The year: 2018 in far west Washington County

2018 has ended, and what a year it was for the western reaches of Washington County.

We’ve broken down the year month-by-month and included some of the biggest stories—or perhaps stories you may have missed—that we covered in 2018. Thanks for reading, and we look forward to doing it all again this year!


Controversy in Banks High School, FGSD searches for new superintendent

Discussions about identity, what is and is not politics, and sexual orientation gripped the Banks community
after now-debunked rumors surfaced earlier this month that a United States flag had been removed and replaced with an LGBTQ+ pride flag in a Banks High School classroom.

Gales Creek – The Forest Grove School District began a search for a new superintendent after Yvonne Curtis resigned the position in December 2017, leaving the district without the top position filled in the middle of the school year. Eventually, the district would choose David Parker, most recently an assistant superintendent for Newberg Public Schools. Parker officially started on July 1.


Washington County backs off parks decision, Banks Fire responds to 9 incidents in 36 hours

Gales Creek – After neighbors began inquiring about work being done by Washington County work crews at the old Rippling Waters area along Gales Creek Road, the Gales Creek Journal was told by Washington County Parks Superintendent Carl Switzer that his department would reopen the county-owned property along Gales creek that was, for a brief time in the 1980’s, a county park.

The unannounced decision to reopen the park, which has sat overgrown for more than thirty years, came as a surprise to community residents, including adjacent landowners, who were not informed of the decision.

After an article was published by the Gales Creek Journal, Washington County spokesperson Julie McCloud quickly walked back the decision, saying that Switzer’s statements were “aspirational.”

“If the County does move toward reopening in the future, we will be sure to engage Gales Creek community and get their input beforehand,” said McCloud.

Banks – A combination of higher amounts of weekend traffic and icy road conditions from Feb. 17 – 19 led to an uptick in calls for the almost all-volunteer Banks Fire District #13, who responded to seven crashes, one fire, and wires down in almost exactly 36 hours, most of the calls on or near Highway 26 in Banks, Buxton, and Manning.


A deadly month for motorists, Washington County leaders duel in letters to the editor

Manning – It was a deadly month for motorists in the region in March. In less than 72 hours, three people were killed in two distinct crashes in Manning and just over the Tillamook County line on Highway 26, with another crash on Highway 47 at the Timber Junction near Vernonia claiming another life.

Banks Fire District, Forest Grove Fire & Rescue, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Hillsboro Fire Department, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue, Life Flight Network, Metro West Ambulance, North Plains Police Department, and Oregon State Police were honored with the EMS Unit Citation Award by the Oregon Health Authority, Oregon’s top state health and wellness agency on September 28 for actions taken during one of those crashes, which saw two killed, five injured, and one driver facing criminal charges.

In fairground news, dueling letters to the editor played out in March after Lyle Spiesschaert, a fourth generation farmer, former Fair Board Member and current Treasurer for the Fair Boosters penned a letter to the Gales Creek Journal with his concerns about the future of the Washington County Fairgrounds.

“When it comes to governing our Fairgrounds some of the current Washington County Commissioners continue to prove that they cannot be trusted and apparently are not capable of even maintaining simple structures and relationships,” he wrote as his opening salvo, catching the attention of Washington County Chair Andy Duyck who wrote a rebuttal letter, starting with this:

“The story of our county fairgrounds is one of community-wide commitment and proud cultural heritage, that much Lyle Spiesschaert and I can agree on. But as the saying goes, we may all be entitled to our own opinions, but not to our own facts.”


Banks decides to fix leaking water line, Oak Grove gets new administrator

The Banks City Council passed a proposal from Kennedy/Jenks Consultants to replace the main water transmission line on Sellers Road that supplies the City of Banks with water. The proposal, which includes design and construction and other activities associated with the transmission line project, has a price tag of $701,881. Scheduled for construction in 2019, the current transmission line is leaking water at a rate that has affected the city of Banks’ growth (see December for more on that).

Gales Creek – Forest Grove announces that Christa Slaughter will take over as Oak Grove Academy’s administrator on July 1, replacing Cassie Kenney, who moved on to become Forest Grove School District’s Student Services Coordinator.

According to David Warner, FGSD communications director, Slaughter has been with Oak Grove Academy for three years as a mental health specialist.

Oak Grove Academy is a therapeutic program serving students from Forest Grove, Banks, and Hillsboro School Districts with social-emotional needs, behavioral concerns, and developmental disabilities. The program is housed at the former Gales Creek Elementary School and at Tom McCall in Forest Grove.


Primary elections held, land donated for Buxton fire station, Hwy 6 designated scenic byway

Primary election results saw, among other things, Jerry Willey elected to the District 4 seat on the Washington County Board of Commissioners, defeating Kimberly Culbertson, a locally well-known community activist, with 55.12 percent of the vote.

In Buxton, The Hornshuh family, who have a long history with Banks Fire District #13, announced they will donate up to 5 acres for a new fire station to be built in Buxton after signing an agreement on Wednesday, May 9.

Banks fire officials and Captain Mark Hornshuh, a volunteer firefighter and paramedic with the district, signed a land contract that will result in 3-5 acres along Highway 26 to be donated to the district, paving the way for a new station in Buxton, which was funded by a bond passed by voters in November 2017.

Meanwhile, in Gales Creek and Banks, Highway 6 was designated the ‘Tillamook Trees to Seas Scenic Byway,’ stretching from the City of Banks to Tillamook and Highway 131 from Tillamook to the Cape Mears peninsula. According to state officials, the purpose of Oregon’s scenic byway program is to identify, preserve and enhance Oregon’s most outstanding scenic transportation corridors.


Hillside Bible Church burns to the ground as fire season rages in region and state

More than 50 attendees of the Hillside Bible Church gathered on the morning of Sunday, June 10 in front of the rubble of their church building, which had been destroyed about 16 hours prior by a sudden fire.

Smoke still rose from a few hot spots in the background – according to one churchgoer, the smoke rose from the church pulpit, a piece of carpentry made from solid oak wood.

As people milled around, Pastor Tim Goold gathered his flock together and opened with a prayer.

According to Forest Grove Fire & Rescue, investigators determined that the fire was sparked by an electrical failure in a void space between the basement of the 118-year-old church and the main floor.

It burned quickly – within minutes of fire crews arriving on scene, the church, built in 1900, collapsed.

When asked about their future plans, Pastor Goold simply said “We’re just gonna move forward,” and gestured to the dozens gathered in the parking lot, a heavy rain beginning to come down.

“Here’s the church.”

As of this writing, Hillside Bible is in the early stages of rebuilding.

Meanwhile, dozens of fires, ranging from tiny grass fires to a home that was heavily damaged in Buxton were springing up throughout the region. Washington County fire agencies sent volunteers to other communities in Oregon to assist in fires, such as the Graham Fire near Lake Billy Chinook in Eastern Oregon.


Public transit in rural Washington County is explored, and…more fires

Rides on public transportation to and from the city of Banks and the region are few and far between, but a bill passed during the 2017 Oregon legislative session may soon, at least to some degree, change that.

House Bill 2017 (HB 2017), which the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) appellated the “Keep Oregon Moving” bill, is a massive $5.3 billion transit tax package.

Trimet says the bill could generate, for the first time, money for public transportation in rural areas of Washington County outside of TriMet and South Metro Area Regional Transit (SMART) service boundaries.

It’s not a lot – just $250,000 – but it could spur development of more public ride programs in Banks, North Plains, Gaston, Gales Creek and the rest of rural Washington County.
Meanwhile, fire danger turned deadly in Oregon as the Substation fire near the Gorge killed a farmer attempting to halt the spread of fire. It was another fire that local agencies sent resources to help fight.

Locally, small wildfires cropped up throughout the region, keeping Banks and Forest Grove fire agencies busy.

Various levels of burn bans and fire restrictions were set throughout the month as small fires in Timber, Banks, Greenville, Dilley and more cropped up. OHV trails in the Tillamook State Forest were closed to reduce the chance of a repeat of the Tillamook Burn.


20 acre fire burns in Gales Creek, and Highway 47 begins a summertime closure between Banks and Vernonia

Gales Creek – A brush fire spread rapidly across a large, multi-acre field in Gales Creek on the afternoon of Monday, August 20 near the intersection of NW Shearer Hill Road and Timmerman Road.

Fire officials say that the blaze, which damaged three structures and destroyed a barn, eventually reached a size of 20-25 acres of field and nearby standing timber.

Forest Grove Fire & Rescue was dispatched at 3:20 p.m to the fire on Monday afternoon.
Crews arrived to find the flames rapidly spreading up a hill, driven by winds, a high temperature, and low humidity. It was already a multiple-acre fire by the time crews arrived, according to Forest Grove Fire & Rescue public information officer Matt Johnston.

The fire was eventually upgraded to a 4-alarm fire, with more than 30 fire vehicles on scene from all Washington county fire agencies, including crews from Oregon Department of Forestry, and prison crews from the South Fork Forest Camp, located deep in the Tillamook State Forest in Tillamook County.

No cause was ever determined for the fire, according to Forest Grove Fire & Rescue.

On the other side of our newspaper’s coverage territory, Highway 47 north of Stub Stewart State Park and south of Vernonia Springs closed for a scheduled 60 days (which turned into much more due to construction delays) starting on Monday, August 6 for a bridge replacement project.

The bridge replacement project had originally been scheduled earlier in the summer, but was moved to accommodate the Vernonia Friendship Jamboree and Logging Show on August 3-5.


The Killin Wetlands open

The Killin Wetlands Nature Park, a body of water and natural area located largely between Highway 6 and Cedar Canyon Road between Banks and Gales Creek opened to the public on Saturday, September 22.

With dignitaries from Metro, the Audubon Society of Portland, Centro Cultural, and local residents, birding enthusiasts, and more present, the new parking lot was a full one at Killin Wetlands.

Killin Wetlands is 590 acres, most of which is covered in wetlands year-round, with dozens of animal and plant species making their home in what Metro officials have described as a rare type of habitat – a peat wetland – in Oregon.

According to the Killin Wetlands Access Master Plan, a document prepared for Metro by Nevue Ngan Associates, Killin Wetlands “remains the best example of a peat wetland in the Willamette Valley. ”

Sensitive and notable species, including the geyer willow, the northern red-legged frog, willow flycatcher, and more make their home in this wetlands, alongside more common species, including elk, deer, cutthroat trout, and more.

Metro purchased the property, located miles outside of their boundaries, with funds from the 1995 and 2006 natural areas bond measures passed by Portland-area voters who reside within Metro boundaries.


West Oregon Electric Co-op sees Mountaindale resistance, and a venerable Oak Tree is removed in Gales Creek

Mountaindale-area members of West Oregon Electric Co-op (WOEC) service District 6, are circulating a petition that so far has 26 signatures to request a hearing with the WOEC’s board directors to allow the customers to leave WOEC.

Meanwhile, in Gales Creek, an old oak tree that sheltered nearly every generation of children that attended the Gales Creek Elementary School was cut down over the period of a few weeks.

In an email to the Gales Creek Journal, David Warner, Forest Grove School District’s Director of Communications and Engagement said that the decision to remove the oak tree was made after consultation with an arborist revealed that two main branches were in imminent danger of falling within the next two years. According to Warner, most of the wood will be saved to be used in future projects by the district.

Finally, as the month drew to a close, an unexpected visitor to our area: a tornado touched down near the historic community of Thatcher, causing damage to a nursery before lifting away and evaporating into the sky – but not before video and pictures were captured by local residents.


State Champs

For the first time in the school’s 98-year history, the Banks Braves football team won the Oregon state championship at Hillsboro Stadium.

The Braves outplayed their league rivals, the Seaside Seagulls, 31-20 in the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) 4A final on Saturday, November 24.

Banks Athletic Director Ben Buchanan told the Banks Post that the Braves’ win is especially remarkable, considering the school plays in the 4A division with much larger schools.

“Banks is the smallest 4A school in the state,” Buchanan said. “When you’re up against schools that are sometimes three times larger than you, it’s difficult because they have a bigger pool of athletes and more depth. Winning the championship tells you a little bit about the quality of athletes we had this year, and really for the last 15 years. That we can compete with the big boys for this long says a lot about the kids, the coaches, and the community.”

Banks High School’s football team first took the field in 1931, and appeared in just two championships since then — 1949 and 2008.


City of Banks halts most new development, citing water shortage

The city of Banks water system cannot handle any new development.

That’s the message members of the Banks city council, city staff, city consultants, and documents examining the state of the Banks water system all agree on.

As a result, most new development in the city has been temporarily banned under a moratorium enacted by the city council on Tuesday, December 11.

Citing a shortage in its municipal water supply, the Banks city council enacted the moratorium halting most new development in the city for at least six months after a 4 – 1 vote during a city council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 11.

Councilor Michael Nelson was the sole dissenting vote, with councilor Mark Gregg not present at the meeting.

After six months, the council will decide to either renew the moratorium for another six months or, if the city has successfully increased the water system’s capacity, lift the moratorium.

This pattern can continue until the city has solved the water shortage.

The city has 60 days from Dec. 11 to produce a plan to address the water shortage and correct it.