Rogue Valley News, Wednesday 12/22 – Project Turnkey Will Open Former Super 8 Motel in Ashland as Shelter, Butler Automotive Sells Dealerships

The latest news stories of interest in the Rogue Valley and around the state of Oregon from the digital home of Southern Oregon, Wynne Broadcasting’s

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Rogue Valley Weather

Winter Storm Watch in effect from December 24, 11:00 AM PST until December 27, 10:00 AM PST

Today– A 50 percent chance of showers after 11am. Areas of fog before 11am. Snow level 4100 feet rising to 5000 feet. Otherwise, mostly cloudy, with a high near 47. Light and variable wind becoming southeast 6 to 11 mph in the afternoon.

Thursday– Showers. Snow level 4100 feet. High near 46. Calm wind becoming north around 5 mph in the afternoon. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New precipitation amounts between a tenth and quarter of an inch possible.

Friday– A chance of rain and snow showers before 11am, then rain. Snow level 1900 feet rising to 2500 feet in the afternoon. High near 40. South wind around 6 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%. Little or no snow accumulation expected.

Christmas Day– Rain and snow showers. Snow level 1600 feet. High near 37. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New snow accumulation of less than a half inch possible

Sunday– Snow showers before 11am, then rain and snow showers between 11am and 5pm, then rain showers after 5pm. Cloudy, with a high near 36.

Forecasters are tracking a series of storm systems heading through our region this week, all the way through the weekend. By Saturday and Sunday, snow levels could actually reach the floor of the Rogue Valley — setting up the possibility that there will be snow on the ground for Christmas festivities.

The Klamath Basin is likely to see snow on or near Christmas Day. But, since record-keeping began, there have only been two years where Medford saw a white Christmas. The last time was in 1988, and in 1965 before that.

If you’re planning to travel the region’s roadways for the holidays, the forecast might be reason enough to rethink your plans. The series of storm systems will continue right through Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Snow levels will lower even further during this time frame, although it doesn’t look like snow levels reach the valley floor until late
Saturday/early Sunday morning. The snow will likely create difficult travel conditions for much of our region right around Christmas and through the weekend.

Project Turnkey Will Open Former Super 8 Motel in Ashland as Shelter

Because of recent wildfires and the pandemic, Southern Oregon saw an unusual amount of growth in shelters this year. Now, Project Turnkey is transforming the former Super 8 motel in Ashland for transitional housing.

Cass Sinclair, the executive director of Options for Helping Residents of Ashland or OHRA, a nonprofit that helps people struggling with homelessness, says the motel is being converted into shelter for people making the initial transition from living outside to indoors.

“After we’re done with our whole first phase of renovations—we have to put in an elevator, we have to put in a fire suppression system through the whole building—then we’ll look to create a commercial kitchen space here,” she says, motioning around a large room of bare drywall.

The lobby houses a resource center for guests where OHRA workers help with Section 8 housing applications, writing resumes, and health insurance enrollment.

The motel is one of 19 such properties around Oregon that make up Project Turnkey, the pandemic-inspired program that converts underused hotels and motels into emergency shelters.

There have been guests who haven’t seen a doctor in 15 years, says Lisa Smith, OHRA’s director of program services.

“During their stay here they got medical care, applied for disability, and that gentleman is now getting a housing voucher,” Smith says. “So, I foresee him being housed for the first time in his adult life and he is 57 years old.”

Before Project Turnkey started, Jackson County had 171 shelter beds, according to Amy Cuddy, the Medford regional director of the Oregon Community Foundation, which distributed the program’s grants. She says the program added 115 more beds in the county.

“To go from 171 and then add 115 in about eight months’ time is a big increase,” Cuddy says.

Project Turnkey was paid for with almost $75 million appropriated by the state legislature in 2020 and 2021.

The past year was also busy for Rogue Retreat, a nonprofit homeless service provider in Medford. Just before Thanksgiving, it opened a shelter in Ashland with small pre-fabricated Pallet shelters that will house 49 people. Around the same time, Rogue Retreat opened Foundry Village in Grants Pass which includes 17 tiny homes. And there are spaces for 90 people at its urban campground in Medford, which opened in the summer of 2020 and which is now being winterized with rigid tents.

Homelessness became more of a problem in Southern Oregon after wildfires in 2020 destroyed whole communities, most of whom were not previously on the verge of living on the street.

Still, this growth of shelters isn’t enough to house everyone. There were 727 people experiencing homelessness in Jackson County, according to counts in 2020. At least one unhoused person in Jackson County already died this winter in what initial reports cite as exposure to the elements.

According to OHRA and Rogue Retreat, their facilities are generally full even with their newly expanded space.

Business challenges have also emerged with the rapid growth of the past year. Sinclair says state funding increased OHRA’s budget from less than $250,000 per year to $2.6 million annually. OHRA now has to raise significantly more money to keep its programs going.

“Everybody is looking for more operational dollars because they received the capital dollars to purchase, but not the operating dollars,” she says. Likewise, McComas with Rogue Retreat says after they purchased a hotel through Project Turnkey, they were surprised by the current cost of materials to remodel it.

Butler Ford Sells Dealerships to Kiefer Auto of Eugene as Owners Retire After 45 Years in Business

 A decades-old local car dealership company has been sold to a Eugene-based group in a deal announced this week. Chuck and Linda Butler, owners of Butler Automotive Group, say that they will retire from the industry after 45 years.

Butler Ford, Acura, Hyundai, and Kia were sold to Kiefer Automotive Group of Eugene last Thursday, both companies announced. 

“It took us a few years to find the perfect auto group to take over the helm of our dealerships,” said Chuck Butler, founder and erstwhile president of Butler Automotive Group. “We were looking specifically for a smaller, like-minded organization that will continue with our deep and ongoing commitment to our employees, customers, and the community.

“John and Corinne Kiefer, just like Linda and I, are active in day-to-day operations of their dealerships. Importantly, our stores in both Medford and Ashland will continue under the current management teams and staff overseen by General Manager, Warren Cooper.”

Butler Automotive employs more than 100 people in their local dealerships, service centers, collision center, and rental division.

“I’ve known Chuck Butler since 1977, we began working together in the mid ’90s,” said Warren Cooper. “Change is always bittersweet, and everyone will miss Chuck and Linda tremendously. The new ownership offers lots of opportunity and innovative ideas for our teams. We’re looking forward to 2022 and beyond. John and Corinne will take us to the next level, and that’s very exciting!”

Kiefer Automotive started in 1994 with a Mazda dealership in Eugene, and the company now owns 14 more dealerships between Oregon, Idaho, and California.

“I’m thrilled to join forces with Butler and the long-standing reputation they have in the marketplace,” said John Kiefer, president of Kiefer Automotive Group. “The good people and managers of Butler will stay the same, and so will the names of Butler Ford and Butler Acura in Ashland. However, Butler Kia and Butler Hyundai will change to Kia Medford and Hyundai Medford.”

Semi-Truck Crashes Over I-5 Overpasses Near Sunny Valley

A semi-truck driver was found with serious injuries after they crashed down between two I-5 overpasses near Sunny Valley in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Rural Metro Fire said that crews were dispatched to the crash shortly after 4 a.m. The agency said it appeared that the semi-truck and trailer left the freeway, traveled through the median for about 500 feet, missed the guardrails and cable barriers in the center, then dropped down onto Sunny Valley Loop beneath the two overpasses. 

Fire crews and medical teams from AMR arrived to find the driver with serious injuries, Rural Metro Fire said. The truck was not carrying anything hazardous.

Rural Metro noted that drivers needing to use the interchange on Sunny Valley Loop would likely encounter delays and detours due to the ongoing Oregon State Police investigation and recovery efforts, but there were no anticipated impacts to I-5.

Grants Pass Man Arrested After Displaying Firearm At Local Nightclub

On Saturday, December 18, 2021, the Grants Pass Police Department responded to the 238 Bar on Williams Highway for a report of a male who had pointed a firearm at a female. The incident was captured on video surveillance, which assisted detectives in identifying the suspect as Samuel Swillinger, a 31-year-old male.

Samuel Swillinger

Swillinger was arrested for multiple offenses when Grants Pass Police served a search warrant at his residence on NW Sunset Drive on Tuesday. During the execution of the search warrant, police also located and seized several firearms, a large amount of marijuana, and marijuana extracts.

Samuel Swillinger was lodged at the Josephine County Jail for Unlawful Possession of a Firearm, Unlawful Use of a Weapon, and Menacing. The Grants Pass Police Department would like to thank the businesses that assisted with video surveillance and the concerned witnesses that helped the investigation move forward. 

This investigation is ongoing and no further information will be released at this time. (GPPD case #2021-53584.)

Oregon reports 999 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, 25 new deaths

PORTLAND, Ore. — There are 25 new COVID-19 related deaths in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 5,559, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) reported at 12:01 a.m. today.

OHA reported 999 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 as of 12:01 a.m. today, bringing the state total to 408,069.

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Baker (2), Benton (18), Clackamas (84), Clatsop (5), Columbia (9), Coos (25), Crook (12), Curry (4), Deschutes (57), Douglas (27), Gilliam (1), Grant (16), Hood River (7), Jackson (47), Jefferson (4), Josephine (20), Klamath (18), Lake (2), Lane (83), Lincoln (4), Linn (46), Malheur (4), Marion (114), Morrow (4), Multnomah (197), Polk (22), Sherman (1), Tillamook (4), Umatilla (12), Union (9), Wallowa (1), Wasco (7), Washington (105) and Yamhill (28).

Additionally, OHA said the 7-day running average of vaccinations is 19,178, still down a bit from last week. Hospitals continue to be near capacity, with only 9% of adult ICU beds and only 8% of adult non-ICU beds available in the state.

Governor Brown announced Tuesday that she has once again extended the state of emergency declaration in Oregon.

The extension of the emergency declaration comes as the state prepares for a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations brought on by the Omicron variant.

The governor’s office said the emergency declaration is necessary to provide resources for the state’s coronavirus response and recovery efforts. It will remain in effect until June 30, 2022, unless it is rescinded or extended beforehand.

“As Oregon prepares for what could be our worst surge in hospitalizations during this pandemic, I know that this is not the beginning of the new year any of us had hoped for,” Brown said. “Time and again over the last two years, Oregonians have proven that we will stand with each other in our most difficult times. Your actions have saved lives, and it is because we have worked together to keep each other safe that Oregon still has some of the lowest infection and mortality rates in the nation. Please, do your part again––get vaccinated, get your booster shot, and wear a mask.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers showed nearly a six-fold increase in omicron’s share of infections in only one week. All this while many stores have run out of rapid tests and other places take 2-3 days

Federal health officials reported Monday that Omicron is now the dominant variant of the coronavirus in the United States, accounting for 73% of new infections last week. According to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Omicron is response for an estimated 90% of new infections in the Pacific Northwest.

Earlier this month, Oregon confirmed its first cases of the Omicron variant in Multnomah and Washington counties. Lane County confirmed Monday its first case of the variant.

As the highly transmissible omicron variant spreads across the country, University of Oregon students, faculty and staff will be required to get a COVID-19 booster shot as soon as they are eligible, school officials announced Monday.

Currently, the university and the state’s six other public universities require COVID-19 vaccinations for those on
campus. As of Monday afternoon, the University of Oregon is the only public university in the state to publicly announce a booster requirement. Individuals who are 16 or older are eligible for a booster shot six months after the second dose of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or two months after a Johnson and Johnson/Janssen vaccine.

Details about booster shot deadlines for the University of Oregon will be coming shortly. Last Friday during a news conference, Gov. Kate Brown and state health officials urged Oregonians to get booster shots immediately. Local scientists predict that the state is about three weeks away from a new wave of hospitalizations that could surpass the peak since the start of the pandemic.

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OSU Extension Small Farms Program Receives Grants To Strengthen Oregon’s Food Systems

Two projects of Oregon State University Extension’s small farms program have received U.S. Department of Agriculture grants totaling more than $800,000, which officials say they will use to strengthen the viability of Oregon’s small and midscale farms and food businesses.

The OSU Center for Small Farms & Community Food Systems received a $249,511 grant from USDA’s Regional Food Systems Partnerships program to work with eight Oregon food hubs — businesses and nonprofit agencies that manage distribution, marketing, networking and aggregation of locally grown food, Lauren Gwin, associate director of the center, said in a news release.

Food hubs share tools and knowledge to improve long-term sustainability for small and midscale operations while prioritizing values and practices, such as racial equity, climate change resilience and fair labor practices. Hubs connect growers and food makers to markets and provide a framework for collaborative research, training and planning, Gwin said.

Meanwhile, OSU Extension’s Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network received a $591,951 grant to create a stronger mid-tier niche meat supply chain through training, business coaching and peer support, Rebecca Thistlethwaite, director of the network, said in a statement.

The head of Oregon’s agency that’s distributing emergency rental assistance says now is not the time for an audit.

Several lawmakers want an audit of Oregon Housing and Community Services because it’s months behind in getting emergency rent assistance distributed. Director Margaret Salazar said last week an audit would take between five and 15 employees away from their jobs of processing claims to help with the audit.

OHCS has only processed about half of its claims. Around 26-thousand claims remain and they’re processing about 17-hundred per week. Oregon’s eviction moratorium was extended until June to give the agency time.

Oregon DEQ Issues More Than $2.5M In Penalty Fines For Environmental Violations

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued more than $2.5 million worth of penalties in October and November due to various environmental violations.

Fines ranged from $1,100 to $2,105,405, according to the DEQ. Penalties may also include orders requiring specific tasks to prevent ongoing violations or additional environmental harm.

DEQ issued civil penalties to the following organizations:

  • Baker County, $7,400, Halfway, asbestos
  • Bullseye Glass Co., $6,600, Portland, hazardous waste
  • Clean Water Services, $13,200, Tigard, water quality
  • Da Yang Seafood Inc., $105,000, Astoria, water quality
  • East Side Plating Inc., $21,000, Portland, hazardous waste
  • Endura Products Inc., $4,500, Prineville, air quality
  • Farm Power Misty Meadow LLC (FPMM), $18,701, Tillamook, air quality
  • High-Quality Roofing & Pressure Washing LLC, $24,000, Tigard, water quality
  • HP Inc., $1,100, Corvallis, air quality
  • Insurance Auto Auctions Inc., $6,701, Portland, stormwater
  • Johnny Cat Inc., $4,300, Jacksonville, air quality
  • Malarkey Roofing Company, $2,105,405, Portland, air quality
  • NIC Industries Inc., $63,600, White City, hazardous waste
  • PetroCard Inc., $9,568, Oakland, underground storage tanks
  • Sysco Portland Inc., $48,540, Wilsonville, stormwater
  • Tortoise Transport Company LLC and TNQ Developmental Employment LLC, $91,929, Klamath Falls, hazardous waste
  • Valley Iron and Steel Co. (VISCO), $20,400, Eugene, solid waste
  • WOF PNW Threemile Project LLC, $19,500, Boardman, air quality

Malarkey Roofing Company faced the largest fine totaling more than $2 million. Three years ago, the company had been recognized by Time Magazine for their smog-reducing shingles.

According to DEQ officials, organizations or individuals must either pay the fines or file an appeal within 20 days of receiving notice of the penalty.

The Silver Lake area of northern Lake County has been declared an “area of depredating wolf activity” by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Once such an area is created, it allows ODFW to operate under a management plan that helps livestock producers “identify the appropriate non-lethal measures which are effective in a given circumstance.” Such an area may include the entire home range of a pack — in this case the Silver Lake wolves — or a portion of the home range.

According to an ODFW timeline, two wolves were documented in the area April 2021. No reproduction was documented during 2020 or 2019, although another gray wolf was documented with a radio-collared female wolf in November 2019. Previously, a single wolf was documented during both the 2018 and 2017 winter counts. Also in 2017, ODFW reported that wolves OR3 and OR28 paired and bred in 2016, which resulted in the birth
of at least one pup.

Portland Sewage Spill in Willamette River

Officials say heavy rain over the weekend filled up Portland’s Big Pipe, sending raw sewage into the Willamette River for about four hours. The Big Pipe is a large storage reservoir that gives the treatment plant more time to process the waste. The Portland Bureau of Environmental Services says you should avoid contact with the Willamette River in downtown Portland through Tuesday. This is the fifth overflow of 2021.

FEMA Sending Funds for Wildfire Recovery in Santiam Canyon

FEMA is sending nearly 50-million dollars to help pay for wildfire recovery in the Santiam Canyon following the 2020 Labor Day fires. ODOT will receive 45-million dollars for the costs of removing debris from commercial properties in Detroit, Gates, Lyons, Mehama, and Mill City. Consumers Power will get five-million dollars to help rebuild power lines in the canyon.

Lloyd Center May Be Saved

 It appears Lloyd Center won’t be going away. The real estate company UrbanRenaissance Group is working with the owners of the property, KKR Real Estate Finance, to revitalize the mall. Details of the plan are still being worked out, but it’s expected to include the ice rink, retail, and other creative work spaces.

Greater Idaho Movement on Oregon County Ballots

The number of valid signatures submitted by the Greater Idaho movement is enough to earn a position on the May 2022 ballot, according to Klamath County Clerk Rochelle Long. She assigned the county measure the number 18-121 for the May 2022 election. 

By her count, the movement collected 2371 valid signatures, 140% of the required number. The excess signatures indicate enthusiasm in the county for the idea of moving the Oregon/Idaho border so that southern and eastern Oregon will be governed as a part of Idaho instead of Oregon.  

The county feels that state officials failed to defend its interests in dealing with the federal government on how Klamath River water was distributed during the drought this year. Local volunteers such as Maria Bradbury and Allen Headley collected hundreds of signatures at rodeos, gun shows, the county fair, and at Casey’s restaurant, which remained open during the lock down, according to the movement’s website

The ballot measure, if approved by voters, would create a county board to evaluate benefits to the county of moving the state border.  The movement is waiting for the Douglas County Clerk to announce his count of their signatures for a their measure for the Douglas County ballot.

The movement expects three or four counties to vote on its initiatives this May. So far, eight counties have voted for ballot measures submitted by the movement: two in November 2020, five in May 2021, and one in a special election last month.

Oregon and Idaho state legislators have said they will introduce legislation in the next session of each state legislature. Mike McCarter, the leader of the Greater Idaho movement, claims both states stand to gain financially from the border shift, as rural Oregon’s resource-based economy is better suited to Idaho law than Oregon law. Eastern and southern Oregon are like Idaho in the percentage of their vote they give to each political party, he said.

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A 17-year-old was reported missing in Salem and detectives say the teen might be the victim of an online catfishing scheme.

Ezra Mayhugh, 17, was last seen on October 15, 2021 after being dropped off in downtown Salem by a friend, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said. He was reported as a runaway the following day when he did not return home.

Investigators say he might be in Washington or California. They hope to reunite Ezra safely with family members.

He’s described as about 5-foot 11-inches tall, weighing 130 pounds, with blonde hair and brown eyes.

If you have had contact with Mayhugh since October 15 or have other helpful information on his whereabouts, the sheriff’s office asks you to contact Detective M.J. Sphoon at 503-588-6808 or to submit a tip by texting TIPMCSO and your tip to 847411.

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