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Cascade Natural Gas Penalty

Local natural gas customers will get some relief on their bills, as state regulators order the company to pay a fine and issue refunds over improper billing practices. The settlement with the Utilities and Transportation Commission stems from a staff investigation, showing that Cascade violated state laws and rules connected to late-billing charges. The UTC is ordering Cascade to refund more than 192 thousand dollars to customers that were improperly charged between June 1st of 2012 and December 31st of 2013. The company is also agreeing to pay a fine of $275,000. Those penalty costs cannot be passed on to customers. The company is also taking steps to improve its billing system, to prevent similar situations in the future. Based in Kennewick, Cascade Natural Gas serves nearly $200,000 in 65 communities around the state, including Longview and Kelso.

Port Preview

The Port of Longview Commission is holding a special meeting this morning, where they plan to take action on a state offer of financial aid to Cowlitz County, regarding the finalization of a planning grant that deals with the Mt. Solo Landfill. After the 9 am meeting, a workshop is planned through the rest of the day, where the Commission will review and discuss Willow Grove Park. The workshop is scheduled to start at 10:30 am, starting with a review of public comments. The Commissioners will discuss the “vision” for Willow Grove, and then they’ll try to finalize the mission, goals and objectives dealing with that land. At 3 pm, they plan to discuss concepts and priorities, before adjourning at 4:15 pm. The 9 am meeting will be held in the Port Commission meeting room, while the workshop will be run in an upstairs meeting room. Both meetings are open to the public.

SLC Surplus

The Longview School District is out with a public notice, announcing that they are now soliciting “Requests for Proposals,” looking for organizations that might be interested in leasing out the old Structured Learning Center on Memorial Park Drive. The district says that the lease would cover 1-point-8 acres, containing the SLC building, the driveway and parking lot. It’s also noted that “substantial investment” is needed to modernize and improve the building for current use. The district is looking for an initial lease agreement of five years, along with provisions that the district can end the lease, if the building is needed for district purposes. Get additional information by contacting Assistant Superintendent Chris Fritsch at 575-7003.

Thursday Stuff

At 10 this morning, there’s a special event planned at the Oregon National Guard Armory in Saint Helens, when the local detachment will return from its latest deployment to Afghanistan. A gathering is planned to welcome these men and women back home. You’re encouraged to come by and show your support for these service men and women.

From 4 to 7 pm today, you can help the Rainier Junior-Senior High School History Club raise money for an upcoming trip England and Scotland, with a goal of taking that trip next year. Panda Express will be donating a portion of their proceeds to the History Club.

The Chamber of Commerce is trying a new format for this evening’s “State of Cowlitz County” event, which will start at 5:15 pm in the Laufman Lecture Hall at LCC’s new Health and Science Building. County Commissioners Dennis Weber and Joe Gardner will be joined by County Assessor Terry McLaughlin at this evening’s event, which has a new format. The Chamber of Commerce says that there’s no charge to attend the event; by making this “free,” it’s hoped that more people might attend. The Chamber still needs a headcount, so if you plan to go, they would like to RSVP by calling 423-8400, or go to the Chamber web page.

There’s a meeting planned for this evening in Vancouver, where the Department of Fish and Wildlife will try to explain fishery changes on the Kalama River, moves that are intended to help reduce the number of hatchery-origin summer steelhead in the upper reaches of the river. Studies show that 50 to 75 percent of summer steelies in the upper Kalama are hatchery fish, which are having a negative impact on wild stocks. Some of the moves already made include an increase in bag limits for hatchery steelhead, along with the suspension of transporting hatchery fish to the upper river. Tonight’s meeting starts at 6 pm, and is being held at the WDFW offices on Grand Boulevard in Vancouver.

“13 Nights on the River” continues this evening on the waterfront in St. Helens. “LoveBomb Go-Go” is scheduled to perform this evening, following the open-air market that will run from 3 to 6 pm. Admission is free, and the entire family is invited to come by.

Heat Watch

Early this morning, the National Weather Service issued an “Excessive Heat Watch” from Friday afternoon through Sunday evening. They say daytime temperatures are expected to be in the high 90’s on Friday, near 100 on Saturday, and in the 90’s on Sunday. The Heat Watch covers much of southwest Washington and western Oregon; it’s noted that this is “abnormally early” for a heat wave of this type. You’re advised to take precautions to protect yourself, your family and your pets as the temperatures climb.

Burn Ban Advanced

Cowlitz County officials are moving up the Burn Ban that they originally had planned to go into effect on July 1st. At 12:01 this morning, restrictions went up on land-clearing, residential and forest-management burning; this ban also covers camp fires and recreational fires. All current outdoor burn permits are also being rescinded by the Cowlitz County Fire Marshal. Cowlitz County officials say that they’re working with Clark County and other local agencies to coordinate the burn bans, so that they’re consistent across the region. This ban will be in place until at least September 30th, as forecasters predict an early and severe fire year. Contact the Cowlitz County Fire Marshal at 577-3052 if you have other questions.

The Oregon Department of Forestry is also cinching down the fire restrictions in northwest Oregon. Last week, ODF declared the start of Fire Season, enacting restrictions on public use of state forest lands. Restrictions include a ban on fireworks, exploding targets and other “fire-prone activities.” As of last Friday, smoking is allowed only in closed vehicles on improved roads. All open fires are prohibited, including campfires, charcoal fires, cooking fires and warming fires, except at designated locations. Motor vehicle use is restricted to improved roads and designated areas, including motorcycles and ATV’s. Contact the Oregon Department of Forestry for more information.

Oregon Way Operation

Longview Police were involved in a major operation yesterday morning, blocking off a portion of Oregon Way and Alabama Street for a time as they attempted to make an arrest. Few details have been released as of yet, but this got started shortly after 8 yesterday morning, when an SUV that had been stolen from Oregon was spotted behind a business in the 300 block of Oregon Way. Multiple units were called in and an area around an apartment building was cordoned off. A PA was used to try and call the suspects out; a robot from Lower Columbia SWAT was eventually sent into the building, going in at about 11:15 am. At least one arrest was made, but other information hasn’t yet been released.

School Vandals

Authorities are going over a security video from R. A. Long High School, to see if the suspects in a recent vandalism incident can be identified. Longview School District officials say that the damage occurred on Monday; a group of at least eight people on bicycles is seen on the video. It’s reported that the vandals damaged a parked car, set off a fire extinguisher, and also broke several lights at the school. We haven’t heard yet about a dollar estimate on damage done. So far, Longview Police have not identified any of the suspects, but they’re continuing to review this video.

Alleged Lake Lecher

Andreas Joseph Turner, 45, of Longview is being charged with indecent exposure after an incident that was reported yesterday evening at Lake Sacajawea. Longview Police were called to the Lions Island area of the lake at about 6:20 pm, after it was reported that a man was “pleasuring himself” near Kessler Boulevard. Officers responded and met with Turner, eventually taking him into custody. He’s now being held on bail of $500, charged with a misdemeanor.

PUD News

Former Cowlitz PUD Commissioner Mark McCrady is filing a complaint with the Washington Auditor’s Office, contending that the utility improperly paid former PUD General Counsel Paul Brachvogel’s legal fees. The Daily News has details on the letter from McCrady, who contends that the PUD should NOT have paid $100,000 in legal fees for Brachvogel, charges that were connected to a “bar complaint” that was filed by current PUD Commissioner Ned Piper in 2013. That complaint eventually died, which was then followed by the recall against Piper. Court documents show that Brachvogel supplied information to the three men involved in the recall, and it’s reported that he tried to join the recall as an “anonymous employee,” protected by whistleblower status. McCrady’s claim contends that Brachvogel entered the recall on his own choice, so there were no grounds to pay his legal fees as a PUD employee. The Auditor’s office will now review the claim.

The Cowlitz PUD Commission is also moving ahead with the hiring of a consultant to conduct a search for a new General Manager, as Don McMaster announces his plans to retire. As last night’s meeting, the PUD Commission approved spending up to $18,500 with Slavin Management Consultants to conduct the search. McMaster says that he doesn’t yet have an exact date for leaving; it’s noted that he’s required to provide at least three months notice, and they say that the search could take up to six months. McMaster has more than 35 years in the electric utility industry, coming to the Cowlitz PUD in 2006. He was promoted to General Manager in 2013.