Storms, Vaping, Homelessness, and Walk-Outs Just Some Of 2019's Headlines

Dec 29, 2019

As 2019 winds down, it’s time to reflect on some of the big news stories we covered across Eugene-Springfield and the region. KLCC’s Brian Bull has this year-end review.

Images from 2019, including 5th Street Expansion; Global Climate Strike; CAHOOTS at 30; Wicks Medal Ceremony; Walk Out for Education rally; Chief Skinner and Mayor Vinis address homelessness; and vaping.
Credit Brian Bull, Elizabeth Gabriel / KLCC

If there were any stories that packed a literal whallop, it’d be the late February storms.  Over two days, 18 inches of snow fell across the region…which felled trees, snarled traffic, and put thousands of people in the dark for days. Many government offices and schools closed while residents and road crews dug out.

An Amtrak train even got stuck in Oakridge for 36 hours before crawling into Eugene.

Emily Wyrick, stranded Amtrak passenger with a serious need for nachos.
Credit Rachael McDonald / KLCC

“When I get to Portland, I’m going straight to the airport. I don’t care if I have to stay there overnight," passenger Emily Wyrick told KLCC.  "I just want to get on a flight home. So that’s my number one priority.

"Then once I get home, once all of this is done, if there is time, I’m going to get the biggest plate of nachos you can imagine and just eat it.”

In all, $30 million in storm damage was tallied in Lane and Douglas Counties.

Thankfully, fire season wasn’t as intense as it was in 2018.  But there was the Milepost 97 Fire. Kyle Reed of the Douglas Forest Protective Association spoke to KLCC after the fire grew to 6000 acres in late July.

A large plane drops fire retardant against the Milepost 97 fire.
Credit Inciweb

“We’ve got seven helicopters working on the fire, two large air tankers and then two single-engine air tankers," said Reed.  "And they’re supporting the fire fighters on the ground who are trying to work in and round, putting lines in on this fire.”

Ultimately, the Milepost 97 Fire burned more than 13,000 acres and cost $20 million in damages.  It was caused by an illegal campfire.

Not all disasters cause smoke or block roads. Homelessness continues to be a major issue in Oregon, and the website security.org declared Eugene the American city with the worst homelessness rate when adjusted for population.  Such rankings irk local officials, including EPD Chief, Chris Skinner.

A homeless man sleeps in the shade, outside the summer heat.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

“I really struggle when someone comes up to me and says, “Such and such organization identifies you as #1 per capita in homeless”. Which may or may not be true," Skinner told KLCC in an in-studio interview. 

"We know we have an issue.  We know that we have a very difficult problem to solve.”

One service well-versed with the homeless and the issues they face is Crisis Assistance Helping Out On the Streets (CAHOOTS).  It turned 30 in July.  They’ve only continued to expand, as does demand across Eugene-Springfield.

Crisis worker Kimber Haws: “They’re sending us to a disorderly subject at 13th and Alder 711.”

Medic Daniel Felt: “Copy, can you advise if this is the same subject patrol was out with earlier, the one who was throwing feces?”

CAHOOTS medic Daniel Felts (second from left) and crisis worker Kimber Haws (center) talk to a distraught woman to convince her to visit a counseling center as two EPD officers look on.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

CAHOOTS is an offshoot of the White Bird Clinic, which marked its Golden Anniversary this year. The Oregon Country Fair also turned 50. It celebrated with more of its trademark counterculture arts and music venues.

Singers: “Raise it up! Raise it up! We risin’ up! Black lives matter…”

A large puppet joins the crowds at the 50th Oregon Country Fair this year.
Credit Rachael McDonald / KLCC

The fair saw more than 58,000 attendees, a definite boost to Lane County’s fortunes.  This year, tourism officials announced record revenues for the county exceeding $1 billion.

There were departures this year. Oregon’s sole Republican Congressman, Greg Walden, announced he’s NOT running for office anymore, prompting several aspiring candidates explore a run. And Eugene City Manager Jon Ruiz announced he’s retiring, after 11 years.

“There’s a great foundation built," Ruiz told KLCC.  "And I think to take it into the next phase is going to take somebody that’ll be here three to five years and have some real consistency of leadership. So for me, having gotten it to this place feels really good.”

Local officials and Obie Companies executives take turns with a golden jackhammer to mark the 5th Street expansion in February 2019.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

The U of O continues to build up its track and field, as well as research facilities. At the site of the 5th Street Inn and Market, a golden jackhammer heralded the beginning of an expansion that’ll lead to several hotels, and increased office and retail space.

Gold Jackhammer AMBI: [JACKHAMMER RATTLES, CHEERS] "There! Ground broken!"

47 vaping-related deaths – including 2 in Oregon - all but extinguished the vaping industry in 2019.  Sales of vaping products plummeted, with vendors nationwide defending their merchandise.  Some have called for tighter regulation of the industry.

Thousands of voices called for greater support for Oregon schools, leading to many districts staging a Walk Out Day in May. 

Dressed in red, teachers, administrators, students, and supporters turned out for rallies, demanding more state funding to shrink class sizes and tackle issues such as mental health.

Educators, students, and supporters gather in downtown Eugene to show support for more school funding.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

Oregon Republicans in the legislature held their own walk-outs…twice. Opposing a bill for a new business tax, they walked out in May.  They came back and the new tax passed, but not after Democrats agreed to axe bills on gun restrictions and vaccines. In turn, the Republicans agreed not to walk out anymore.

But come June they did again, to block a vote on a bill that would charge polluters for greenhouse gas emissions. The legislation ended up dying.

Student activists at the September 2019 global climate strike event in downtown Eugene.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

Thousands of students walked out for four Global Climate Strike events in 2019 like this one in Eugene.

Global Climate Chants: “What do we want?” (Climate justice!) “When do we want it?” (Now!)

The activists called for an end to industrial plant emissions and pipeline development.  A youth-driven climate lawsuit against the government is still held up in court. 

And on that note of patience…after 70 years, George Wickes received a Gold Medal of Honor for his spy work during World War II.  Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio bestowed the award upon Wickes in a special ceremony in February.

DeFazio:  “George, on behalf of the U.S. Congress…and the people of the United States...with our incredible gratitude for your extraordinary service: the Congressional gold medal.” (APPLAUSE)

Wickes medal ceremony presentation.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

On that note, it’s an honor to have you as our listener. Thanks for reliving just some of the stories KLCC covered in 2019.  With the Oregon Ducks facing off against the Wisconsin Badgers in the Rose Bowl New Year’s Day, 2020 is already off to a lively start!

Copyright 2019, KLCC.

Credits: KLCC News staff for audio and photographs.

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