Education leads Top 10 Stories of 2013

U-B photo illustration
Voters in 2013 were asked to pass a bond issue for Walla Walla High School, but they didn’t agree.

U-B photo illustration Voters in 2013 were asked to pass a bond issue for Walla Walla High School, but they didn’t agree.

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Results

  1. (243 points) Walla Walla Community College wins the Aspen Prize as it ties with another college as the nation’s top community college.

  2. (201 points) A bond issue vote for Walla Walla High School falls short. To find out what voters will support, the school district conducts a poll and gathers other input. The Union-Bulletin launches a survey to poll readers’ opinions about how the school district should proceed.

  3. (169) The U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear the case of the giant purple octopus. The city paints over the sign at Inland Octopus.

  4. (136) College Place sues auto dealer Mark Gilbert. More lawsuits from others follow. Gilbert files for bankruptcy.

  5. (127) The Union-Bulletin helps locate the family of Maj. Larry J. Hanley, a Vietnam War casualty whose remains were identified after more than 43 years. A huge crowd attends a local funeral service.

  6. (122) A plan to reconfigure Rose Street from four lanes to three generates opposition. The Council decides to keep the road four lanes. Several sycamore trees are removed to improve sight lines.

  7. (119) The city of Walla Walla digs into several street projects around town. It uses billboards, a website and other means of communication to keep the public up to date on progress.

  8. (98) A program that pumps liquefied carbon dioxide underground at the Boise Inc. location is the world’s first known field test of carbon storage in deep basalt formations.

  9. (83) Gail Martin, founder of Martin Archery, dies. The business is put up for sale in an attempt to keep it open.

  10. (81) The United Way of Walla Walla County selects mental health issues as a funding focus and puts $73,000 toward the problem.

  11. (77) Walla Walla Community College brings back the summer musical. The first show is “The Music Man.”

  12. (69) The state Auditor’s Office rules that the Rural Library District violated Open Public Meeting laws. The district buys land in College Place to build a library.

  13. (65) Railex adds a warehouse to facilitate wine shipments.

  14. (64) The Walla Walla County commissioners begin work on a policy to have better accounting of work hours by exempt employees after a complaint led to an investigation by the state Auditor’s Office. The Union-Bulletin reports on documents related to the complaint and the results of its investigation.

  15. (61) Genetically modified wheat found on an Eastern Oregon farm puts Northwest wheat sales in jeopardy for a time.

16 tie. (40) The Farmers Market splits into two groups — one remains downtown and the other moves to the fairgrounds.

  1. tie (40) The Farm Labor Homes is turned over to the Walla Walla Housing Authority.

  2. (39) After more than a decade of failed school funding measures in Milton-Freewater, voters approve a local option levy that will help fund programming and maintenance over the next five years.

  3. (37) Three films by Walla Walla middle school students are screened at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth in Seattle.

  4. (28) Jim Sanders, former YMCA director and co-owner of Public House 124, is charged with dumping cooking grease on the lawn of the current YMCA director’s home.

  5. (25) David Polk, the operator of the “Walla Walla Sweet Onion Burger” page on Facebook, is convicted in a child pornography case.

  6. (22) An argument between two acquaintances leads to Joshua S. White breaking into Jonathan L. Phillips’ home. Phillips shoots and kills White. It is decided the shooting was in self-defense.

  7. (18) Milton-Freewater School District puts together a plan to deal with bullying.

  8. (14) The Walla Walla Country Club files suit against PacifiCorp related to charges the company imposed when the club decided to change electricity providers.

  9. (11) A couple is wounded in a shooting at Sixth Avenue and Moore Street.

  10. (10) We-Man Vet’s Golf Inc. files for bankruptcy. The city takes over operations of Veterans Memorial Golf Course.

  11. (9) The local group Bizarre Love Triangle is featured in AMC’s “Showville” reality program.

  12. (7) A Huffington Post item on a gay slur by a staff member for state Sen. Mike Hewitt draws national attention. Hewitt counsels the staffer.

Education rose to the top of the class in the voting for the Top 10 Stories of 2013.

There were 40 valid ballots cast this year and the clear winner was the success of Walla Walla Community College, followed by the failure of the Walla Walla High School bond.

Another theme that emerged in the voting was the strong interest in streets. The controversy over proposed changes to Rose Street and the city’s efforts to improve other roads garnered enough attention to crack the list.

Here is a synopsis of the Top 10:

1 Walla Walla Community College wins the Aspen Prize as it ties with another college as the nation’s top community college.

Walla Walla Community College was honored with a share of the top prize of the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence in March.

The Aspen College Excellence Program spent months visiting campuses and gathering data to identify the top community college in the nation. WWCC split the honor with Santa Barbara (Calif.) City College, with each school taking home $400,000 in prize money.

Walla Walla Community College stood out for its record of work force training, and preparing students with skills necessary for the future’s work force demands. Its enology and viticulture, water management and wind technology programs were named specifically as innovative in training students for careers currently in high demand.

The top colleges were selected from a pool of more than 1,000 for achievements in student learning, degree and certificate completion, students securing competitive-wage jobs after college, and minority and low-income student success.

2 A bond issue vote for Walla Walla High School falls short. To find out what voters will support, the school district conducts a poll and gathers other input. The Union-Bulletin launches a survey to poll readers’ opinions about how the school district should proceed.

A $48 million bond measure to modernize Walla Walla High School failed to garner the required supermajority approval in a February election.

Within days, disappointed district officials — who had worked hard trying to convince voters to upgrade science and technology capabilities and reduce overcrowding in the school’s classrooms — held a work session hoping to find out why the measure failed and begin mapping out plans for a future attempt.

Several community members said taxes already are too high, the district should propose a project that emphasizes needs and not wants, and cited a lack of trust in the board and administration.

In June, the district and the Union-Bulletin introduced surveys to gather more specific community input.

None of the survey results indicated enough voter support for a one-shot, complete modernization as was proposed in February.

The board then examined an idea for phased-in improvements, but no decision was reached this year on when or how to proceed to another election.

3 The U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear the case of the giant purple octopus. The city paints over the sign at Inland Octopus.

After 21/2 years of swimming on borrowed time, downtown’s giant purple octopus disappeared March 28.

The city of Walla Walla had the mural painted over after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Bob Catsiff’s attempt to save it above the entrance to his leased toy store, Inland Octopus, at 7 E. Main St.

The high court’s decision not to review the case was the last of a clean sweep of legal defeats for Catsiff.

He commissioned the painting on Labor Day weekend 2010, but the city ordered him to remove it or otherwise bring it into compliance with the sign code because it was too large.

Catsiff sued, claiming the city’s order violated his constitutional right of free speech.

He lost all the way through the court process.

Meanwhile, he accrued fines totaling $90,025, which ultimately were reduced to $10,041. The settlement covered out-of-pocket costs incurred by the city plus a penalty and promoted continued operation of Catsiff’s business, the city said in a news release.

4 College Place sues auto dealer Mark Gilbert. More lawsuits from others follow. Gilbert files for bankruptcy.

In the summer of 2011, the city of College Place welcomed the opening a new Honda dealership located on an equally new road, Commercial Drive. The roadway had been built by the city through an agreement with dealership owner Mark Gilbert and other landowners in the vicinity.

The city’s agreement with Gilbert called for him to pay the city $135,000 a year over 15 years minus the amount of sales tax revenues received from the Honda dealership.

Gilbert was a well-known auto seller and the Honda store was the latest addition to a chain of dealerships that included lots in Walla Walla, Pendleton, Moses Lake and Moscow, Idaho. He had also entered into an agreement to purchase the Sallee Chevrolet dealership in Milton-Freewater.

But as 2013 proceeded, the wheels started coming off Gilbert’s multiple business ventures. College Place sued in January, alleging failure to pay for the Commercial Drive project as agreed. Other lawsuits by creditors quickly followed as well as a lawsuit by the state Attorney General’s office alleging violations of the state’s consumer protection laws. (Even before the 2013 lawsuits, Sallee Chevrolet had filed suit in 2011 in Umatilla County and then in 2012 in Walla Walla County over late and missed payments on a $1 million promissory note for the Milton-Freewater dealership.)

Although Gilbert filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March for several of his dealerships, those were later dismissed. By of the end of 2013, all of Gilbert’s dealerships have been closed and many lawsuits remain pending while others have resulted in judgments against him and his companies.

5 The Union-Bulletin helps locate the family of Maj. Larry J. Hanley, a Vietnam War casualty whose remains were identified after more than 43 years. A huge crowd attends a local funeral service.

An email to the Union-Bulletin in late May was the start of the story.

It was from Kevin Brown of Lawrenceville, N.J., who asked for help in finding the family of U.S. Air Force Capt. Larry Hanley.

Hanley, who had been raised in Walla Walla and had been shot down in 1969 while flying a combat mission over North Vietnam. His body was never recovered, and he was listed as missing in action.

Brown had a POW/MIA bracelet bearing Hanley’s name that he had worn for many years. In May he discovered a notice on the Department of Defense’s Prison of War-Missing Personnel Office website that Hanley’s remains had been identified and that a burial in Walla Walla was scheduled that summer. That news led to Brown’s email to the newspaper.

A reporter relayed Brown’s request to Jerry Cummins, a U.S. Navy veteran, AMVET member and Walla Walla City Council member. Cummins immediately began searching for Hanley’s family members and quickly located his sisters, JoAnn Aliverti of Walla Walla and Darlene Allen of Kirkland, Wash.

The news that Hanley’s remains had been identified after more than 43 years brought both grief and gladness to Hanley’s sisters and those, like Brown, who had POW/MIA bracelets with Hanley’s name.

“My word for it is bittersweet,” Aliverti said at the time.

When Hanley, who had been posthumously promoted to major, was returned to Walla Walla, local residents showed they had not forgotten him. Crowds turned out for his funeral procession through town on July 11 as well as for his burial with full military honors on July 13.

6 A plan to reconfigure Rose Street from four lanes to three generates opposition. The Council decides to keep the road four lanes. Several sycamore trees are removed to improve sight lines.

Trees, bike lanes and traffic came at odds as a result of a $1.6 million repaving project for Rose Street.

The controversy started when city engineers reported that an uncertain number of the half-century old sycamore trees lining the street would be cut down to improve visibility. Along with the proposed tree reduction, the city engineers also proposed reducing driving lanes on Rose Street to two lanes with a center turn lane and adding bike lanes on either side.

Over several months, tree lovers, bike enthusiasts, local neighbors and business owners fought over which lane configuration was best or how best to keep as many trees standing as possible.

In the end, City Council voted to keep Rose Street at the original four lanes with no bike lanes or turn lane. And six trees were cut down to improve visibility, with an additional tree removed because of infestation.

7 The city of Walla Walla digs into several street projects around town. It uses billboards, a website and other means of communication to keep the public up to date on progress.

Bolstered by funds from a voter-approved sales tax for roads and Infrastructure Repair and Replacement Funds derived from water and sewer fees, the city had its busiest road construction season in more than a decade.

Approximately $8.28 million worth of road construction took place within city limits, including a $1.6 million Rose Street repaving project and a state-funded $2.7 million project that lowered the crest of Myra Road at The Dalles Military Road by about eight feet to increase visibility and decrease hazardous conditions during inclement weather.

8 A program that pumps liquefied carbon dioxide underground at the Boise Inc. location is the world’s first known field test of carbon storage in deep basalt formations.

The Boise Inc. paper mill became the testing ground — or rather testing underground — for a scientific experiment that could hold an answer to the reduction of greenhouse gases.

A years-in-the-making test came to life in July when Battelle researchers based at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory began injecting pressurized carbon dioxide 2,700 feet below the property. It is the world’s first-known field test of carbon storage in deep basalt formations.

Every day for about three weeks, 40 metric tons of liquefied carbon dioxide were pumped about a half mile under the ground surface. About 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide were expected to be sent down before the well was capped off for monitoring.

If the liquid carbon dioxide reacts with water and basalt the way it did in numerous laboratory tests, the result could be a solution to permanently store carbon dioxide, the gas scientists most associate with climate change.

A well drilling and site characterization study had taken place at the Boise property in 2009. The permitting process after that took a little more than a year. Work stalled another 18 months due to budget constraints.

About 80 percent of the $12 million project was funded through the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory. Other financial contributors are Schlumbberger, Royal Dutch Shell, Boise Inc. and Portland General Electric.

9 Gail Martin, the founder of Martin Archery, dies. The business is put up for sale in an attempt to keep it open.

Gail Martin, the innovator who built Martin Archery from a small operation making strings and fletching arrows with his bride at their dining room table in the early 1950s into a full-blown three-generation bow manufacturer known across the globe, died in July at 89.

The death of the Archery Hall of Famer was a loss to the archery industry, but also to the company he had built.

Swimming in debt and down to six employees, the business was on the verge of closure when a new owner came forward.

In an arrangement that aimed to return the bow manufacturer to its glory days, the Port of Walla Walla purchased the Martin property for $1.3 million and immediately leased the plant to a new L.A.-based private equity firm called Diversis Capital LLC.

Under the new Martin Sports and Chief Executive Officer Rich Weatherford, the company that had a legacy as a cutting-edge designer and manufacturer began its turnaround.

By the end of November, employment was approaching 40 workers, and production had started back up with a new vision and energy.

10 The United Way of Walla Walla County selects mental health issues as a funding focus and puts $73,000 toward the problem.

In May, United Way of Walla Walla County strayed from its long-established funding path as middleman between donors and nonprofit organizations. With the new Community Impact Grant, United Way became a direct player in how $73,000 donated to United Way would be spent.

The organization’s mental-health task force recommended funding a behavioral health specialist at Family Medical Center for three years to address a “huge” lack of services in the area for those who struggle with mental illness, said Christy Druffel, executive director for United Way.

The decision came from a finding by the U.S. Department of Social and Health Services ranking Walla Walla County in the bottom fourth of Washington state counties for its paucity of mental-health professionals. In 2011, the use of emergency rooms as a stand-in for regular mental-health care racked up $1.7 million in uncollected charges at local hospitals, Druffel said in May.

The amount was the largest single sum to be granted from the local chapter’s 2013 funding goal of $445,000.

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