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The great pumpkin plot of North Powder

Valerie Tachenko didn’t mind being called the wrong name, as long as the youngsters were having fun planting pumpkins.

“One boy hollered “Mrs. Farmer, is my hole big enough?” she says, still laughing about it a week later.

Tachenko, who works a four-acre garden for her CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and local farmers markets, is working with Oregon Rural Action and Powder Valley School in the Farm-to-School program.

On May 1, she took peat pots, soil and pumpkin seeds to students in kindergarten and grades 1 and 2.

“All the kids planted a pumpkin seed. They named them, bonded with them,” she said.

For the next month the students kept an eye on their sprouts.

“We watered and tended them,” said Chris Aldrich, who teaches first grade.

Every few days the students measured their plants’ progress and wrote a journal entry describing how each budding vine looked.

Governor says prisons will stay open

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski said Wednesday that he will reject a proposal from the Department of Corrections to close three minimum-security prisons, including Baker City's Powder River Correctional Facility, to help the state fill its $577 million budget shortfall

"The governor will not allow three prisons to close and release 1,000 prisoners," Anna Richter Taylor, the governor's spokeswoman, said several hours after Kulongoski's office announced a list of cost-cutting proposals, including the Corrections Department's list.

Powder River, which opened in 1989, has a capacity of 286 inmates and a current roster of 271.

The prison employs about 70 people, but that total doesn't include approximately 40 employees from New Directions Northwest, the Baker City company that runs Powder River's renowned drug and alcohol treatment program for inmates.

The two other prisons on the proposed closure list are Mill Creek work camp and Santiam Correctional Facility. Both are minimum-security facilities in Salem.

Richter Taylor said Kulongoski will ask the Legislature's Emergency Board to allocate money to keep the three prisons open.


County to seek disaster help for flooding

Worst flooding in more than a quarter century damages homes, destroys two bridges, closes many roads, with eastern areas taking the brunt

A combination of heavy rain and melting snow from the Wallowa Mountains turned Eagle Creek into a wide-ranging torrent during the weekend just west of Richland. Flooding also caused major problems in nearby Pine Valley. (Submitted Photo by Tami Waldron)
Baker County officials will ask Gov. Ted Kulongoski to declare an emergency in response to flooding in the eastern part of the county that has partially inundated more than 30 homes, destroyed two bridges and damaged sections of more than a dozen roads over the past four days.

“We’re still gathering data,” Mark Bennett, the county’s emergency manager, said this morning.

“We feel like we’ve already met the threshold (for an emergency declaration) for public infrastructure damage.”

No injuries have been reported, Bennett said.

He said he and other county officials exchanged multiple phone calls and e-mails with the governor’s office throughout the weekend.

“They’re well aware of what we have going on,” Bennett said.

About 9 a.m. today Bennett learned that a home along Highway 86 about 10 miles east of Halfway was in “imminent” danger of falling off a bluff and into Pine Creek.

Eating less, but getting much more out of life

Dee Gorrell has lost 160 pounds in the past 3 years

Baker County Sheriff’s deputy Dee Gorrell isn’t easy to recognize these days.

His voice hasn’t changed — it’s still the bass drawl he’s known for — but his appearance has people doing double takes.

Gorrell’s lost 160 pounds over the past three years, including a 68-pound reduction as a recent winner of the Losing Big in Baker County weight-loss program.

The 43-year-old says he wasn’t looking to claim the $450 prize money when he signed up. Instead, he was trying to forestall a backslide of weight gain during a January surgery on his left elbow.

After a 2008 surgery to repair the same elbow, Gorrell said he gained 30 pounds while recuperating and he didn’t want that to happen again.

He began the journey to his new persona three years ago when he decided he wanted to drop 50 to 60 pounds from his 415-pound, 5-foot 10 1/2-inch frame. He’d had little success with all the popular diets, such as South Beach, Atkins and Body for Life.

All of the diets would work for a while, but he’d soon find himself back where he started and even adding a few extra pounds along the way.

Council to discuss replacing Bryan

The Baker City Council’s Tuesday meeting includes a review of policies for replacing Councilor Andrew Bryan, as well as a resignation letter from Don Chance as the city’s contract planning director.

Bryan resigned from the City Council May 28, and Chance submitted a letter of resignation dated June 1 stating he had completed the primary projects he and his company, Confluence Planning Services, were hired to do and that he felt the “city should pare back to a basic permit function in the planning department to conserve resources.”

Tuesday’s meeting starts at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 1655 First St.

A passel of Porsches pulls into Baker City

These shiny cars can go fast — but the drivers don’t push their Porsches to the max.

“We never go over the speed limit — you can quote me on that,” Gary Groover of Portland said with a grin.

Groover is a member of the Oregon Region Porsche Club of America, and on Friday 37 of these cars pulled into Baker City for the first night of their four-day “NW Passage” tour.

They started in the Gorge, and took back roads all the way to Baker.

“As long as they were twisty, we found ’em,” Groover said.

Floods worsen in Pine, Eagle valleys

As many as 40 homes were either flooded or isolated by floodwaters in Eagle and Pine valleys Friday, sections of several roads were closed, and at least two Baker County road bridges were destroyed as heavy rain continued to pummel the Panhandle.

"It's unbelievable the amout of water that's running down there," said Mark Bennett, the county's emergency manager.

 No injuries have been reported, Bennett said.

Crews from the county road department, the Oregon Department of Transportation, other agencies and in some places local residents using small tractors worked all day Friday to divert rising water and repair flood damage, Bennett said.

 Saturday's predicted break in the weather — the National Weather Service forecasts only a slight chance of showers — should help workers.

Some of the most severe flooding Friday happened in Pine Valley.

One county bridge over Pine Creek was demolished, as was a second bridge that crosses Clear Creek, a main tributary of Pine Creek.

An estimated 10 homes were isolated when a section of the Clear Creek Road washed out, Bennett said.

County Roadmaster Ken Helgerson and other road department workers were building a temporary road to access those homes Saturday, Bennett said.

On Highway 86, ODOT crews were trying to save a section just downstream from the North Pine Creek crossing, an area that has sustained heavy damage in previous floods.

The road to Cornucopia is closed, as are many other forest roads leading to the Eagle Creek area and the southern Wallowa Mountains.

Nearer to Baker City, the Anthony Lakes Highway, Forest Road 73, was closed at the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest boundary.

In Halfway, officials received permission from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to pump treated wastewater from the city's sewage lagoons, after floodwaters inundated the lagoons, Bennett said.

Slaughterhouse Road, which runs east from Halfway, was closed due to high water from nearby Clear Creek.

Bennett said he and Fred Warner Jr., chairman of the county board of commissioners, were driving to Pine Valley Saturday morning to assess damage.

Workers put out hundreds of sandbags on Friday. Bennett said Triple C Redi-Mix of Baker City donated the sand.

More rain is forecast on Sunday, although amounts are expected to be lighter than during the two storms earlier this week.

Eagle Creek shows its talons

Rain, melting snow push creek over its banks and into pastures and hayfields just west of Richland

Mib Dailey, in tractor, said the water reached midway on the truck doors at the highest stage of flooding. Dailey and his son, Shondo, got the ranch truck to high ground as water continued to recede Thursday. Jacque Dailey said the water began to rise sometime after 10 p.m. The dogs started barking at 12:25 a.m., she said. The Daileys spent long hours getting their dogs, cats, floating ATVs and other equipment to any place safe. The flood water rose to about an inch short of their trailer door, Jacque said.(Baker City Herald/S.John Collins)
Renece Forsea could hardly sleep Wednesday night, what with the rumble of boulders and logs tumbling down Eagle Creek not far from her bedroom.

“It’s pretty ugly,” was Forsea’s assessment Thursday morning.

On Wednesday the creek, fed by a combination of torrential rain and fast-melting snow in the nearby Wallowa Mountains, breached its banks just west of Richland, about 42 miles east of Baker City.

Renece’s husband, Dan Forsea, said that in his experience this week’s flood is exceeded only by one in 1964.

“It’s not quite that bad, but it’s close,” he said. “This old girl (Eagle Creek) has got a mind of her own, and she likes to wander.”

Dan Forsea said he had not heard of any homes being flooded, although at least one family, Jim and Salina Church, had to evacuate their home due to high water.

The National Weather Service in Boise issued a flash flood watch for Baker County that’s in effect through Friday.

A second storm that arrived Thursday night brought more rain that continued into Friday morning. Thunderstorms are also possible Friday afternoon.

Who needs a canvas?

Baker Middle School students transform a plain brick wall into vibrant art

Art students at Baker Middle School have taken their studies to the walls of the school gymnasium.

Last week, artists from Ginger Rembold’s classes took turns working on a mural in the gym balcony, where the students eat lunch.

“I had money to spend from Crossroads that I was supposed to use for an artist-in-residence,” Rembold said.

That grant was from the Leo Adler Foundation to Crossroads Carnegie Art Center, which was then awarded to BMS.

This last quarter Rembold’s art classes studied American artists, with a unit on Keith Haring, whose style Rembold describes as “fat stick figures” and “very imaginative.”

The students created their own work in the style of Haring, and then the classes voted on four designs to be featured in the mural.

The images were created by Farrell Linscott, Havilah Strommer, Kate Averett and Kylie Melton.

Ash Grove’s mercury wait continues

New EPA mercury emissions rule, now due Aug. 6, could force the company to close its plant near Durkee

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency postponed its deadline from June 6 to Aug. 6 for issuing new mercury emissions limits that could affect the future of the Ash Grove Cement plant in Durkee.

 “There has been an extension of the date so the EPA can gather a little more data,” said Terry Kerby, manager of the Durkee plant, which is one of Baker County’s larger private employers with a staff of 116.

Kerby said the Durkee plant and others around the country that make cement from limestone with high, naturally occurring levels of mercury could be forced to shut down if EPA adopts its proposed mercury limits.

The Durkee factory emits more airborne mercury than any other industrial source in Oregon, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality.

Ash Grove and other cement companies have asked EPA to include a subcategory that has less stringent limits for factories that process limestone with higher-than-normal mercury concentrations.

With a significant number of the nation’s cement kilns either shut down or operating intermittently due to the recession and a severe winter, collecting the emissions data EPA needs has been a challenge, said Curtis Lesslie, Ash Grove Cement Company’s vice president of environmental affairs.

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