The latest news stories and stories of interest in the Rogue Valley from the digital home of Southern Oregon, from Wynne Broadcasting and RogueValleyMagazine.com
Wildfires destroyed thousands of homes across Oregon this year. The bulk of them — 2,400 residential units — were located in Jackson County, where almost 300 families have requested help with housing from FEMA.
The county will be the staging ground where FEMA will deliver trailers that will then go to families across the county and the state in the coming weeks.
At a press conference at the Jackson County Courthouse on Monday, FEMA spokesman Toby Rice said his agency is prioritizing families with the highest needs. Its staff are speaking with families directly to find the best locations for their trailers.
“Sometimes they’ll be purchased and [delivered] directly to sites,” Rice said. “Ideally for owners, if they’re their private property has room for a unit that could be appropriate, that would be a priority.”
FEMA staffers have also been trying to find rental vacancies for displaced families, but that’s been a challenge in a region that was already struggling with a vacancy rate close to 0% before the Almeda Fire destroyed 2,400 homes.
Local officials are looking at other ways to provide transitional housing, including retrofitting existing buildings. John Vial, director of the Emergency Operations Center for wildfires, says the Army Corps of Engineers has a few buildings in mind, including vacant dormitories owned by Southern Oregon University.
“They looked at other buildings like the Elks Lodge, the Key Bank and an old hotel here in the valley,” Vial said at the press conference. “They’re looking at how much would it cost to retrofit those facilities, and how quickly could we get it done, and is that a viable alternative?”
All direct housing assistance from FEMA is set to expire 18 months after a federal disaster declaration. In Oregon, that expiration date is March 15, 2022.
Meanwhile, the American Red Cross is providing emergency housing to 512 people in 23 different hotels, as well as 86 people at RV parks. The organization has a contract with the state of Oregon to provide this housing until the end of this year. Vial said local officials don’t yet know what will happen to those families after that assistance expires.
Around the State of Oregon
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Monday put the National Guard on standby for a 48-hour period around Election Day and used her executive authority to activate a unified command of state troopers, sheriff’s deputies and Portland police to handle any protests. Portland has seen near nightly protests for five months after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and many demonstrations end in vandalism, arson and violent clashes with officers. President Donald Trump’s call for a crackdown on protests in Democratic-led cities has attracted right-wing groups to the city for “law and order” rallies and pro-Trump events. The unified command will begin at 5 p.m. Monday and end at 5 p.m. Wednesday. It can be extended if necessary, Brown said.
The Fremont-Winema National Forest has Christmas tree permits now available, according to a news release. Permits cost $5 and are nonrefundable. A maximum of five permits can be purchased and can be used through December 25. The permits are available for purchase from several vendors in Lake and Klamath counties, online through www.Recreation.gov, and by mail from all Fremont-Winema National Forest offices. Each permit is valid to cut one tree and must be secured to the tree in a place visible during transport of the tree from the forest. Christmas tree permits from the Fremont-Winema National Forest are valid for use on the Forest in Klamath and Lake Counties. It is the responsibility of the cutter to ensure they are not getting their tree from private, state or other federal lands. Christmas trees cannot be harvested in Congressionally-designated Wilderness Areas, active timber sales, developed recreation sites or tree plantations.
The number of unemployed Oregonians stuck in the backlog for adjudicating claims may be more than twice as large as the state has said, according to a deposition filed Friday as part of a class-action lawsuit. In weekly calls with the media, the Oregon Employment Department has claimed that it is steadily whittling down the adjudication backlog from 52,000 at the end of September to about 42,000 in late October. In an Oct. 16 deposition filed in connection with the lawsuit, though, unemployment insurance division director Lindsi Leahy said the actual number may be as high 96,212. Employment department Director David Gerstenfeld said last week that the state hopes to clear its adjudication backlog by the end of the year. However, the higher tally suggests that at the current pace of adjudicating claims the work may not be done until sometime well into 2021.
Nike Inc. will lay off at least 700 workers, according to a notice filed with local and state officials.
The national sportswear giant said the update reflects “the number of individuals to be permanently separated” from its workforce at its world headquarters just outside Beaverton, Oregon.
None of the workers being laid off are members of a labor union, the notice added.
The notice was submitted under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, which requires the government to be notified of major layoffs. The company also announced layoffs last summer.
In Springfield, authorities said Monday that they were aware of a report of voter intimidation over the weekend. According to a letter sent to multiple media outlets by Mary B. McCord, legal director of Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, armed groups turned some voters away at a ballot drop box near a water park in Lane County.
In a press conference Monday, state police Superintendent Terrie Davie acknowledged the incident, saying, “There was an incident down in Springfield over the weekend.” She said local law enforcement was “aware of it and they’re working with the state police in that area and so is the county.” Springfield police said a Patriotic Trump 2020/Make Oregon RED Rally was held in Lively Park on Sunday.
PORTLAND, Ore.— a former civilian program manager for the Oregon National Guard’s Oregon Sustainment Maintenance Site (OSMS) was sentenced to federal prison today for making false statements in representing the operational status of military equipment used to maintain the U.S. Army’s war-ready posture and billing for $6 million in repairs that were never done, announced U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams.
Dominic Caputo, 49, was sentenced to one year and a day in federal prison and three years’ supervised release.
U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams said “This criminal investigation and prosecution demonstrates why misrepresenting the availability of essential equipment to the Department of Defense is a serious offense and will be punished accordingly”.
“Mr. Caputo’s scheme to defraud the Department of Defense (DoD) violated the trust afforded to him by the Oregon National Guard, threatened the integrity of the DoD acquisition process, and wasted taxpayer money,” said Bryan D. Denny, Special Agent in Charge of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Western Field Office. “This investigation is yet another example of our agents and law enforcement partners working together to uncover corruption and protect taxpayers’ dollars entrusted to the DoD.”
“Americans rightly expect that those supporting our armed forces do so with pride and integrity, not indifference and dishonesty,” said Renn Cannon, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon. “We thank all of our law enforcement and military partners for working together to bring a resolution in this case and ensure the future safety of our troops in the field,”
During sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge Karin Immergut ordered Caputo to pay $2.6 million in restitution, the amount of overbillings for labor that was never performed by the Oregon National Guard employees at OSMS.