The latest news stories and stories of interest in the Rogue Valley from the digital home of Southern Oregon, from Wynne Broadcasting’s RogueValleyMagazine.com
Thursday, February 25, 2021
Rogue Valley Weather
Today- Mostly cloudy, then gradually becoming sunny, with a high near 52. Light and variable wind.
Friday- A 40 percent chance of showers. Snow level 2200 feet rising to 3200 feet in the afternoon. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 50. West northwest wind 3 to 6 mph.
Saturday- A 50 percent chance of showers. Snow level 2200 feet rising to 3000 feet in the afternoon. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 49. Northwest wind around 6 mph.
Sunday- Mostly sunny, with a high near 57.
Monday– A chance of rain, mainly before 4pm. Snow level 2700 feet rising to 3800 feet in the afternoon. Partly sunny, with a high near 51.
Oregon reports 437 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, 32 new deaths
There are 32 new COVID-19 related deaths in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 2,194. The Oregon Health Authority reported 437 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 bringing the state total to 154,062.
The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Baker (6), Benton (22), Clackamas (38), Clatsop (6), Columbia (10), Coos (16), Crook (8), Curry (1), Deschutes (28), Douglas (28), Jackson (27), Jefferson (7), Josephine (20), Klamath (4), Lane (33), Lincoln (2), Linn (6), Malheur (3), Marion (33), Morrow (5), Multnomah (55), Polk (11), Sherman (1), Tillamook (3), Umatilla (15), Union (1), Wasco (1), Washington (41) and Yamhill (6).
Weekly COVID-19 data and outbreak reports
The Oregon Health Authority’s COVID-19 Weekly Report, released today, shows sharp decreases in daily cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the previous week.
OHA reported 2,260 new daily cases of COVID-19 during the week of Monday, Feb. 15 through Sunday, Feb. 21 — a 35% decrease from last week. New COVID-19 related hospitalizations fell 42%, dropping from 272 to 159.
COVID-19 related deaths also decreased from 114 to 17, which represents the lowest weekly death toll since the week of June 29–July 5.
There were 70,200 tests for COVID-19 for the week of Feb. 14 through Feb. 20, which represents a steep decline from the previous week. The percentage of positive tests was 3.5%.
People age 70 and older have accounted for 77% of deaths associated with the virus.
Today’s COVID-19 Weekly Outbreak Report shows 74 active COVID-19 outbreaks in senior living communities and congregate living settings, with three or more confirmed cases and one or more COVID-19 related deaths.
Vaccinations in Oregon
Today, OHA reported that 22,406 new doses of COVID-19 vaccinations were added to the state immunization registry. Of this total, 14,502 doses were administered on Feb. 23 and 7,904 were administered on previous days but were entered into the vaccine registry on Feb. 23.
Cumulative daily totals can take several days to finalize because providers have 72 hours to report doses administered and technical challenges have caused many providers to lag in their reporting. OHA has been providing technical support to vaccination sites to improve the timeliness of their data entry into the state’s ALERT Immunization Information System (IIS).
Oregon has now administered a cumulative total of 858,481 first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines. To date, 1,133,695 doses of vaccine have been delivered to sites across Oregon. These data are preliminary and subject to change. OHA’s dashboards provide regularly updated vaccination data, and Oregon’s dashboard has been updated today.
OHA publishes new web tool listing vaccine providers
OHA has added a new dashboard tool showing sites verified by the Oregon Immunization Program to receive and administer COVID-19 vaccines.
Being displayed on this dashboard does not mean sites have received COVID-19 vaccine doses, are administering COVID-19 vaccines onsite or have COVID-19 vaccines in their inventory. The new dashboard tool shows progress in enrolling potential COVID-19 vaccine providers across the state.
The tool is not meant to be used for scheduling. Go to the COVID-19 vaccine webpage to learn more about vaccinations, to sign up for eligibility notifications and to find vaccination providers in your county.
Jackson County to Distribute PPE to Local Businesses Again
Business Oregon and the Jackson County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is distributing another allotment of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to Jackson County Businesses to help curb the current surge of COVID-19 in our community.
The distribution center has been set up at the Jackson County Expo at 1 Peninger Road, Central Point, Oregon 97502. The center will be open from March 1-3 and open from 7:30 am to 10:30 am each day.
Please enter at Gate 3.
“Business Oregon has provided more PPE, and the Jackson County Emergency Operations Center team will distribute it free of charge to Oregon-based businesses,” noted Helen Funk of the Jackson County Emergency Operations Center.
The PPE is available to all Jackson County businesses and has been
pre-packaged for no-contact distribution. Packages include a supply of PPE based on the size of your company:
- Surgical masks
- 2 L Pump Sanitizer
- Sanitizing wipes
- Gloves (non-sterile) Med & Large
If you have questions or need to coordinate a pick-up, please contact the Jackson County Expo at (541) 774-8270 or email JC_EOC_Logistics@jacksoncounty.org. — https://jacksoncountyor.org/Whats-New/News/evr/1/ppe-distributed-to-local-businesses-9
Jackson County Parks to Manage Joseph H. Stewart Park beginning April 1, 2021
The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and Jackson County Parks have agreed that the management of Joseph H. Stewart State Recreation Area will be transferred to Jackson County Parks April 1, 2021. The county will manage the day-use area, campground and Lost Lake Reservoir marina operations for the next two years, with an option to renew the agreement for an additional three years. In addition to Joseph H. Stewart park, Jackson County will also operate and maintain Prospect Wayside, Casey Recreation Area, and Tubb Springs Wayside.
Joseph H. Stewart State Recreation Area joins 21 other developed parks currently managed by Jackson County, including more than 900 campsites. Joseph Stewart park is located on Oregon Highway 62 near Prospect and is approximately 35 miles northeast of Medford and 30 miles southwest of Crater Lake National Park. Jackson County will also operate Prospect Wayside, Casey Recreation Area, and Tubb Springs Wayside. State park staff will focus their energy to provide service at Valley of the Rogue State Park, TouVelle State Recreation Site, and other state parks in the area.
“The Jackson County Parks team is excited for this new opportunity to connect with our guests at a new location and serve the needs of new park users,” says Steve Lambert, Jackson County Parks program manager. “We expect Joseph Stewart park to be extremely busy this season and we will be ready to provide a high-quality experience.”
In addition to day-use, the campground has 151 sites with electricity and water and 50 tent sites with water only, as well as two group camping areas. A boat ramp and moorage are available to day-use and overnight visitors. Jackson County expects to begin accepting camping, boat slips and boat rental reservations on March 15. More information about the park, including reservation availability, is available at www.jacksoncountyparks.com, or call (541) 774-8183.
“We welcome this new partnership with the county, especially since we know they are as passionate about helping people enjoy the outdoors as we are,” says J.R. Collier, OPRD region manager. “We’ll be working together to see if this improves efficiency and improves service to park visitors.” Oregon Parks and Recreation Dept.
AROUND the STATE of OREGON
Heavy Snowfall Expected on Oregon Mountain Passes
The National Weather Service in Portland is forecasting massive snow totals for the Cascades Wednesday through Saturday, making for challenging driving conditions over mountain passes.
For updated conditions visit tripcheck.com and centraloregondaily.com/weather
OREGON UTILITY REGULATORS EXTEND CUSTOMER PROTECTIONS
COVID-19 late fee and disconnection moratorium extended through June 30
SALEM, Ore. – The Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) approved an extended moratorium on disconnections for electric and natural gas customers of investor-owned utilities as Oregonians continue to experience financial hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The moratorium, previously set to expire on April 1, was extended to June 30.
The PUC extended the moratorium to waive late fees and discontinue energy service disconnections due to nonpayment for customers of Portland General Electric (PGE), PacifiCorp, Idaho Power, NW Natural, Cascade Natural, and Avista, through June 30, with the first 15-day late notice to be issued no earlier than June 15.
As of December 2020, the number of electric and natural gas customers with past-due balances of investor-owned utilities had increased to just over 97,000 customers who are 90-plus days behind in paying their energy bills. This is a 272 percent increase when compared to data prior to the pandemic. Additionally, the total amount of past due balances for residential customers has increased to $48.3 million, a 631 percent increase.
“As the economic impacts of the pandemic continue, the extension of the moratorium provides families continued access to essential utility services at a time that so many are struggling to make ends meet and relying on these essential services to attend school and work,” said Megan Decker, PUC Chair. “This extension, however, does not mean that utility service can be provided at no cost. Paying what you can now or getting connected with energy assistance programs will help avoid large balances once the moratorium ends.”
To further benefit Oregonians, the PUC directed investor-owned electric and natural gas companies to file arrearage management program plans for approval. PGE’s program has been filed and approved by the PUC, while the plans for the remaining investor-owned utilities will be reviewed at a special public meeting scheduled for March 23. These programs, which would go into effect April 1, offer additional options for energy customers experiencing difficulty in paying their utility bills. Funding for these programs is limited to one percent of each utility’s 2019 Oregon retail revenues, or approximately $39 million overall.
Customers having difficulty paying their utility bills should contact their service provider directly for information on arrearage management programs, payment plan options, and programs specific for qualifying low-income customers. For additional information, contact the PUC at email@example.com or call 503-378-6600 or 800-522-2404.
The PUC will hold a follow-up public meeting in mid-May to further review the impacts of the pandemic on energy customers.
The Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) regulates customer rates and services of the state’s investor-owned electric, natural gas and telephone utilities, as well as select water companies. The PUC mission is to ensure Oregon utility customers have access to safe, reliable, and high quality utility services at just and reasonable rates, which is accomplished through thorough analysis and independent decision-making conducted in an open and fair process. Oregon Public Utility Commission
Oregon Revenues Could Lead to Kicker Tax Credit
Despite an economic recession brought on by a global pandemic, Oregon state revenues are higher than expected, thanks in part to unprecedented federal aid, and it could lead to a kicker on 2021 taxes.
State economists shared their quarterly economic forecast with lawmakers Wednesday afternoon, and while the budget appears to be in good shape, some state leaders say it doesn’t reflect the realities on the ground for thousands of jobless Oregonians.
“Today’s positive revenue forecast is good news for our budgetary efforts. However, I’m troubled by the disconnect between these numbers and the economic pain on the ground for so many Oregonians,” said House Speaker Tina Kotek in a statement.
Shortly after the pandemic began, economists estimated the economic fallout could result in a $2 billion hole in state revenues. As of the current economic forecast, that hole has been completely filled and state leaders are now anticipating more revenues than expected prior to the recession.
Oregon shed more than 150,000 jobs since the pandemic began. Thousands had trouble getting unemployment benefits. Many people are behind on rent and mortgages.
Despite the hardship, economists say personal income rose sharply during the recession thanks to an unprecedented amount of federal aid. Being an income tax state, general fund revenues followed suit.
Economists project Oregonians will receive $12 billion in unemployment, $11 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans, and $8 billion in rebates.
According to the Tax Foundation, a tax policy nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., Oregon could collect about $402 million in state income taxes from unemployment benefits.
The state’s Legislative Revenue Office estimated stimulus checks would increase state tax collections by about $103 million for the current biennium.
Lawmakers will have an additional $800 million to play with in the current legislative session, thanks to the better-than-expected forecast.
Additional revenues mean taxpayers may get a kicker payment of $571 million when they file their 2021 taxes next year. Economists said there is a two-in-three chance the kicker will be triggered when the biennium ends.
“The forecast is way up. This allows us to start really dealing with the pain and suffering of Oregonians,” said Senate President Peter Courtney.
“I prefer to focus on the revenue coming into Oregonians’ bank accounts. The reality is that 150,000 Oregonians have been put out of work because of the pandemic and the economic lockdowns. Tens of thousands are struggling to make rent, afford child care, and put food on the table,” said Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod. “The Legislature should not be considering new taxes or rolling back COVID relief. That will simply hinder economic recovery and the chances of Oregonians getting back to work.”
Gov. Kate Brown welcomed the good forecast news but offered a word of caution.
“Even with this good news, it is important to move forward cautiously, as the road ahead remains unpredictable. We also know that many Oregonians are still struggling with job losses, underemployment, and making ends meet,” she said in a news release.
Former Grass Seed Company Manager Charged in Scheme to Defraud Simplot and its Customers
PORTLAND, Ore.—U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams announced today that Christopher Claypool, 52, of Spokane, Washington, the former general manager of the Jacklin Seed Company, a producer and marketer of grass seed and turfgrass based in Liberty Lake, Washington, has been charged by criminal information with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering as part of multiple schemes to defraud Jacklin’s former owner, the J.R. Simplot Company, and its customers.
As general manager of Jacklin, Claypool oversaw the company’s product sales to domestic and foreign distributors. Jacklin contracted with independent growers in Oregon for the production of proprietary grass seed varieties and fulfilled orders from a distribution facility in Albany, Oregon. Differences in grass seed yield rates resulted in the over-delivery of some varieties and underproduction of others.
At some point between 2013 and 2015, Claypool and other Jacklin employees realized that growers’ preference for higher-yield grasses was creating substantial shortages of lower-yield varieties Jacklin had contracted to deliver to its customers. Claypool and a colleague who oversaw product fulfillment at the company’s Albany distribution facility recognized that these shortages would either cause Jacklin to fail to deliver on its existing contracts or require Jacklin to pay a premium to growers to acquire necessary inventory, substantially eroding company profits. Claypool and his colleague anticipated that either result would negatively affect their careers.
From January 2015 and continuing until at least the summer of 2019, Claypool and his colleague directed Jacklin employees, at the Albany facility and elsewhere, to fulfill customer orders with different varieties of grass seed than the customers had ordered, to conceal such substitutions from the customers, and to invoice the customers as though no substitutions had taken place. Claypool and his colleague referred to this scheme as “getting creative.”
To conceal the unauthorized substitutions, Claypool and his colleague directed Jacklin employees to package the substitute seed varieties with false and misleading labels. They also directed employees to invoice the customers under the original terms of their contracts, notwithstanding the unauthorized substitutions. As a result of this scheme, Jacklin invoiced customers for more than $1.1 million of grass seed the company never delivered.
In addition to the undisclosed seed substitutions, Claypool engaged in several other fraudulent schemes while serving as Jacklin’s general manager. In one scheme, he directed an accomplice to create a limited-liability corporation (LLC) to pose as an independent grass seed broker. Claypool and a colleague conspired to route a portion of Jacklin’s overseas sales through a competing grass-seed seller based in Jefferson, Oregon. The company would, in turn, add its own mark-up to the sales and kick back outsized commissions to Claypool through his accomplice’s LLC. From December 2018 through August 2019, Claypool generated more than $369,000 in fraudulent commissions.
In a third scheme, Claypool conspired with the owner of an independent travel agency in Spokane to inflate the purported costs of Claypool’s international business travel. Claypool traveled overseas extensively for business and had authority to approve his own travel expenses. In lieu of using Simplot’s contract travel agency, Claypool booked his flights through the independent travel agent. The agent booked economy and other lower-cost fares for Claypool, but created fake first-class bookings on the most expensive comparable itineraries in order to generate inflated invoices that he transmitted to Simplot, through Claypool, for payment. In total, the agent overbilled more than $500,000 for international airfare, the majority of which Claypool ultimately received in kickbacks from the agent.
In the most lucrative fraud scheme, Claypool directed Simplot’s payment of more than twelve million dollars in “rebates” and “commissions” to entities that were posing as foreign sales partners but were, in fact, fronts for Claypool’s coconspirators in embezzling those funds. The coconspirators then transmitted part of their ill-gotten gains from accounts in Hong Kong to real estate investments in Hawaii under Claypool’s control. Years later, Claypool sold the real estate and wired the proceeds to investment accounts in Spokane as part of an elaborate money laundering operation.
Claypool faces a maximum sentence of 70 years in prison, fines of more than $15 million, and 5 years’ supervised release. His arraignment has not yet been scheduled.
This case is being investigated by IRS Criminal Investigation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General. It is being prosecuted by Ryan W. Bounds, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon.
Criminal information is only an accusation of a crime, and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. U.S. Attorney’s Office – District of Oregon
Oregon Short Film Festival Opens in The Dalles
The Oregon Short Film Festival is, truly, a short film festival, movies that are 30 minutes or less. Many of the films from moviemakers around the world are 5-10 minutes long. The big screen is a drive-in theater at Sunshine Mill Winery
The festival kicked off Wednesday at a newly created drive-in theater at the Sunshine Mill Winery in The Dalles. The 200 films are serious, humorous, profane, animated — just about any topic under the sun, and all made by up-and-comers in the small film segment — and all from the comfort and safety of your own car.
Mikel Fair, who founded the short film festival back in 2016, said small moviemakers really do value opinions of people here to see their films.
“They look forward to just having Oregonians sit down, relax and really take in their film. and they know that we’re not as concerned with star power of who is in the film,” Fair said. “They just want to sit back and have a good time.”
In short the Oregon audience is a sounding board for small moviemakers, a way to get instant feedback on their short stories, to find out what seems to resonate with the audience and what doesn’t.
One short on the list this week is a 7-part series premiering on Facebook called Brewcrew. It’s an animated film that won Comedy Series Award for animated cartoon.
Its not for kids, but it’s funny to its fans. Creator Zachary Madson, a film maker from Tigard, said as the tools of movie making have become cheaper and accessible, it has democratized movie making giving more people with diverse and creative talents a chance at making short films.
“If you can tell a story, you can make a film for a couple thousand dollars and a lot of people will just scrape that money together among friends,” Madson said. “So now as a writer I like it because it puts story at the forefront.”
Not everything on the drive-in big screen in The Dalles will make it big time to Netflix, YouTube or other distribution channels. But some likely will and they’ll be able to say they got their start at the Oregon Short Film Festival underway through this weekend in The Dalles.
Tickets are sold by the car and some are still available. They have food, pizza delivered and drink. It’s a night out at the drive-in movies. Shows start at 6 p.m. and go until about 11 p.m. through the weekend
Oregon Tops List of Online Searches Related To Armed Groups and Conspiracy Theories
According to Moonshot CVE, a London-based tech company founded to combat extremism, Oregon tops the list of where internet searches occurred related to armed groups, conspiracy theories, and political violence.
“For example, it was ‘how to join the proud boys’ or ‘how to build a bomb’ or ‘how to join an anti-government movement’ that these people from Oregon were searching at a disproportionate rate,” said Randy Blazak, a sociologist and extremism expert in Portland.
Moonshot CVE tracked various topics linked to the U.S. presidential election from September to December of 2020. On a per-capita basis, Oregon led all other states in related searches. Blazak says it makes sense in light of Oregon’s history.
“It points to something that we’ve long known, which is Oregon is kind of front and center in the extreme right movement,” said Blazak.
In recent history, that’s partly in response to what some see as Portland’s far-left protest reputation.
“To see what’s taking place in Portland with the rioters and the destruction and the damage, it gives Oregon a black eye,” said Mike McCarter, who leads a movement to have Oregon’s more conservative eastern counties absorbed into Idaho.
McCarter states that he denounces violence and conspiracy theories but that he sees the Moonshot research as proof his idea is a good way to ease discord between urban and rural parts of Oregon.
Moonshot doesn’t just track search information. The company is involved in ways to counteract when someone searches for a topic related to extremism.
For example, when a person searches for a flagged topic, an ad may pop up to redirect that person to information that might persuade them otherwise.