January

Rep. Cliff Bentz was chosen by county courts and commissions from nine Eastern Oregon counties to replace Sen. Ted Ferrioli to represent Senate District 30. Ferrioli had resigned to take a governor-appointed position with the Pacific Northwest Electric Power and Conservation Planning Council. Bentz, a Republican from Ontario, had been in the state house since 2004. Lynn Findley, the former Vale city manager, was appointed by the same group to replace Bentz as state representative for House District 60.

Bradley D. Moles, 31, John Day, was convicted of sexual abuse by a 12-person jury Jan. 17. A jury in September 2017 had failed to reach a verdict. He was sentenced Jan. 31 to 75 months in prison. Grant County Circuit Court Judge William D. Cramer Jr. denied a request to grant Moles a new trial Feb. 23. Moles submitted notice of his intent to appeal the conviction in March.

Grant School District 3 announced plans for a $932,300 seismic upgrade to Humbolt Elementary School, which was built in 1956. The project would take place in summer and include a new roof.

Thomas J. Elliott, 55, John Day, pleaded guilty Jan. 18 to first-degree manslaughter and unlawful use of a weapon in the shooting death of Todd A. Berry near Dog Creek Road on Aug. 24. He was sentenced June 26 under amended charges to 60 months in prison and ordered to pay $16,405 to a criminal injuries compensation account.

Fire destroyed a two-story home on Pine Creek Road owned by Jim and Mary Jensen on Jan. 25. The house was fully engulfed when firefighters arrived. The Jensens owned the Oxbow Trade Co. antique business in Canyon City.

February

Four Main Street businesses in John Day underwent major changes. Dave Barntish closed Prime Time Video after 30 years, Greg Armstrong began selling everything in Muzzy’s 123 Dollar Store in preparation for closing, the Eastern Oregon College of Industries and Arts College closed to reopen as a beauty salon and Sherry Dress moved her Naturally Yours Health and Wellness Center business to her home.

Predator control services returned to Grant County after last operating here in 1999. Nick Lulay was the new Wildlife Services agent, operating with funding from the county and the state.

John Day city staff proposed a housing incentive program with the goal of seeing 100 homes built in the next 20 years. The city would provide builders of new homes inside the designated district a 7 percent cash rebate and waive all system development fees.

The Forest Service released a facility master plan for the Malheur National Forest for the management of its numerous lookouts, guard stations, firefighter housing, developed recreation sites and other structures. Facing mounting deferred maintenance costs, many of the structures would be demolished, sold or left to “melt in place.” Historic structures would be protected.

John Day notified Prairie City of plans to no longer provide police services. The cost of police services and 911 dispatch were increasing faster than revenue, creating a budget crunch for John Day.

March

A petition to overturn Grant County’s ban on recreational marijuana businesses was submitted to the county clerk. Haley Olson, a manager and owner at Rocky Mountain Dispensary, gathered 293 signatures for the petition. Medical marijuana businesses had been allowed to operate in the county.

Chester’s Thriftway Operations Manager Bill Wyllie announced plans to expand the business with a variety store in the former King’s Discount Store site next door. The variety store opened in June following remodeling.

Sheriff Glenn Palmer and Civil Deputy Sally DeFord filed a lawsuit against Grant County claiming the county had a duty pay for their attorney fees in a public records case brought by The Oregonian in May 2016. The two had incurred $41,355 in attorney fees.

April

Grant County learned it would receive more than $3.7 million in federal Secure Rural Schools funding and payment in lieu of taxes. The money was earmarked for schools, roads and law enforcement. County court members noted that the inconsistency of the funding made planning difficult.

Grant County Commissioner and Prairie City Mayor Jim Hamsher filed to run against Grant County Judge Scott Myers for county court judge. If Hamsher lost, he could remain on the court as commissioner. Hamsher was in his first term as commissioner, and Myers was in his first term as judge.

Mike Durr returned from a position at the Baker City Police Department to serve as interim police chief while Chief Richard Gray was on medical leave. To address a temporary shortage of police officers, the city contracted for law enforcement services from the Grant County Sheriff’s Office. Gray later retired, and Durr took over as chief.

Following the shooting deaths at a school in Florida, the Grant School District 3 board initiated a discussion on improving security, including door locks, alarm systems, school resource officers and arming teachers. Sheriff Glenn Palmer told the board during a meeting in the Seneca School that arming teachers would deter shooters from considering those schools. While surveys indicated support by some students and staff for arming teachers, most people at an April 25 meeting opposed the idea.

Ten locals were arrested in an April 28 methamphetamine drug bust that involved law enforcement from multiple agencies serving two warrants in Mt. Vernon and one in John Day. Drugs, money, vehicles, paraphernalia and stolen firearms were seized.

The Intergovernmental Council and the 911 User Board voted to keep emergency dispatch service in Grant County and not contract services from Frontier Regional 911 in Condon. The two volunteer groups had not met regularly for years but quickly re-organized and went to work after learning John Day would no longer provide 911 dispatch service after June 2019.

May

John Day City Manager Nick Green announced that after two years of negotiations, the Grant County Digital Network Coalition had formed a partnership with the Oregon Telephone Corporation to promote improved internet service in Grant County. The coalition planned to apply for a $3 million federal grant, using part of the $1.8 million legislative appropriation it received in 2017 as a match. The goal was to begin running a fiber line from John Day to Burns.

The Grant School District 3 board selected Bret Uptmor to replace Curt Shelley as district superintendent starting July 1. The board received 18 applications for the position. Uptmor had been the superintendent of the Wallowa School District since 2011.

After taking input at three public meetings about school security, the Grant School District 3 board reached a consensus not to arm teachers. The board agreed to pursue other options and not make that policy change. John Day offered to provide a school resource officer if the school district would pay half the costs, and Chief Mike Durr became the SRO at the beginning of the school year.

A Grant County ordinance banning recreational marijuana businesses was overturned in the May 15 election with 53 percent of the vote. Incumbent Scott Myers defeated Jim Hamsher 1,653-1,584 in the race for county judge. Sam Palmer and Gordon Larson were the top two candidates out of six candidates for county commissioner and would compete again in the fall election. Turnout was 65.8 percent.

June

A team of dragon dancers from Portland performed at a dinner celebrating the 140th anniversary of the Kam Wah Chung historic site in John Day. Former First Lady Mary Oberst and other notables also attended.

After two advisory committees reviewed the plan, John Day City Council approved a housing incentive program to encourage new home construction and remodeling. The first payments were expected to take place in late 2019.

Experts at the Northwest Coordinating Center in Portland forecast elevated fire dangers in Eastern Oregon, following a continuing trend of hot, dry summers. Smoke from fires in Central Oregon began to fill the John Day Valley.

The John Day City Council chose a design for the city’s new wastewater treatment plant that would use hydroponics to reclaim water. Engineering consultant Anderson & Perry presented three options for the facility, but constricted geography ruled out land application and cost ruled out mechanical treatment.

July

Commissioner Boyd Britton stepped down as Grant County commissioner after 15 years. The court appointed attorney Rob Raschio to fill the position for the remainder of Britton’s term. Britton closed down his welding shop and moved to Arizona.

Rough-in work for a new bike park on a hillside overlooking the Seventh Street sports complex was completed, with single-track trails of varying difficulty and flow features all part of the design.

Local law enforcement announced Terry Smith, 67, and Sharon Smith, 65, were missing following a fire at their remote cabin on Nan’s Rock Road south of Mt. Vernon. Sheriff Glenn Palmer considered their disappearance suspicious, saying the Smiths were a social couple but had left no messages. In addition, the couple’s pickup truck was missing. Palmer said no evidence of human remains had been found. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and state police assisted the local sheriff’s office in the investigation.

The city of John Day announced plans to sell park land around the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site, including the Gleason Pool, to the state so an interpretive center could be constructed. City Manager Nick Green recommended the city hire consultants to help with planning for a new aquatics facility to replace Gleason Pool.

The John Day City Council approved a notice of intent to purchase three greenhouse bays from Euromex for $337,500 capable of producing 30 tons of garden vegetables per year. The sale of the produce would be used to pay off the loan for the greenhouse.

August

Lonestar was the headliner at the Grant County Fair. The theme of the fair was “Boots, Chaps and Cowboy Hats.”

Prairie City officials declared a water emergency as the city’s Dixie Creek water source dried up. Tenders began delivering water from John Day, and Mayor Jim Hamsher drove around the city looking for violators of the water restrictions. Debt on past water projects made it difficult for the city to find financing for a new source of water at Fainman Springs. The state later agreed to provide the city with $1.5 million in loans and grants to develop the springs.

A plea agreement was reached for the Oct. 16, 2017, shooting incident at Dixie Campground. Kevin J. Rapp pleaded guilty to first degree attempted assault and possession of methamphetamine. The victim had been shot twice in the head. Rapp later was sentenced to 85 months in prison and $300 in restitution.

September

Former Grant County Judge Mark Webb filed challenges to a 2013 county measure demanding the United Nations not act within the county, a 2013 county measure petitioning Congress to transfer title of public lands inside Grant County to the county and a 2013 ordinance stating that all roads, trails, stock driveways and byways crossing public lands in Grant County be kept open to the public.

The Grant County Court approved a settlement agreement with Sheriff Glenn Palmer and Civil Deputy Sally DeFord to pay $14,000 of the legal expenses they incurred while defending themselves against a public records lawsuit brought by The Oregonian.

Grant County District Attorney Jim Carpenter learned that a $167,000 per year federal Violence Against Women Act grant would not be renewed. The grant had been used to pay for a deputy district attorney, an intervention specialist and a director at the Heart of Grant County. The information coincided with Deputy District Attorney Mara Houck’s departure announcement.

October

The Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision drew 341 objections. Concerns included timber harvest, grazing restrictions, access changes and combining plans for the Malheur, Wallowa-Whitman and Umatilla national forests in one document. Objectors included the Grant County Court, Eastern Oregon Counties Association, Sheriff Glenn Palmer, Blue Mountains Forest Partners and the Grant County Stockgrowers.

Sheriff Glenn Palmer announced that the remains of Terry Smith had been identified at the burned cabin on Nan’s Rock Road and the missing couple’s truck had been found in Boise, Idaho. Earlier in September, Palmer reported that evidence collected at the site of the missing couple appeared to be of human origin, and he declared the case to be a homicide.

November

Sam Palmer defeated Gordon Larson in the race for Grant County commissioner with 54.3 percent of the vote to Larson’s 45.2 percent. Jim Hamsher won a write-in campaign to retain his position as mayor of Prairie City. Incumbents Paul Smith and Gregg Haberly along with appointee Shannon Adair were elected to the John Day City Council. Three new city councilors were elected in Prairie City: Scott Officer, Chase McClung and Tisha Packard. The winners in the Mt. Vernon City Council election were Bryan Montague and Mitchel Wilson. The winners in the Long Creek City Council election were Denise Porter and Alvin Hunt.

A 48-year-old man in Mt. Vernon was arrested and charged with the rape and kidnapping of a 15-year-old girl from Idaho. Andy Vogt was later extradited to Idaho where he faced charges with life sentences. The Ada County Sheriff’s Office alleged Vogt forced the girl to leave Eagle, Idaho, with him.

A house fire on Skyview Drive was visible from much of downtown John Day. The garage and a bedroom of the Mosiers’ home was completely destroyed, but Dale and Shelly Mosier escaped unharmed along with their dog.

Grant County could see a large influx of tourism next year, Don Merritt, curator at the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site in John Day, told the Grant County Chamber of Commerce. Film crews from China and Singapore shot video at the site during the summer for documentaries to be shown on the Chinese and U.S. networks of the Discovery Channel. While the state had plans to purchase adjacent land from the city of John Day for an improved heritage site, a new interpretative center to handle all those new tourists might not be completed for four to six years, Merritt said.

The city of John Day’s announcement that Gleason Pool would remain open only two more seasons raised public concerns. Options for replacing the pool ranged from $4.3 million for an outdoor pool to $15 million for an indoor aquatics facility. The city hoped to hand over pool design, construction, financing and operation to a countywide agency.

December

Sheriff Glenn Palmer announced that the History Channel had expressed interest in a 20-year-old cold case in Grant County and offered to pay for additional analysis to identify the remains. The body of a man was found in Vance Creek in 1998, and the case was considered a homicide.

The Grant County Digital Network Coalition learned it had not been selected to receive a $3 million federal Community Connect grant needed to construct a fiber cable system from the John Day Fire Hall to Seneca. The coalition continued to look for grants needed to improve internet access in the county.

The body of a missing hiker was recovered from Fields Peak after several days of single-digit temperatures and strong winds. Lucas F. Cavalle, 38, Mt. Vernon, planned to hike from near the summit 9 miles down to his home. A large search and rescue effort was mounted, both on land and in the air.

Financial hurdles impacted plans for three John Day city projects. Reluctance by Oregon State University to support construction of two more bays at the city’s greenhouse project made a fourth and fifth bay unsustainable. Extremely high operation and maintenance costs appeared to rule out an indoor aquatics facility. And the state’s decision to fund only one $100,000 street project instead of two delayed the extension of Valley View Drive to Patterson Bridge Road for now.

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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