department said the shooting was its first line-of-duty death since the agency’s inception in 1883.

The shooting investigation is under review by a panel of prosecutors to determine if Feller should face criminal charges.

Stay informed on what is happening in Clark County, WA and beyond for only

Segura is facing murder and attempted murder charges, among others. His trial is set for later this year in Clark County Superior Court.

— Jessica Prokop

No. 5: Safe stay communities expand in Vancouver

Vancouver opened its second Safe Stay Community for people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in 2022 after finding success with its first site. The shelter villages, operated by Outsiders Inn and Living Hope Church, each have 24/7 on-site staff and can house up to 40 people.

The first site, called The Outpost, saw a 30 percent reduction in police calls and officer-initiated visits within a 500-foot radius in its first six months. Gov. Jay Inslee visited The Outpost in October, lauding Vancouver’s efforts to address homelessness as a model for the state.

A third proposed site at a vacant lot downtown stirred controversy among neighbors and local business owners, some of whom fear the shelter community will hurt their businesses or property values. After a six-week public engagement period, Vancouver City Council gave city officials the green light to move ahead with the 415 W. 11th St. location. The city expects the site to open in January.

—Kelsey Turner

No. 6: Interstate Bridge replacement

The Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project made significant progress in 2022, most significantly the unanimous endorsement of the modified locally preferred alternative — an initial agreed-upon set of components to be studied further — by all eight partner agencies in July.

The estimated $5.5 billion to $7.5 billion project is not without controversy, however. Topics like the extension of light rail to Vancouver, tolling, and the project’s size and scope continue to be hotly contested.

In 2023, Interstate 5 Bridge Replacement Program officials will appear before the Oregon Legislature to ask for $1 billion in state funding, which would match the commitment of the lawmakers’ counterparts in Washington. The officials also will apply for two more federal grants and publish a supplemental draft environmental impact statement, taking a giant leap toward their target of starting construction in 2025.

— William Seekamp

No. 7: Landmarks demolished

Clark County lost a few historic structures in 2022, including the Providence Academy smokestack, the Vancouver Tower Mall and the Red Lion at the Quay. They were 112, 52 and 62 years old, respectively.

top stories of the past

The No. 1 story of the year for the past 10 years:

2012: Bridge height snafu wounds Columbia River Crossing project.

2013: Columbia River Crossing project dealt death blow by Washington Senate Republicans.

2014: Voters approve home-rule charter, changing county government.

2015: Affordable housing an increasing problem in Clark County.

2016: Affordable housing continues to be a major problem.

2017: Wildfires singe Columbia River Gorge; largest is started by Vancouver teen.

2018: Statewide teachers strikes include seven local districts.

2019: Measles outbreak in Clark County among worst in U.S.

2020: COVID-19 pandemic; local cases; vaccines.

2021: Weather extremes.

They’re places of countless memories for locals, many of whom felt sorrow at their demolition, and the stories about them were some of the most read of 2022.

“There’s always going to be emotions around the loss of a building that the community identifies with,” said Clark County Historical Museum Executive Director Bradley Richardson.

All three demolitions were tied to new building developments happening either in the old structures’ spots or just next to them.

With the help of Richardson and the museum, the structures are memorialized through pictures, stories and other archives. Also, some of the materials — such as old bricks or wooden beams — were repurposed for other use.

—Will Campbell

No. 8: Ukrainian refugees arrive

Shortly after the war in Ukraine began, Sergey Kushnarenko, his pregnant wife Sofia and their 2-year-old daughter Ellen fled the country, after watching the city around them crumble.

With the help of hundreds of volunteers, the family traveled by train through Moldova and Romania before taking a train to Budapest. From there, they secured a plane to Mexico before crossing the U.S. border and settling in Vancouver, where they had connected with ministers at The Father’s House Church.

Volunteers from all over the world stepped up to help Ukrainian refugees as the war continued. Veronika Kuzmenko was one of the volunteers from Vancouver. She was born in Ukraine, where she lived until the fall of the Soviet Union, when her family moved to America.

With the war still raging in Ukraine, refugees continue to come to the United States, and organizations continue to raise funds to support them.

—Nika Bartoo-Smith

No. 9: Chinook tribal members seek recognition

Whenever Vancouver resident Sam Robinson appears at a public event in his distinctive cone-shaped Chinook hat to sing, drum and tell stories, what seems like a broadly cultural moment is something else, too: political protest.

Robinson is vice chairman of the Chinook Indian Nation, a lower Columbia tribe that has appealed to the U.S. government for official recognition for decades. Members of the tribe demonstrated on Officer’s Row in November, pressing the local congressional delegation to support federal recognition for the Chinook.

Without federal recognition, the approximately 3,000 members of the Chinook Indian Nation enjoy no benefits or legal protections as American Indians: no support for housing, child welfare, health care (including COVID-19 help), mental health and addiction treatment, college scholarship funds or even coastal tsunami infrastructure upgrades.

All of these things keep tribe members in poor health and poverty, they argue. Chinook tribal chairman Tony Johnson has called the status quo nothing short of genocide.

—Scott Hewitt

No. 10: Costco coming to Ridgefield

The city of Ridgefield stirred folks up with its announcement last summer that construction on a new Costco Wholesale in the city was set to start next year.

The new, 151,000-square-foot warehouse store will be along Interstate 5, just north of Pioneer Street. It’s expected to bring 300 to 400 jobs to the community.

In the fall, Ridgefield’s city council unanimously approved adding Costco to its economic catalyst program. This allows the city to waive land-use planning fees, building permit fees, civil engineering fees and traffic impact fees. The total waived: up to $2.5 million.

The city maintains that the new store’s financial benefit will outweigh the fees waived. A February study showed the development will bring in $134,000 a year in property taxes and $5.6 million in sales tax revenue, of which Ridgefield will receive $687,000.

This will be the third Costco in Clark County; the others are on Northeast 84th Street in Vancouver and on Southeast First Street in Camas.

— Sarah Wolf