Cowlitz 2 Fire and Rescue now reports that as much as $80,000 damage was done at this morning’s arson fire at the Journey Kelso Seventh-Day Adventist Church, as the structures used in the “Journey to Bethlehem,” “Journey to the Cross” and other events were destroyed. Just before 1 am, firefighters and Deputies responded to 77 Solomon Road, when a large fire was reported behind the church just off of West Side Highway. Within 15 minutes, two other fires were reported near a home on Lydia Lane, along with two fires near the Beacon Hill Water and Sewer District office. No serious property damage was done, but evidence at the scene indicates that these fires were intentionally set. In fact, they say that there were four “set points” along Lydia Lane, along with other arson fire incidents near the church in recent weeks. Cowlitz 2 Fire and Rescue is working with the Sheriff’s Office on the case, and they say that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms may also be called in.
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The continuing drought is also putting serious pressure on the state’s fish hatchery system, as the Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that thousands of fish are dying. WDFW is sending Coho salmon from the North Toutle River Hatchery to the Tacoma Power Cowlitz Hatchery near Salkum, after about 102,000 fish died from disease that was caused by the elevated water temperature. Fish managers say that about a dozen of the state’s 83 hatcheries are having problems, with about 1.5 million fish lost at this point. They’re using recirculation pumps and aerators to help reduce the warm-water effects, along with medicated feed to battle fungal and bacterial infections. When all other options are exhausted, fish are being released into streams and rivers ahead of schedule.
It’s also being announced that flows on the Lewis River will be reduced again this weekend, dropping by about one-third. The Lewis River Flow Coordination Committee made that announcement yesterday, reporting that flows below Merwin Dam will be reduced from 1,200 cubic feet per second to 800 feet per second. The reduction will be done in two stages, over this Friday and Saturday. River levels downstream of the dam are expected to drop by about four inches. Flows coming into Swift, Yale and Merwin reservoirs are currently at about 35 percent of normal, and are at the lowest levels noted in 85 years of record keeping. The low waters have closed boat ramps on Swift and Yale reservoirs; it’s noted that ramps at Yale Park, Beaver Bay, Saddle Dam Park, Cresap Bay and Speelyai Bay remain open, and should remain operable through Labor Day, even with this extremely low water levels.
Weather forecasters say that the heat wave is expected to crank up today, and should persist through the weekend at a minimum. The Weather Service has a Heat Advisory that goes in to effect at 11 this morning, and will run until 9 pm tomorrow night. Today’s high is expected to exceed 90 degrees; 90-plus high temperatures are expected through this Sunday, possibly even going into Monday and Tuesday of next week. If you have to be outside, try to minimize your exposure to the direct sunlight, and try to avoid strenuous work during the heat of the afternoon. Be sure to stay hydrated, and keep a close eye on those who might be most affected by the extreme heat.
Longview Police are looking into an incident reported yesterday at a pawn shop in downtown Longview, when one of their customers allegedly passed a counterfeit $100 bill. The incident came to light yesterday morning, but the bill was reportedly passed last week. Employees say that the bill passed the “pen test,” but the forgery was discovered when it was examined more closely at the bank. That examination shows that the bill was actually a five that had been “reconditioned.” While no arrests have been reported, Longview Police say some information on a possible suspect has been developed.
It’s being reported that one of the defendants in a rape case that was reported earlier this year is accepting a plea agreement, and is pleading guilty to a reduced charge. Matthew Edward Renaud, 32, is one of two men who were arrested back in March, accused of locking a woman in a shed, and then sexually assaulting her. Today’s Daily News reports that Renaud is pleading guilty to a single count of “indecent liberties,” which is a still a felony. Renaud had originally been charged with first-degree rape and unlawful imprisonment, along with Nathan Andrew Stone, 29. Stone is still scheduled to go to trial next month, and part of Renaud’s plea agreement is that he will testify in that trial. Renaud is scheduled for sentencing on September 8th, and faces a recommended term of 15 to 20 months, along with three years of community supervision.
An issue with land ownership is bogging down the transfer of Willow Grove Park from Cowlitz County to the Port of Longview. At yesterday’s Port Commission meeting, it was disclosed that more than half of the land at the park is actually owned by the Department of Natural Resources, not Cowlitz County. 47 of the 75 acres at the park area are leased to the county; it’s reported that DNR could re-assign the lease, but Cowlitz County would still be responsible for assuring that the lease terms are upheld. Cowlitz County sent DNR a proposal that would change the lease to reduce the county’s exposure, but there’s no timeline on when that paperwork will be resolved. Port officials say that they hope to get this settled before the end of the year, so that a dredging window can be hit. They’re also continuing design work on needed work at the park, with a goal of having those designs ready by this fall.
“Steve the Rabbit” is out with a big announcement this morning, reporting that the Lower Columbia School Gardens have exceeded the goal that was set by two local donors, and that the organization will benefit from $42,000 in donations and grants. Back in May, Ian Thompson with the LCSG announced that the Health Care Foundation and the Wollenberg Foundation were each putting up $10,000 challenge grants, saying that they would put that amount of money up if the School Gardens could match those grants. It was announced yesterday that the community has come forward with $22,000, so the School Gardens will receive the full amount from each foundation. Thompson says that this money will help to grow the organization, just like the 14 local school gardens are now growing. You can see, feel and taste the results of the Lower Columbia School Gardens by going over to Northlake Elementary School today, where the weekly School Garden Produce Sale will go from 10 am until 1 pm.
We need to start getting ready for the heat again, as daytime highs once again head toward the 90’s. The Weather Service has a Heat Advisory coming up over the next few days. The Heat Advisory starts tomorrow morning and runs through Friday, with high temperatures expected to be in the mid-to-upper 90’s. You’re advised to take precautions to yourself, your kids and your pets from the heat; make sure that you have a way to get out of the heat in the afternoon, and be sure to check in on vulnerable individuals who could need some assistance. The 90-plus temperatures are expected to persist through the weekend.
The late end to the legislative session and the departure of Finance Director Larry Mayfield has posed a challenge as Longview School District officials work to develop the 2015-2016 operating budget, but new Superintendent Dan Zorn says that they’re getting things done, and that the upcoming school year looks pretty good. In the initial documents presented at last night’s Longview School Board meeting, the district is looking at an operating budget of about $76 million, about $3 million higher than last year. Zorn says that Longview should getting about $4.1 million in additional state funding this year, but that amount could be affected by a possible decline in enrollment, currently estimated to be in the neighborhood of 200 students. It’s noted that the enrollment numbers are projections, and they won’t know for sure until school starts in the fall. These initial budget documents are now available at the Longview School District offices. The preliminary budget will be presented at a public hearing scheduled for August 10th, with a goal of adopting the budget on Monday, August 24th.
In other business last night, the Longview School Board set up a study session at 6 pm on Monday, August 10th, where they will review the work done so far on the district’s Facility Master Plan. The regular meeting will follow at 7 pm. A special meeting is also being set for 4 pm on Monday, August 17th, where the School Board plans to hold a retreat to discuss district goals. Both meetings are open to the public; there may be an opportunity for public input at the Master Plan study session, but public participation in the Board Retreat will be limited.