Willamette Valley News, Thursday 10/7 – California Company Buys Eugene Wood Products Company, Missing Roseburg Woman’s Body Found

The latest news stories and stories of interest in the Willamette Valley from the digital home of Southern Oregon, from Wynne Broadcasting’s WillametteValleyMagazine.com

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Willamette Valley Weather

Today– Partly sunny, then gradually becoming sunny, with a high near 63. North wind 3 to 8 mph.

Friday– Patchy fog between 8am and 9am. Otherwise, partly sunny, with a high near 62. Calm wind.

Saturday– Partly sunny, with a high near 64. Light and variable wind.

Sunday- Rain. High near 57. Chance of precipitation is 90%.

Monday– Rain likely. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 54.

California Company Buys Eugene Wood Products Company

A California forest products company has bought Seneca, a Eugene, Oregon-based company that had owned more than 100,000 acres of land in southwestern Oregon.

Sierra Pacific Industries announced last week it had completed the acquisition.

The combination of the two companies means Sierra Pacific Industries will have more than 2.3 million acres of timberlands, 18 sawmills and eight renewable biomass energy cogeneration facilities, along with millwork and windows operations.

Sierra Pacific Industries is based in Anderson, California. It owns and manages timberland in California, Oregon and Washington and is one of the largest U.S. lumber manufacturers.

The company also produces millwork, windows and renewable energy. Seneca was founded in Eugene in 1953. Seneca owned 131,000 acres of land in Douglas County.

Body of Branda Hoyle Has Been Found

Searchers have recovered the body of Branda Hoyle who went missing on Saturday, September 25, 2021.

43-year-old Branda Hoyle was on an outing with family members when she walked away from the group. When she didn’t return, the family became concerned and began looking for her. They later called 9-1-1 when they hadn’t located her.

On Monday, October 4, 2021, at approximately 1:00 pm, a 9-1-1 caller reported finding a deceased body along the North Umpqua River approximately 2.5 miles northeast of the Umpqua Hot Springs on the North Umpqua Trail. Deputies and searchers responded and determined the body was that of Branda Hoyle.

The Douglas County Medical Examiner’s Office is investigating the death. At this time there are no indications of foul play and prolonged exposure to the elements are considered to be the highest concerning factors. 

A large-scale search operation had been underway since her disappearance but revealed no clues as to her whereabouts. Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue crews requested and received assistance from the Oregon State Police, Jackson County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue, Lane County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue, the Oregon State Search, and Rescue Coordinator, and the United States Coast Guard.

Efforts included ground searchers, mountain rescue searchers, K9 teams, 4×4 teams, and air resources to include aircraft and drones. Pacific Corp and the US Forest Service also provided support. Douglas Co. Sheriff’s Office

Eugene 4J School District Settles Two Lawsuits

The Eugene School District has settled two lawsuits accusing a teacher of bullying and discrimination for $125,000 each plus attorney fees.

The lawsuits were filed by former South Eugene High School students Lexyngton McIntyre and Riley Duncan in 2018, the year after they graduated, the Register-Guard reported.

They accused former 4J teacher Michael Stasack of not respecting their accommodation needs as outlined in their district education plans for disabilities. They also accused the district of not doing enough to fix the “hostile environment” that prevailed, according to the court documents.

McIntyre’s case also noted other teachers not following the accommodations.

The cases were dismissed by a federal court judge, at the request of the school district but the students appealed and settled last month in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The settlement does not imply any admission of liability, district spokesperson Kerry Delf said in a statement. Delf said it was made solely to save the district and its taxpayers the time and expenses of continued litigation.

“The district responded promptly and appropriately to the complaints as soon as they were received (in 2014 and 2015). The district found that some errors had been made in the implementation of the students’ accommodations and took appropriate actions to prevent their reoccurrence.

The district also agreed to include a discussion about invisible disabilities and anti-bullying education in high school advisory classes this school year and the 2022-’23 school year.

Police Close Eugene Road After Suspicious Device Found

Police closed a Eugene road after a suspicious device was discovered in a field on Wednesday. It was a false alarm, however, police say.

The call came in just before noon and led to a 45-minute shutdown of West 7th Avenue between Seneca and Bailey Hill roads.

A local citizen reported the object, and the Eugene bomb squad came out to investigate. Police say they determined the object was not a threat to the public. The road is now open.

Oregon reports 1,564 new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, 33 new deaths

There are 33 new COVID-19 related deaths in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 3,900. The Oregon Health Authority reported 1,564 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 bringing the state total to 338,130.

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported today are in the following counties: Baker (8), Benton (21), Clackamas (85), Clatsop (13), Columbia (11), Coos (32), Crook (27), Curry (7), Deschutes (130), Douglas (49), Grant (15), Harney (16), Hood River (19), Jackson (102), Jefferson (16), Josephine (19), Klamath (70), Lake (4), Lane (112), Lincoln (19), Linn (69), Malheur (29), Marion (167), Morrow (8), Multnomah (128), Polk (121), Tillamook (6), Umatilla (58), Union (12), Wallowa (22), Wasco (13), Washington (101), and Yamhill (55).

 Arrows show that cases and hospitalizations are decreasing. Delta is the only variant circulating.
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Half of Oregon is officially free of fire season, while the state’s eastern and southern regions need significantly more rain before they’re in the clear, experts say. Record-breaking September rainfall, longer nights, and more humid air have signaled the beginning of the end of a historic 2021 fire season.

But fall rains have a decades-long drought to overcome in most of the West, meaning thicker fuels like timber aren’t yet saturated by the season’s precipitation.

The Oregon Department of Forestry has announced an end to the fire season in five of its 10 districts. Those districts include Washington, Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook, Lane, Benton, Lincoln, Polk and Yamhill counties, as well as the southern part of Linn County.

The five districts that include most of southern and eastern Oregon still remain in fire season.

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Oregon Employment Department Economic Update

When federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits expired on Sept. 4, about 81,000 people in Oregon saw their unemployment benefits end. This includes about 49,000 workers whose Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) claims ended, and about 32,000 whose Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits ended.

Last week’s statistics

  • Last week we paid about $26.5 million in benefits to 32,000 Oregonians.
  • From Sept. 28 – Oct. 1, 2021, the Department answered 92.4% of calls in under 15 minutes. Of these, 79.6% were answered in under five minutes.

Workers whose PEUC claims ended had jobs with a payroll employer prior to the pandemic. By contrast, about four out of five PUA claimants were self-employed (not on an employer’s payroll) before the pandemic. For the workers whose PEUC benefits ended in September, the largest group, at 8,400, had jobs in Oregon’s hotels, restaurants, and bars before becoming unemployed. Healthcare and social assistance and retail trade were the next largest groups, at about 6,000 each.

There’s been some speculation that the end of federal pandemic unemployment benefits would also mark the end of recent labor shortages in Oregon and across the U.S. However, even though these benefits ended, it’s still likely to be difficult for employers to hire as many workers as they’d like to in the coming weeks and months. Some industries have bigger job deficits to overcome than others. 

For example, the accommodation and food services industry is about 35,000 jobs below its pre-recession jobs level. So, even if each of the 8,400 claimants who lost their PEUC benefits went back to payroll jobs in hotels, restaurants, and bars, it would only fill 24% of the industry’s gap to a full jobs recovery.

Another challenge specific to accommodation and food services is that many workers moved on to other industries. Nearly 37,000 of the people who worked at Oregon’s hotels, restaurants, and bars between January and March of 2020 had moved on to a job in a different industry by the winter of 2021. That’s a concern for an industry rapidly trying to recover jobs lost to the pandemic.

Another 36,000 former accommodation and food services workers were no longer found working for any payroll employer in Oregon, and they weren’t on a UI claim either. These workers likely either moved out of the state, or they dropped out of the labor force. There are many reasons someone may be out of the labor force, including retirement, going back to school, health concerns amid an ongoing pandemic, child care or self-employment constraints.

Research from the Employment Department, a prominent academic study, and private-sector findings all suggest that a combination of ongoing COVID-19 concerns, increasing retirements, and other labor force factors are contributing to continued worker shortages. 

Helping Oregonians Get Back to Work

Through ongoing Return to Work efforts, WorkSource Oregon centers refer people to jobs, connect job seekers to resources that reduce barriers to returning to work, help people explore career options and training opportunities, assist with iMatchSkills® and work search requirements, and more. Here are just a few highlights for this week:

  • Hiring Heroes for Healthcare in Oregon,” is a statewide virtual job fair that occurred today, Wed., Oct. 6. Nearly 50 employers participated in the event and it was promoted nationally to recruit talented health care professionals to come, live and work in Oregon.
  • multiple-employer job fair is scheduled from 3 to 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8, at the Salem KROC Center. 
  • Apprenticeships lead to high-paying jobs, and there is a great demand for workers in construction fields. An apprenticeship virtual webinar for Jackson and Klamath counties is scheduled for 9:30 – 10:15 a.m., Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. Registration is required.
  • Drive-thru job fair hiring events are scheduled Oct. 20-21 for job seekers in Clatskanie, Rainier and Vernonia.

Employer Payroll Tax Break

The Employment Department has notified businesses that were initially determined as eligible for the pandemic-related employer payroll tax relief provided by HB 3389, which passed earlier this year. 

The state is rolling back employers’ UI tax experience ratings for years 2022 through 2024 to the tax ratings they had pre-pandemic 2020. This means employers’ UI tax experience rates (benefit ratio) will be based on their experience rate prior to the pandemic, offsetting any increases they would otherwise have experienced due to safety measures they took to keep customers and employees safe from the virus.

Employers who meet all conditions of the relief plan are eligible to defer up to one-third of their 2021 UI taxes until June 30, 2022, without accruing interest or penalties on the deferred amount.

Local help is available during Medicare Open Enrollment

Every October, open enrollment begins for Medicare Advantage and Part D prescription drug plans. Medicare plans and coverage for prescription drugs change each year, so it is important for Oregonians who are enrolled in Medicare to evaluate their plan options and make changes during open enrollment.

Open enrollment for the 2022 Medicare plan year is from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, 2021.

The Senior Health Insurance Benefits Assistance (SHIBA) program with the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) is available to help Oregonians understand their Medicare options and benefits, provide enrollment guidance, and answer any questions related to Medicare benefits. 

“Medicare is a critical benefit for older adults and people with disabilities and navigating the options available can be confusing,” said Jane-Ellen Weidanz, ODHS Long Term Services and Supports Administrator. “SHIBA is here to help Oregonians make the right choice for them.”

Local SHIBA counselors are available to help and can be found by visiting SHIBA.Oregon.gov or calling (800) 722-4134 (toll-free). To accommodate COVID-19 safety precautions, SHIBA counselors are providing telephone and limited in-person support. 

SHIBA’s 2022 Oregon Guide to Medicare Insurance Plans is expected to be available on SHIBA.Oregon.gov on or about Oct. 15. 

SHIBA provides trained counselors to educate and advocate for Oregonians with Medicare. Get local Medicare help visiting SHIBA.Oregon.gov or (800) 722-4134 (toll-free). — Oregon Department of Human Services

Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Gearing Up for Centennial Celebration

In 2022, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) will kick off a year-long celebration that commemorates 100 years of Oregon State Parks. It all began with a 5-acre land donation in 1922 that became Oregon’s first official state park. A century later, the state park system comprises 254 properties and more than 100,000 acres. 

From the first 5-acre land donation in 1922 until 1989, Oregon’s state park system grew within the Oregon Department of Transportation and its predecessor agencies. Oregon Parks and Recreation officially became an independent agency in 1990 with much fanfare and public engagement. 

In 1998, when some state parks were on the verge of closing, voters passed Measure 66, dedicating a portion of Oregon Lottery funding to OPRD. That vote provided the funding stability needed to keep parks open. That year, Oregon celebrated its first annual State Parks Day with free day-use parking and overnight camping.

State parks visitors are encouraged to post photos of their favorite state parks with hashtags #oregonstateparks and #oregonstateparks100. Follow Oregon State Parks on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for the latest centennial updates, and to participate in digital engagement opportunities. 

Voting is underway for more than 3,0000 nurses and health care workers for Kaiser Permanente on whether to go on strike.

Members of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals will vote over the next several days after voting began last night. The union and the hospital network are at odds over key issues, including safe staffing levels and wages. The final tally on the strike vote may not be known until next week.

The Oregon Zoo has a new director. The zoo announced yesterday that Heidi Rahn will replace Don Moore, who retired last year after a 45-year career in animal welfare science and wildlife conservation.

Rahn previously worked at the zoo from 2013 to 2018 as head of Metro’s 125-million dollar zoo bond program. Under her leadership, the zoo opened some of its most iconic areas including Condors of the Columbia, Elephant Lands, and the Education Center.

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