As the community settles into 2018, the Sentinel staff has compiled a list of last year’s biggest stories. In 2017 there were headline grabbers and stories that garnered attention from outside the community but each one was vital in shaping the year in Cottage Grove.
Fundraising efforts to rehab the Cottage Grove Armory went into full swing this year. As restoration efforts began, the city combatted various media reports that it was improperly handling lead testing of the facility. City manager Richard Meyers ordered additional testing and contended that the city operated under the assumption that every surface was tainted with lead due to the age of the building. After tests revealed heightened lead levels in the front lobby of the armory, Meyers ordered the cleaning of the stairs, citing the concrete paint being dragged in on visitors’ shoes as the culprit. While lead experts from Portland agreed that the stairs were the logical explanation, they noted there was no way to definitively tell until the stairs were treated and the building re-tested. The most recent tests, completed after the remediation of the stairs, showed lead levels that were either zero or well below the allowed state standard.
In May of 2016, voters approved a $35 million bond to be used to construct a new school and complete security and technology updates on other schools around the district. In January of this year, South Lane School District dubbed its new school as Harrison Elementary beating out other possible monikers such as Bridges Elementary, Covered Bridges Elementary, Krista Parent Elementary and Heritage Elementary. SLSD broke ground on the school in late March and school board meetings continued to be dominate with discussions about rising costs. By November, the cost of the school had climbed to nearly $24 million. The opening of the new elementary school—scheduled for the Fall of 2018—has had unintended consequences. During a November school board meeting, board members were asked to “address the elephant in the room” and discuss the possible closure of Latham Elementary School. The school’s enrollment topped just over 90 students and several parents had opted to pull their students, citing behavioral issues at the school. Moreover, board member Jerry Settelmeyer and SLSD maintenance manager Matt Allen cited the school’s poor condition and inevitable repairs that would have to be made to continue its operation. Armed with the knowledge that some parents may pull their students and enroll them in the new Harrison, the board scheduled a more in-depth conversation for its January meeting.
Douglas County Libraries
In January, the Douglas County Commission heard from residents who had braved a snowstorm to beg the body not to close the county’s library system. The decision, however, was clear: there was no money to continue operating the facilities after voters turned down a measure in November that would have levied a 44 cent per $1,000 of homes assessed values. Libraries began closing in May including facilities in Yoncalla and Drain closed, as well as the main branch in Roseburg. An effort to raise funds through taxes has cropped up in Drain by Friends of the Margaret Whipple Library while Yoncalla’s library is currently operating with the help of volunteers.
It started with a contentious community meeting to explain the mission: to create homes for the homeless. Neighbors turned out in droves to hear what the Cottage Village Coalition had to say about the then 14-home project slated for E. Madison Ave. The coalition had teamed with SquareOne, a Eugene-based nonprofit and used a grant awarded to the company to purchase the lot on Madison—a move kept private until the sale was final. Residents of the neighborhood chastised the group for not notifying homeowners in the area sooner while the coalition contended it was under no legal obligation to do so. The project has since moved to a 13-tiny home plan and has shifted from catering to homeless individuals to those in danger of becoming homeless or those on a fixed income. The property, according to neighbors, still has obstacles to overcome including a flooding problem every winter and spring as well as the system that is the Cottage Grove Planning Department. The project, since named Cottage Village, has yet to apply for any permits to begin construction within the city. Under the terms of the grant received to purchase the land, Cottage Village must be complete by the summer of 2018. An estimated $800,000 is needed to complete construction and while the project has since received additional grants totaling $100,000, it is still short of its fundraising goal.
On March 21, former Lane County Commissioner Faye Stewart tearfully resigned his county seat to take a position with the city of Cottage Grove. Stewart would head the newly formed planning and community development department that was created after the heads of both planning and community development retired. Stewart’s resignation sparked a rush for his seat which, under statute, was to be filled by the commission. Cindy Weeldryer, Mike Fleck and Gary Williams of Cottage Grove threw their hats into the ring with half a dozen other applicants. After extensive talk of diversifying the Lane County Commission, the body opted instead, to appoint Williams, creating an all-male board.
During his nine months with the city, Stewart has worked on multiple projects including a fencing project for a new Bohemia Mining Days concert, a sever water main break that caused residents to lose belongings and suffer damage to their homes, and working towards streamlining the planning process for potential investors and builders.
Bohemia Mining Days
Every summer, Cottage Grove fills with tourists seeking the same four-day event that has run for more than four decades. Bohemia Mining Days competes with the Oregon State Fair and the W.O.E. Fair, costing organizers approximately $50,000 to put on. This year, the BMD welcomed a private concert by the band Home Free as a way to help give the festival a financial boost. Organizer and former BMD board member Joel Reiten paid for the concert out of pocket, promising to return all but what it cost and 10 percent to the festival.
It was a year unlike any other for the Cottage Grove football team. For the first time in school history, the Lions completed an undefeated season and brought home the state football title. A year after falling in the state title game, the Lions capped off the season by defeating Marshfield 48-14 in the championship. Cottage Grove was not just victorious throughout the year but dominated teams from the start of the season. The team averaged 48 points in each contest while giving up an eye-popping 13.6 points per game. The championship team featured head coach Gary Roberts who was named OSAA 4A coach of the year for the second season in a row. The Lions also claimed offensive and defensive players of the year at the 4A level with wide receiver Jacob Woods and linebacker Cooper Ladd. In total, the Lions had six players named to first team all-state (Dylan Graves at quarterback, Woods and Hayden Glenn at receiver, Cooper Ladd at center, Nate Farrell as an offensive lineman and Erick Giffen as kicker) and three players on the first team all-state defense (Ladd, Woods and Glenn).
After city engineers deemed the Swinging Bridge unsafe in 2016, the city set on a course to find funding to fix it. A grant through the state parks department was denied. A group, Friends of the Swinging Bridge popped up at local festivals and fairs accepting donations and the city implemented a “round-up” program on water bills for residents to give to the cause. Several options for repair were presented to the city council with a heavy reliance on the public’s desire to maintain the bridge’s original design. Of the three choices laid out by the city, the council chose the option that preserved the movement of the bridge but did not meet state standards. Repairs are expected to range between $200,000 and $400,000. As of December, the community had raised just over $2,000. However, according to city manager Richard Meyers, Cottage Grove is due for a transportation check from the state of Oregon than can be used, in part, to help fund the repair of the bridge as well as a re-submitted application for the state parks grant.
2017 was on fire. South Lane County Fire and Rescue crews were dispatched throughout Oregon and California last year as more than a dozen wildfires broke out between the two states. At the height of the season, 17 wildfires burned in Oregon alone and thousands were evacuated, losing their homes. Horror stories emerged from California including tales of husbands holding wives in their backyard pools to try and escape the flames and entire families perishing in the disasters. Grabbing the most headlines was the fire started by a teenage boy from Washington that eventually engulfed the Columbia Gorge, burning nearly 50,000 acres and torching natural landmarks, closing the area to residents. By late summer, air quality in the valley had diminished with Lane Regional Air Protection citing the air as unhealthy or dangerous for several days at a time. The Oregon State Fire Marshal sent several strike teams from Oregon to our neighboring state for the first time ever under mutual aid agreements, garnering SLFR an estimated $350,000 to $450,000 in time and equipment. The season was called the worst in Oregon’s history and just as the last strike teams made it home to Cottage Grove in time for Christmas, Division Chief Joe Raade said California’s Santa Ana winds paired with dry conditions had fueled the hard-to-contain fires.
After more than 20 years, the effort to bring a carousel to Main St. fired up again. Originally owned by Judy Cash, the antique carousel was brought to Cottage Grove in the ‘90s when Cash came into family money and pursued her dream of owning a carousel. She had said Cottage Grove reminded her of a 1950s town and deserved to have one of the attractions as its centerpiece. However, early efforts to restore the attraction and find it a home within the city failed. By 2017, Friends of the Cottage Grove Carousel had started tackling the project again. The group included Don Williams and several Cottage Grove notables with an agreement in place—the carousel would be gifted by the Cash family to the group if the project got off the ground. Armed with the success of the Albany Carousel, the group continued fundraising efforts including a no-show banquet and members traveled to Florence to acquire an organ to accompany the carousel. High school students pitched in and restored the animals during art classes and donations came in from the community. Cash, who was diagnosed with cancer last year, passed away in the fall.
*Bonus story: HB3030
The Youth Advisory Council managed to get a bill passed during the legislative session. House Bill 3030 was the council's answer to an issue that sprouted up in Cottage Grove. Resident Karen Munsell came before the city council with a personal problem: her son had nearly lost his life after finding "whippets" or nitrous oxide cannisters. With the help of the mayor, city manager, community leaders and the youth council, Munsell saw the passage of HB3030 that prohibits the sale of the cannisters to those under the age of 21.