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
Wednesday, September 14, 2022
Willamette Valley Weather
Food For Lane County Mobile Pantry Helping in Oakridge Today
Volunteers with Food for Lane County began packing produce, perishables and other goods in preparation to deliver them to residents in need in the Oakridge area.
The mobile pantry will be at the Oakridge High School on September 14 starting at 10 a.m. For anyone in the Oakridge/Westfir Community in need of food!
There, they will give away 100 premade food boxes to families who haven’t been able to restock their food supply due to the Cedar Creek Fire and power outages. Shannon Dennehy, a Partner Agency Services Manager with Food for Lane County said this effort is an important community service.
FOOD For Lane County (FFLC) is hosting a Mobile Pantry distribution in Oakridge this Wednesday, September 14. from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. in the Oakridge High School parking lot located at 47997 W. 1st Street.
FFLC will distribute pre-packed boxes of pantry staples, produce, dairy and meat. Everyone is welcome to pick up a box for themselves, or on behalf of a neighbor, loved one, or anyone else affected by the fire. These boxes are first come, first served. If demand is high, FFLC will schedule an additional distribution this week.
Many thanks to the Oakridge School District, Head Start, One Hope, McKenzie Long Term Recovery Group, and other Lane County COAD agencies that have helped coordinate this distribution.
“Food for Lane County’s mission is to engage in our community to create access to food,” Dennehy said. “So, we’re one warehouse full of food, but we need our community to come together so that we can get the food out to everyone.”
The main grocery store in Oakridge was not able to receive shipments due to the Cedar Creek Fire and hasn’t been able to receive fresh food, leaving residents with very limited options.
Food for Lane County will be bringing supplies such as dairy, eggs, and meat in addition to dry foods. The food boxes will be given out on a first come first serve basis. MORE INFO: https://foodforlanecounty.org/food-for-lane-county-mobile-pantry-in-oakridge-wednesday/
Westfir and West Oakridge Evacuations Downgraded to Level 1 (Be Ready) evacuation notice; some Level 2 (Be Set) remains
The Lane County Sheriff’s Office continues to work closely with the fire teams. At this time we are able to reduce the following areas to Level 1 (Be Ready):
- The City of Westfir
- Oakridge between Laurel Butte and the Middle Fork Willamette River west of Fish Hatchery Road
Other areas that were reduced to Level 2 (Be Set) yesterday, remain at Level 2 (Be Set), including High Prairie, the Hills Creek Reservoir area and east Oakridge. Many forest and road closures are still in effect.
Fire crews are still operating heavily in the area. Residents are asked to be aware of increased fire related traffic, drive safely, and obey all road closures and traffic safety laws.
An updated map of the evacuation areas is available at www.LaneCountyOR.gov/CedarCreek.
While every effort is being made to protect the communities of Oakridge, Westfir and High Prairie, it is possible that conditions may require moving back to a Level 2 (Be Set) or a Level 3 (GO NOW) evacuation notice in some or all of these areas and that can happen at any time.
Fatal Crash on Hwy 38-Douglas County
On Monday, September 12, 2022 at approximately 5:00 PM, Oregon State Police Troopers and emergency personnel responded to a single vehicle crash on Hwy 38 near milepost 35.
Preliminary investigation revealed an eastbound blue Ford Explorer, operated by Agustin Ruiz Ambriz (59) of Springfield, failed to negotiate a curve, crossed over the westbound lane and struck a concrete irrigation canal on the westbound shoulder.
Ruiz Ambriz sustained fatal injuries and was pronounced deceased.
OSP was assisted by Elkton Fire Department, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Drain Ambulance and ODOT.
Lessons Learned From 2020 Helped Oregon Avoid Fire Disasters This Year
The Oregon wildfire season in 2020 destroyed more than 4,000 homes and tore through 1.1 million acres. Nine people died. Most of the devastation occurred over a 72-hour period of a horrific Labor Day weekend. Fires spread rapidly, fueled by wind and dry weather, with many residents fleeing the flames with little advance notice.
This past weekend, Oregon saw similar weather, as winds again ripped through huge parts western Oregon fanning existing flames and sparking new blazes. Oregonians had plenty of reasons to be fearful heading into this past weekend.
“We have dozens of fires still burning on the landscape, tens of thousands of acres have been burned in the state to date,” said Andrew Phelps, director of Oregon’s Department of Emergency Management.
But while fires did grow and hundreds of Oregonians were forced to evacuate, the damage was not as severe as Labor Day 2020.
In comments on Monday during OPB’s Think Out Loud, Phelps gives some credit to changes in Oregon’s wildfire response.
“I know the Department of Forestry in the State Fire Marshal’s office throughout the summer have spoken about the additional resources they have and the capacity they have to respond on this initial attack,” Phelps said.
Phelps believes things could have been different if lawmakers hadn’t passed Senate Bill 762. The new law is providing more than $220 million to help Oregon modernize and improve wildfire preparedness through three key strategies: creating fire-adapted communities, developing safe and effective response from fire personnel, and increasing the resiliency of Oregon’s landscapes. The comprehensive package covers many wildfire prevention tactics, from putting money into firefighting personnel and projects to reduce fuel loads, to requiring electric utilities to file risk reduction plans, and improving how the state alerts Oregonians of approaching fire dangers.
“We all have things that we can do individually and as families and communities to prepare for bad days,” Phelps said. “But it’s a larger system that needs to come into play and leverage the resources that we have.”
In 2020, officials quickly heard from the public that the state’s emergency alert system had failed to notify people on time, or in some cases at all, of evacuation orders.
“We have a much more unified state-wide mass notification system called OrAlert, and this is something really that has garnered the support of just about every county in the state,” Phelps said.
This weekend, multiple utility providers shut off power in areas where winds were strong and conditions were dry. The efforts by Pacific Power and Portland General Electric were intended to prevent more fires from being sparked by downed, active power lines. The “public safety power shutoffs” were outlined in the risk reduction plans required by the new Oregon law.
“It’s been a very collaborative process where they’re talking to emergency managers, they’re talking to forecasters, they are talking to the public utility commission and making sure that folks are on the same page in terms of the timing the risks and the other hazards associated with shutting off power to large swaths of the community. “
As of Sunday, all of the utilities that initiated those voluntary shutoffs reported that power had been restored, according to Phelps.
Phelps acknowledges the impact of these shut-offs and how important planning for them is.
“There are things that we have set up at the state level, relying on federal partners when needed, a host of state agencies and incredible volunteer organizations that provide resources to get into these communities,” he said. Resources for people affected by shutoffs can include cooling centers, food, water, and bags of ice when a multi-day power outage is scheduled.
The Cedar Creek Fire continues to be a main concern for the state, Phelps said. It’s burning near Oakridge causing evacuations in a community that was hit hard by the Holiday Farm Fire in 2020.
Phelps is hoping that the weather that has made fire conditions so dangerous over the last several days will cooperate soon.
“We are heading into that time where we can hope to see some of those fall rains start to impact our state in a positive way,” Phelps said.
Cooler Weather Helping Fires
Cool moist conditions with light winds continued yesterday across the region, localized gusty winds were observed near thunderstorms. Lightning accompanied by moisture was observed across the east half of the geographic area from the Canadian border to the California border for a total of 3,817 strikes. Eastern Washington along the Canadian border and John Day extending into Northeast Oregon recorded wetting rains, scattered showers were observed elsewhere east of the Cascades. Initial attack activity was light, large fire growth was minimal.
Cool damp weather continues across the region through the week. Temperatures will trend downward through the
weekend, with high temperatures Sunday expected be as much as 20 degrees below normal. Each day there will be
some chances for periodic light showers and isolated wet thunderstorms around the region.
General winds are expected to be light with typical afternoon breezes. Thunderstorms are expected again this afternoon and evening over Washington’s northern mountains and over Northeastern Oregon. The storms could generate some gusty outflow winds and will be wet enough to raise flash flood concerns in Eastern Washington.
A stronger trough will approach next weekend, keeping temperatures seasonably cool, boosting winds, and bringing chances for more widespread precipitation, although models are still not in agreement on how much rain may accumulate.
Fire danger is on the decline with the cool, moist weather and no critical fire weather patterns are on the horizon. As such, the potential for new significant fires will be at or below normal risk through the week.
Cedar Creek. 15 miles E of Oakridge, OR. Start 8/1. Cause: Lightning. 92,548 acres (+2,260). 0% containment. Timber. Moderate fire behavior. Evacuations in effect. Road, trail and area closures.
As of 5:30am on September 14th 2022, the #CedarCreekFire is 92,548 acres and 0% contained. There are 1824 resources assigned to the incident. Resources assigned include:93 Engines26 Handcrews17 Dozers23 Masticators 11 Helicopters3 Scoopers – water dropping airplanes2 Air Attack AirplanesEvacuation levels in Westfir and Oakridge have been lowered from Level 2 (Set) to Level 1 (Ready). High Prairie and the communities north, east, and southwest of Oakridge remain at a Level 2 (Set) evacuation status. Highway 58 is now open in both directions.
Junction Sno-Park, near Crescent Lake Junction, has also been closed to provide space for firefighters working on the southern end of the Cedar Creek Fire.
Photo of the day- Tuesday September 13th, 2022A medical helicopter staged at Kapka Butte Sno-Park with Mount Bachelor in the background.
Please remember that Kapka Butte Sno-Park, Edison Butte Sno-Park, Virginia Meissner Sno-Park, and now Junction Sno-Park, are closed to the public. Wanoga Sno-Park remains closed on the west side, but the trail access on the east remains open. Medical helicopters provide rapid response in case of firefighter injury, and may make the time difference to save a life. Medical helicopters are equipped to extract and give high quality, first-response care to injured individuals.
Double Creek. . 10 miles SE of Imnaha, OR. Start 8/30. Cause: Lightning. 156,195 acres (+898). 22% containment. Timber. Moderate fire behavior. Evacuations in effect. Road, trail and area closures. These teams are also managing Nebo, Sturgill, Goat Mountain One and Goat Mountain Two incidents.
Showers and thunderstorms lingered throughout the area most of Tuesday. Lower temperatures, higher relative humidity values, and precipitation resulted in minimal fire behavior. Containment of the Double Creek Fire increased to 22 percent. Crews on the Nebo Fire continued chipping along the 39 and 3925 Roads. Firefighters and heavy equipment worked on a shaded fuel break in the Lostine corridor.
The lightning caused Double Creek Fire is a full suppression fire, and the protection of lives and property remain the primary objectives of this incident. Firefighters continued to work improve the containment line around the spot fire west bank of the Imnaha River but were unable to finish firing operations from indirect line on the north side of the spot fire due to the weather. Firefighters working in the Snake River patrolled the area looking for any remaining heat. The increase in containment occurred in this area, and firefighters anticipate more containment in the coming days. Today, firefighter on the northern end of the fire will add control features to limit fire spread to the north. Firefighters working in the Imnaha corridor on Wednesday will patrol along the western edge of the fire and address any hot spots. On the southern end of the fire, crews will continue to build a handline to the wilderness boundary.
Level 3 “Go Now” is in effect for Fence Creek north to Dug Bar and Freezeout south to the 39 Road. Level 2 “Get Set” is in effect for lands west of Imnaha River to Bear Gulch Road, south of Highway 350 to intersection of power lines and Harl Butte Road; Upper and Lower Imnaha Road from Fence Creek to Freezeout; and for Lostine River Road from Fir Road south to Two Pan (including all campgrounds and trailheads). Level 1 “Be Ready” is in effect for lands west of Bear Gulch Road, south of Highway 350 to power lines and Harl Butte Road, and for Lostine River Road from Highway 82 to Fir Road.
Wallowa Whitman National Forest Temporary Area Closures:
The Wallowa Whitman National Forest issued Temporary Area Closures for the Double Creek Fire, Nebo Fire, and Sturgill Fire (includes Goat Mountain 2 Fire) on Monday. Closure Orders and Maps are available on the Wallowa Whitman National Forest Fire Incident Updates page.
Lostine River Road from Moffitt’s south is closed. Highway 350 (Little Sheep Creek Highway) at mile marker 6.5 is closed due to the following closures: Lower Imnaha Road and Dug Bar Road are closed, Upper Imnaha Road is closed, Hat Point Road is closed, and FS 39 Road is closed from Target Springs Junction to Ollokot Campground [including the Canal Rd (3920) and Lick Creek Road (3925)].
Rum Creek. 14 miles NW of Grants Pass, OR. Start 8/17. Cause: Lightning. 21,347 acres (+0). 81% containment. Timber. Minimal fire behavior. Road, trail and area closures.
Josephine County Sheriff’s Office has either downgraded or cancelled the evacuation levels for multiple areas around #RumCreekFire today. To see the current evacuation map and a description of the boundaries that have been affected by these changes, please visit http://JosephineCounty.gov/FireMap or www.rvem.org. A joint agency press release with additional information on closure area changes will be released later today.
While recreational access is expanding to include re-opening of Bear Camp Road and a portion of Galice Road to Ennis Riffle, the public is reminded to remain cautious as fire personnel and heavy equipment are still moving in and out of these areas. Multiple road closures due to hazards are still in place, so please respect posted road blocks. Some traffic points will still be in place for local residents with identification.
Updated Infrared heat map for #RumCreekFire, September 13, 2022. The solid red line is the IR heat perimeter, the dots are isolated heat sources, and the polka-dot areas are scattered heat. As you might notice, there seems to be a LOT more isolated heat sources on this map compared to Sunday night’s. This is due to Monday night having much clearer skies so the sensors could detect more accurate heat sources. For a downloadable, printable version of this map, click here – https://tinyurl.com/RumCreekFire-IRMap09122022
Van Meter. 13 miles SE of Klamath Falls, OR. Start 9/7. Cause: Unknown. 2,648 acres (+6). 86% containment. Timber. Minimal fire behavior.
Final Update for the Van Meter Fire. Tomorrow the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Type 1 Incident Management Team will transfer command to the local Type 4 team. The team would like to thank the public and cooperators for their support during the fire.
OHA Ombuds Releases 2021 Report
Needed improvements identified in four key areas
Oregon Health Authority’s (OHA) Ombuds Program, which serves as the advocate for Oregon Health Plan (OHP – Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program) members, released a new report detailing top concerns from members of OHP during 2021. Established by legislation, the Ombuds Program provides recommendations and additional oversight internally to OHA Medicaid programs and externally to Medicaid contractors and is independent of Medicaid program implementation, operations or compliance.
The Ombuds Program advocates for access to care, quality of care and channeling member experience into recommendations for systems improvement. OHP members come to the Ombuds Program when they cannot get the support they need elsewhere and other avenues have not led to resolution. These issues often represent systemic concerns impacting other members. Margie Stanton, Director of OHA Health System’s Division, says “Elevating OHP member voice and perspective are essential for our agency to strengthen every part of our Oregon Health Plan for those we serve.”
The new Ombud’s Program 2021 report summarizes four areas of significant member concern:
- OHP member enrollment and member-centered transitions across services and benefits
- Care coordination improvements
- Language access and equity-centered approaches
- Mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) priorities and existing gaps
Adequate access to mental health and SUD providers, and all supporting behavioral health services, is a significant challenge for OHP members. This is an area that requires both Medicaid and behavioral health programs within OHA to coordinate and identify shared solutions for OHP members and for all Oregonians. Specific Ombuds concerns outlined in the report include:
- The need for timely and accessible mental health and SUD services at all levels of care;
- Inadequate mental health residential treatment and system capacity, for both children and adults;
- Underutilization of traditional health workers, particularly Peer Support Specialists and Peer Wellness Specialists; and
- Insufficient statewide capacity for inpatient and residential services, with member access further limited by CCO provider networks that may either be lacking availability by specialty, or that may not work with all inpatient facilities willing to accept OHP members.
The Ombuds Program continues to support efforts to address the challenges members experience in behavioral health and other areas. Critically, to turn member-centered Ombuds recommendations into actions that change operations and practice, OHA is treating the 2021 Ombuds report and all future annual Ombuds reports as formal audits which require a response and workplan. “The work of the Ombuds Program help bring issues to light that are critical to achieving our 2030 goal of eliminating health inequities,” says Stanton.
——-We want to keep you informed about COVID-19 in Oregon. Data are provisional and change frequently. For more information, including COVID-19 data by county, visit our dashboard: http://ow.ly/YOWt50KIysc Note: Starting tomorrow, Sept. 14, we’ll shift our COVID-19 daily update to weekly. Other COVID-19 data will be reported monthly. These changes do not mean the pandemic is over. We’ll continue to keep you informed so that you can make decisions to keep your loved ones safe. To learn more about what’s changing, read our news release: http://ow.ly/fKYW50KIysb
Wildfires continue to impact many people across Oregon.
Here are some ways you can protect yourself and your family from the health effects of wildfires and related power shutoffs: http://ow.ly/7ojW50KICFe We also want to acknowledge that for many people in Oregon, dealing with the wildfires has been especially difficult. For those directly affected by the fires and evacuations, these traumatic events can bring feelings of stress, anxiety, grief, worry and anger.
Even those who were not directly affected by fires and evacuations this year but have experienced them in the past may feel these emotions again. Seeing news reports or images of current fires or hearing about fires affecting loved ones can drive feelings like anxiety and stress. If you’d like to talk with someone or find mental health resources, remember, the Safe + Strong Helpline is only a call away: 1-800-923-HELP (4357).
Annual Maximum Rent Increase Jumps 14.6% In 2023
Oregon’s annual cap on rent increases will balloon in 2023, from 9.9% in 2022 to 14.6%. Increases in the cost of living in Oregon show no signs of letting up. Officials announced next year Oregon landlords will be allowed to increase rent by almost 15%.
In 2019, Oregon lawmakers passed a law that caps rent increases. They can’t go up more than 7% plus the annual consumer price index. That last number adjusts with inflation, which is why it’s so high this year.
For 2022 the cap was 9.9%, in 2023 it goes up to 14.6%.
To put that into perspective, an Oregon renter paying 2000 dollars a month could see an increase of up to $292 a month. Oregon’s minimum wage employees, working 40 hours a week, net (before taxes) about 2100 a month.
Advocates for tenants say these types of rent increases are turning into evictions which are putting more people onto the streets without housing.
“We strongly believe and hope that everyone understands that the leading cause of houselessness in Oregon is evictions,” said Kim McCarty, Executive Director for the Community Alliance of Tenants.
The formula, which determines the rent cap, takes a 7% base and adds the 12-month average of inflation in the Northwest region of the country. Inflation stood at 7.6% over the last 12 months, according to State of Oregon Economist Josh Lehner.
“We have a very low vacancy rate in Oregon. We have a historical underproduction of housing. That’s contributing to increases the cost of housing because there are not other places to move to if you want to live in Oregon. There are very few vacant units,” Lehner said.
The increase marks the highest seen in the five years rent stabilization has been law in Oregon, with the next highest being 10.3% in 2019, the first year of the regulation.
Kim McCarty, the executive director of Community Alliance of Tenants, says for lower-income homes, a rent increase of 14.6% is “in and of itself an eviction.”
“It’s all piling on and when you add the inflationary elements of housing, people are at their breaking point,” McCarty said.
Rent stabilization was intended to squash evictions meant to drive people out of a unit for renovations or otherwise.
Last year Governor Kate Brown called an emergency legislative session to tackle pandemic evictions. The governor states she’s not planning on doing that this year but is calling on lawmakers to change the way rent caps are structured in 2023.
The Governor’s office released the following statement:
“Everyone deserves a warm, safe, dry place to call home––which is why the Governor has prioritized investments in affordable housing throughout her time in office, as well as emergency rental relief and eviction prevention during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Governor is deeply concerned about the maximum rental increases that will be allowed under Oregon law in 2023, and she urges the Legislature to prioritize action to mitigate future increases. In 2019, the Legislature established the formula for our current maximum annual rent increases through Senate Bill 608, tying allowable increases to changes in key markers of inflation. While this was the right policy move at the time, when rent increases were not a primary factor driving measures of inflation (and CPI was under 2%), with today’s inflation rates it makes sense to reexamine state law. Because the limit announced today does not take effect until 2023, the Governor believes the Legislature can and should take this up during the 2023 session. It’s important for Oregon renters and landlords to note that the maximum allowable increase announced today does not take effect until 2023. For the remainder of the calendar year, landlords are still bound to the 2022 maximum increase amount of 9.9%. If you believe your landlord has increased your rent beyond legal limits, please contact 211 to seek tenant advocacy services or legal assistance.”
Sen. Kayse Jama who chairs the Senate Committee on Housing and Development said in a statement that it is something he will look at in 2023.
“Oregon renters are facing real economic challenges due to the rising cost of housing, especially our most vulnerable neighbors. Our first in the nation rent stabilization law was a step in the right direction but we need to do more to protect renters and keep vulnerable Oregonians in safe, stable housing.Access to affordable housing, mental health care and other support services share a close relationship with Oregon’s homelessness crisis. I will continue to keep a close eye on the impact of Oregon’s 2023 statewide rent increase cap and work during the 2023 Legislative Session to find solutions to keep Oregonians housed and improve upon protections for Oregon’s renters. I would encourage Oregonians who have concerns about whether their landlords have been complying with state law to reach out to 211 to seek legal assistance.”
CAN’T PAY YOUR PHONE OR BROADBAND BILL? STAY CONNECTED WITH OREGON LIFELINE
National Lifeline Awareness Week runs September 12-16, 2022
SALEM, Ore. – In celebration of National Lifeline Awareness Week, the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) is reminding Oregonians about Lifeline, a federal and state government program that provides discounted or free phone or high speed internet service to qualifying low-income households.
Oregon Lifeline is currently offering a monthly discount up to $15.25 for phone service or $19.25 per month for high-speed internet service through participating service providers. Lifeline also offers free wireless voice minutes and data service from Access Wireless where coverage is available. Oregon residents on federally-recognized Tribal lands may qualify for an additional $25 discount each month.
“We want to encourage all eligible Oregonians to take advantage of Oregon Lifeline services,” said Megan Decker, PUC Chair. “This program helps our community stay connected and provides access to local emergency services, healthcare, jobs, education, among other important resources.”
Oregonians receiving benefits from select public assistance programs such as Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) may qualify for Oregon Lifeline, which is limited to one person per household for either the discounted or free service.
For additional information about Oregon Lifeline, call 800-848-4442, weekdays between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., or view details online at: lifeline.oregon.gov.
# # # The PUC regulates customer rates and services of the state’s investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities, including Portland General Electric, Idaho Power, Pacific Power, Avista, Cascade Natural, and NW Natural. The PUC also regulates landline telephone providers and select water companies. The PUC’s mission is to ensure Oregonians have access to safe, reliable, and fairly priced utility services that advance state policy and promote the public interest. We use an inclusive process to evaluate differing viewpoints and visions of the public interest and arrive at balanced, well-reasoned, independent decisions supported by fact and law. For more information about the PUC, visit oregon.gov/puc.
Oregon DMV Adds New Tool To Register Emergency Contacts
Oregon DMV has rolled out new online tools intended to help police more quickly reach a person’s next of kin in the event of an emergency.
Starting this week, those with Oregon licenses can add up to two emergency contacts 18 or older through its DMV2U online system, according to a news release from the Oregon Department of Transportation. The system allows each driver to add up to two contacts.
Only Oregon law enforcement will have access to the information the driver submits, according to ODOT.
State legislators created the emergency contact service through the passage of House Bill 3125. Rep. Lily Morgan, R-Grants Pass, and Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, were among the bill’s sponsors.
The emergency contact service is meant to ensure that crash victims’ families first hear from police about the status of their loved one — not through a mobile phone video posted on social media.
The service at DMV2U.Oregon.gov does not use passwords. Instead, drivers will need to provide their last name, date of birth, ZIP code, driver’s license or ID number and a portion of their Social Security number.
More than 20 DMV services are available online through DMV2U, including license renewals. For services that must be done in person — such as creating a Real ID required to fly starting in May 2023 — DMV2U can be used to make appointments.
The DMV this week added a new option allowing drivers to list themselves as deaf or hard-of-hearing when registering for new licenses or vehicle registrations online.
Enrolling in the deaf and hard-of-hearing indicator is voluntary, and will notify officers of the disability when they run a license number or plate. The indicator was added earlier this week in response to a 2016 needs assessment conducted by Western Oregon University, which showed that more than half of deaf and hard-of-hearing Oregonians they surveyed had difficulty communicating with police.
Former Oregon Dentist Pleads Guilty to Stealing Nearly $11.5 Million in Covid-Relief Program Funds
Defendant previously pleaded guilty to illegally distributing controlled substances
PORTLAND, Ore.—A former Oregon dentist pleaded guilty today in federal court for fraudulently converting to his personal use nearly $11.5 million in loans intended to help small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Salwan Adjaj, 43, of West Linn, Oregon, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
According to court documents, beginning no later than September 2020 and continuing until at least May 2021, Adjaj submitted dozens of fraudulent loan applications to the Small Business Administration (SBA) in an attempt to obtain Economic Impact Disaster Loan (EIDL) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds. The EIDL and PPP programs were among several economic relief programs originally authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES). They enabled SBA to issue low-interest loans to small businesses adversely impacted by the pandemic and associated mitigation measures.
Adjaj used the names and employer identification numbers (EIN) of fictitious business entities on his fraudulent applications. He further provided false information about the business start dates, number of employees, and locations, and the identities of the purported applicants and business owners. Most of the fraudulent applications were submitted in other peoples’ names, but with Adjaj’s personal residence as the business mailing address. All of the applications were submitted online from an internet protocol (IP) address associated with Adjaj’s dental practice.
After SBA rejected most of Adjaj’s initial EIDL applications, he began focusing primarily on the PPP program as well as the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), a pandemic economic relief program aimed at supporting restaurants, bars, and other food- and drink-related businesses. The RRF program was authorized by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in March 2021. Adjaj had substantially greater success stealing PPP and RRF funds than he did EIDL. In May 2021, Adjaj submitted three RRF applications for restaurants allegedly located Sarasota, Miami, and Daytona Beach, Florida. Like his fraudulent EIDL and PPP applications, Adjaj’s RRF applications contained false business information and all listed his personal residence as the business mailing address.
Together, Adjaj’s fraudulent applications caused the SBA to pay out more than $11.5 million in loans, grants, and associated lender fees.
On October 14, 2021, Adjaj was charged by criminal complaint with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. On December 14, 2021, he was arrested following a pretrial release violation and, one day later, ordered detained pending further court proceedings. Adjaj remains in custody pending sentencing.
On July 13, 2022, in a separate criminal case, Adjaj pleaded guilty to illegally distributing controlled substances, including thousands of pills of prescription drugs and anabolic steroids. Adjaj further admitted to using his position as a dentist to obtain some of the drugs he illegally distributed.
In his Covid-relief fraud case, Adjaj faces a maximum sentence of 22 years in prison, a $250,000 fine (or twice his gross gains or his victims’ gross losses), and three years’ supervised release. In his drug case, Adjaj faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a $500,000 fine, and three years of supervised release. He will be sentenced in both cases on December 6, 2022, by U.S. District Court Judge Michael W. Mosman.
As part of his plea agreement, Adjaj has agreed to pay no less than $10.5 million in restitution to SBA and his victim lenders.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), the SBA Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Secret Service, and the FBI. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ryan W. Bounds and Meredith Bateman are prosecuting the case.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a federal law enacted on March 29, 2020, designed to provide emergency financial assistance to the millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Justice Department’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.
Weyerhaeuser Employees Strike Over Wages
Employees at Weyerhaeuser sites in Oregon and Washington are on strike, citing low wage increases and high health care premiums.
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents more than 1,100 Weyerhaeuser employees, said negotiations for a new bargaining agreement have been ongoing since this spring.
Employees reportedly voted to reject the timber company’s latest offer on Aug. 19, with the union saying the proposal came “nowhere close to what our members wanted or deserved.”
Union members voted to strike soon after. The Seattle-based company said in a statement that while officials are disappointed in the decision to walk out, they are committed to negotiating in good faith.
Weyerhaeuser issued the following statement on Tuesday:
“We have been formally engaged in collective bargaining with IAM since May, and we have made several offers related to wages and benefits,” says Denise Merle, senior vice president and chief administration officer for Weyerhaeuser. “After we presented our final offer, IAM workers at multiple sites went on strike late last night. While we are very disappointed in their decision to walk out, we are committed to supporting our employees and negotiating in good faith with union representatives. We are prepared to continue discussions to produce a contract that is beneficial for employees and sustainable for the company across business cycles.”
The IAM also released a statement Tuesday, saying:
“We have made the very difficult decision to withhold our labor from Weyerhaeuser, with a strike. Although we hope to continue to negotiate with the company, their delays have forced our hand to take this action. We hope to secure a fair offer that recognizes the hard work and dedication our members have given to their employer. The company has mentioned to us that they are available to meet and continue negotiations this Friday, and we await confirmation of that, and when that happens we will return to the table and bargaining in good faith.
Unique fish enhancements and spawning salmon highlight tour at Soda Springs Dam
On hiatus since 2019, the annual tour is back giving the public a glimpse at the state-of-art- facility that is helping fish on the North Umpqua
TOKETEE, Ore. – Sept. 13, 2022—PacifiCorp, along with federal and state natural resource agencies, will host a public tour of the fish enhancement projects at the North Umpqua Hydroelectric Project, on Wednesday, October 5, 2022. The annual tour will highlight state-of-the-art fish passage facilities and recent spawning habitat improvements at Soda Springs Dam and upstream locations on the North Umpqua River within the Umpqua National Forest approximately 60 miles east of Roseburg.
These enhancements are part of PacifiCorp’s 194-megawatt hydroelectric project that produces enough renewable, emission-free electricity to supply approximately 80,000 average homes each year. The project was built in the 1940s and 1950s, but has undergone many substantial improvements since 2001 to balance efficient energy production with fish, wildlife, recreation, and other values.
“The river is dynamic and so are we – constantly operating, maintaining, and improving the facilities for fish passage and protection and the habitat for fish spawning and rearing,” said Rich Grost, principal aquatic scientist with PacifiCorp. “It’s especially satisfying to see hundreds of wild Chinook salmon spawning both upstream and downstream of the dam and to share that experience on tours like this.”
The tour begins at noon. and is expected to conclude by 4 p.m. It begins with a presentation at the North Umpqua Implementation Center, which is about an hour east of Roseburg on Highway 138. Turn left at Milepost 57 (at the green “Control Center” sign) onto Toketee School Road and proceed down the paved road one-quarter-mile to the parking lot in front of the gray and blue buildings. After the presentation, guests will be transported on buses to the project sites.
Carpooling is encouraged due to limited parking space. Please wear sturdy boots or shoes and bring a sack lunch and hard hat if you have one. Hard hats are required to access the dam and will be provided to those who don’t have their own.
Space is limited and must be reserved by contacting Rich Grost at 541-498-2617 or Rich.Grost@PacifiCorp.com by Sept. 30 and providing the names of everyone in your party. Last-minute requests will be accommodated on a space-available basis. Interested media should call the media hotline, 503-813-6018 to arrange attendance.
The tour is sponsored by the Resource Coordination Committee for the North Umpqua Hydroelectric Project. Members include PacifiCorp, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and Oregon Department of Water Resources. Representatives of several of these agencies will be participating in the tour.
PacifiCorp is one of the lowest-cost electrical providers in the United States, serving 2 million customers. The company operates as Rocky Mountain Power in Idaho, Utah and Wyoming and as Pacific Power in California, Oregon and Washington. PacifiCorp provides safe and reliable service through a vast, integrated system of generation and transmission that connects communities as the largest regulated utility owner of wind power in the West. For more information, visit www.pacificorp.com.
This is just a small compilation of missing women and their pictures in the area. There are of course women missing all over Oregon and men and children missing too. We don’t mean to dismiss that, however, there is an inordinate amount of women who go missing each week and there could possibly be a connection with an anomaly or two here and there. Sadly most of them never get any attention. Family and friends must keep any information going and lead investigations so that they aren’t just forgotten.