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Transformative 2000s; Slipping Aluminum

by Kathy Ursprung
The Dalles Chronicle, December 31, 2009

For better and worse, the opening decade of the 21st century roared through
The Dalles, leaving change in its wake

As the decade of the "aughts" rolled by in The Dalles, some things never changed: The groundbreaking date for the airport golf course was always a few months off. The worn wooden floors at Klindts still squeaked with age. Firefighters kept a weather eye out for the latest blaze, hoping for rain. And cherry growers kept their eyes peeled, hoping for dry weather.

In other respects, the 2000s brought changes more significant than any in half a century. So, as the 21st century matures into adolescence, here's a look at the headlines that dominated the area and changed it forever.

2000: Aluminum economy

Aluminum led The Dalles Chronicle's pages in 2000 as power supply issues threatened the stability of the Mid-Columbia's largest manufacturing industry, an employer of more than 1,200 workers in factories in The Dalles and Goldendale. Now only a memory, the Northwest Aluminum factory dominated the landscape on the west end of The Dalles for half a century, as it dominated the economy. As Bonneville Power Administration continued the process of developing new power contracts for the following year, Golden Northwest Corporation, owner of Northwest Aluminum and Goldendale Aluminum, saw a shift in power priorities from the energy-hungry direct service industries like aluminum to the public and private utilities.

As a result of 2000's events, smelters cut their production and ultimately shut down, while workers continued to draw salaries, and Northern Wasco County PUD agreed to supply 9.9 megawatts of power under its single-load cap.

In other news:

2001: Slipping aluminum

Aluminum employment remained at the top of local concerns in 2001 as production curtailments continued to stretch out. Golden Northwest authorities negotiated compensation from Bonneville Power Administration for reimbursement of full wages and fixed operating costs at the aluminum plants. The goal was to cover workers' wages and also allow the aluminum holding company to pursue a long-range strategy of developing alternative energy sources, among them a jet engine-powered plant and wind turbines to attain energy independence from BPA by 2006, a goal never fulfilled.

Meanwhile, public projects dominated the landscape in The Dalles, including middle school construction and the downtown "renaissance" project on Second Street. Voters in Wasco and Hood River counties approved annexation enabling the college to improve services in Hood River and expand its tax base.

In other news:

  • Drought conditions in Wasco County.
  • The Celilo Cancer Center opened in February.

    2002: Big blazes

    The Sheldon Ridge fire swept across rural lands between Mosier and west The Dalles, threatening homes and prompting evacuations. Meanwhile, the White River fire burned across Bakeoven in southern Wasco County, then jumped the Deschutes River into Sherman County. Both fire ravaged rural lands for more than a week. Barely a week later, fire destroyed the Mountain Fir chip mill. Wind drove the fast-burning blaze across the river into the Dallesport area.

    In other news:

    2003: New ties

    A new school district and a new link to the river meant big changes in The Dalles in 2003. The year brought questions about how to turn two school districts -- The Dalles and Chenowith -- into one, combining different curriculums and a host of school buildings built for smaller student bodies. Longtime Hood River school administrator Chuck Bagge was hired as interim superintendent to shepherd the transition. Now a familiar fixture at The Dalles' front door, the $5 million Union Street underpass was dedicated Oct. 22, 2003, clearing the way for locals and visitors to refamiliarize themselves with life and recreation in a river city. In other news:

    2004: New starts

    The Dalles and Chenowith school districts reconciled their differences in 2004 and became one school district, bringing together teachers, parents and students of the two districts under one umbrella, North Wasco County School District 21. The district number is the sum of the two previous districts' numbers, 9 and 12, classes started under the new regime in the fall.

    In other news: Opposition fired up in The Dalles when word that a news stand and retail store planned for west The Dalles was actually an adult book and video store; opponents blanketed the city with "Not in our town" bumper stickers. The country's second largest retailer, The Home Depot, bought property adjacent to West Sixth Street and built a 118,000-square-foot complex. Charlie Company of the 116th Armored Cavalry Brigade, based in The Dalles, was called up for overseas duty in Iraq. Columbia Gorge Community College won final accreditation for its nursing program and passed an $18.5 million bond to build a health sciences building, a Hood River campus and make major repairs in aging other buildings. Wasco County celebrated its 150th anniversary with special events throughout the year. State Rep. John Mabrey resigned from office and was succeeded by former Chenowith School Superintendent John Dallum.

    Two Marine F/A18 Hornet jets based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego collided on a training mission July 21 near Arlington, killing two reservists.

    2005: Google town

    The Dalles officially made the transition from a heavy industry town to a technology town in 2005 as Google announced plans to build at the Port of The Dalles. Enterprise zone tax breaks stretching across 15 years, the longest period allowed by state law, raised eyebrows despite Google's promise to make payments to local governments totaling about the same amount as what taxes would have been. Google's announcement triggered a construction boom at the port, as well as at commercial properties around town. Local housing prices also skyrocketed as a result.

    In other news: Columbia Gorge Community College received the first construction funds from the state in its 28-year history, $7.5 million to add to the $18.5 million in local bond money for campus improvements. Wasco County deputy Randall Hooper was convicted May 6 of two counts of first-degree sex abuse and one county for first-degree official misconduct and sentenced to jail time. Ten-year-old Brian Anthony McCluskey died Oct. 22 after being hit by a pickup while crossing in the crosswalk on his scooter at the intersection of West Sixth and Cherry Heights. On Sept. 11, The Dalles was overtaken by cyclists as it hosted Cycle Oregon, the state's most well-known cycling event.

    2006: Boom town

    A year of transition marked 2006 with the beginning of construction at Google and the biggest expansion in new home construction in The Dalles since The Dalles Dam and the aluminum plant were constructed. New businesses came to The Dalles, while established ones like Sawyer's true Value and Fred Meyer expanded.

    In other news: Optimistic voters, who saw a wave of change at the national level, supported two taxing district, one for Wasco County Extension Service and another for a Wasco County library district. A household hazardous waste facility also opened serving Wasco and Sherman counties in The Dalles, funded by a surcharge on local garbage bills and tipping fees. A traffic light changed the flow at Cherry Heights and Sixth Street, where a young boy had died the year before. City finance director Dan Izzo resigned after the city received its worst audit in nearly a decade. Sherman County voters recalled their district attorney, Tara Lawrence, after she filed a civil rights lawsuit against Sherman County Sheriff Brad Lohrey while both were in office.

    2007: Marking time

    History rode the front pages of The Chronicle in 2007. Celilo Falls was silenced and submerged 50 year before on March 10, giving way to the rising backwaters of The Dalles Dam and its cheap hydropower, which fueled the industry that fed much of The Dalles and the Pacific Northwest. A tragic date in Native American minds and those of many others, as well, the day was marked with solemn ceremonies in Celilo Village. That summer, the Army Corps of Engineers began work to replace the dilapidated homes at the village, which local residents moved into after their original homesites were flooded.

    The Dalles marked another date, the 150th anniversary of its incorporation on June 26, 1857. The city is one of only five that were incorporated before Oregon became a state. An 1857 costume ball and expanded Historic The Dalles Days celebration marked the occasion.

    Another piece of history met its demise. Joseph G. Wilson School fell to the wrecking ball, concluding its 123-year history, but not before fellow students gathered on its steps to remember their time there.

    In other news: The community college broke ground on its new health science building, and its new Indian Creek campus in Hood River. After much debate and criticism from some members of the public, Wasco County passed a nondiscrimination law including protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. In the new law's wake, Wasco County Judge Dan Ericksen and Commissioner Sherry Holliday faced a recall effort led by Mike Tenney, but signature-gathering fell short of the required number. A "big stink" settled over east The Dalles as Cherry Growers struggled through the summer with problems with the biological process at one of its wastewater ponds. A wind turbine on the Klondike III wind farm east of Wasco collapsed, killing 35-year-old Chadd Bryce Mitchell of Goldendale.

    2008: Big box

    Rejected in Hood River, Wal-Mart turned its eyes toward a site on the west side of The Dalles for a future Superstore, that officials said would employ 300 to 400 people. A hearing on the matter before The Dalles planning commission had to be continued after the attending crowd overwhelmed city council chambers.

    In other news: Columbia Gorge Community College unveiled its new health and science building and opened its Hood river campus. Celilo villagers moved into new homes that replaced the shoddy and run down surplus housing provided when their original village was submerged behind The Dalles Dam in 1957. The city of The Dalles began an aggressive campaign of land annexation, adding 233 lots into the city limits as part of two-year-old policy of expanding as quickly as legally possible out to the urban growth boundary. The expanding Life Flight air ambulance serve established a base at the Columbia Gorge Regional airport in Dallesport.

    The Dalles city council took the first step toward reconstruction of the Brewery Grade intersection, taking over maintenance responsibilities for East Second Street between Brewery and the Exit 85 onramp. The intersection reconstruction, including a new large roundabout, paves the way for economic redevelopment in that area.

    2009: Crime and controversy

    The Hong Family murders shocked the community when west The Dalles resident Roark David Smith allegedly gunned down Patti Hong and her son, Randy, in the morning hours of Feb. 25. While Hong family and friends mourned, Smith's court appearances led the headlines. Smith is now at a state mental facility midway through a six-month psychological evaluation to determine whether he is competent to stand trial.

    In other news: Debate over a Wal-Mart Superstore in The Dalles matured, gaining approval through the city process, which was largely upheld at Oregon's Land Use Board of Appeals. The city is expected to rule in January traffic-related issues connected with the application. A multimillion-dollar shortfall in school funding forced layoffs and fewer school days. The Dalles honored 150 years of Oregon statehood with a massive celebration. The Microwave Fire blazed toward Mosier and was beat back by firefighters from around the state. Brandy Badillo was charged in connection with an alleged kidnapping conspiracy to take the child of her neighbors. Good is strong in the world, said Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, speaking in The Dalles.

    Kathy Ursprung
    Transformative 2000s; Slipping Aluminum
    The Dalles Chronicle, December 31, 2009

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