Columbian Newspaper

Seafood processor plans worker housing
Author: Katie Frankowicz, The Daily Astorian

WARRENTON, Ore. — Desperate for housing, Pacific Seafood wants to turn a warehouse it owns in Warrenton into a dormitory for workers.

The Warrenton Planning Commission approved a development code amendment Thursday night that lays the groundwork for the seafood processor to create housing in a warehouse on industrial land near Carruthers Park and the dog park.

The decision, if approved by the city commission, could open the door for other companies to do the same.

Lack of housing has became a major issue for employers in Clatsop County, who say they have trouble attracting and retaining employees because workers can’t find places to live, or can’t afford the places they do find.

Recently, some companies have decided to provide housing.

This year, Bornstein Seafoods bought an apartment complex to house workers. Pelican Brewing, with a pub in Cannon Beach, provides seven apartment units on site for employees, as well as a house in Manzanita.

Pacific Seafood opened a 78,000-square-foot plant in Warrenton this summer on the Skipanon River, returning after a fire destroyed a previous plant on the site five years before. The plant is expected to employ as many as 140 full-time and 100 seasonal workers.

But the West Coast seafood processor has struggled over the past three to five years to find housing for seasonal workers across its many locations, representatives told the planning commission Thursday.

News outlets in Newport reported this summer that the company was looking at building housing for employees along U.S. Highway 101.

“It’s gotten to the extent that we put people up in hotels and motels,” said Michael Miliucci, manager of special projects and a lawyer for Pacific Seafood.

But hotel rooms are difficult to come by on the coast, particularly during tourism-heavy months. They looked into purchasing apartment buildings, but did not want to have to evict people living in the units to make room for employees.

“That’s just not the way Pacific operates,” Miliucci told planning commissioners.

The company looked at options in Astoria, but encountered long waiting lists even on apartment complexes still under construction.

“Based on the present housing prices, there’s no housing,” Miliucci said. Warrenton planning staff recommended approval of the code amendment.

Vacasa, preparing for IPO, moves into new HQ
Author: Wire Services

PORTLAND — Vacasa is touting its new, 61,000-square-foot headquarters in Portland’s Pearl District. It’s a showcase office for the vacation rental management company, which is laying the groundwork for a potential initial public offering.

Anticipating mammoth growth, Vacasa retained a lease on its former headquarters across the street when it moved into the new office in August. The company has 400 employees in Portland now and expects to hire hundreds more in the coming years.

Propelled by a $103.5 million private equity deal last year, Vacasa hopes to transform the vacation rental management business.

The company employs more than 2,500 altogether — most of them cleaning and maintenance staff — and lists more than 10,000 vacation homes altogether.

WSDOT Goodwill Lake project wrapping up
Author: Dameon Pesanti

Northbound drivers of state Highway 503 between Battle Ground and Vancouver will be in for a welcome surprise this fall: the days of fording Goodwill Lake are over.

The Washington State Department of Transportation is wrapping up a project that overhauled a faulty drainage system that occasionally produced a large deep puddle colloquially known as “Goodwill Lake,” given its proximity to the Goodwill Outlet Store on Northeast 117th Avenue/Highway 503 near Northeast 87th Street in Vancouver.

The giant puddle formed on the roadway after heavy rainfall, especially in the winter.

“Clearly it was something that needed to be addressed,” WSDOT project engineer Devin Reck.

Originally, the drainage system flushed water directly into the ground rather than a sewer system. The original design was installed in the 1980s. It worked well for a while, but the system clogged with debris fairly quickly. Once clogged, water would back up and flood the road until WSDOT crews cleared the drain.

McDonald Excavating Inc., the contractor chosen by WSDOT, has been working since late August to correct the underlying issue that causes the roadway to flood. They’ve replaced the old system with one that routes the storm water away from the road and into a new infiltration site. It’s expected to be finished in a few weeks. And should cost less than $700,000.

Reck said workers replaced seven catch basins along the road, tied them into one system and built an infiltration pond across the road.

“As of today, it’s fully functional,” he said.

WSDOT combined the drainage project with the installation of a Variable Message Sign board, which gives traffic information to motorists.

The last bit of work is the installation of equipment that pretreats the water before it flows into the pond. That site will eliminate the larger, bulky material that comes off the roadway and causes flooding. Occasionally maintenance crews will vacuum the debris that collects in the vault.

Reck said that WSDOT will likely employ similar solutions along other parts of Highway 503 if needed.

There’s no easy explanation for stocks’ struggles
Author: Tom Hudson, Miami Herald

If the interest rate jump over recent weeks didn’t get the attention of investors, last week’s quick collapse of stock prices should have — if for no other reason than the lack of a simple, obvious explanation.

Over the course of a few trading sessions the S&P 500 and Nasdaq stock indices shed more than 4 percent each. Sure, the bond market sell-off has been worrisome, there are jitters over earnings season just beginning, and the trade war with China may be taking a toll. But do these well-known and existing concerns really add up to a tipping point for investors? Or the economy?

Probably not for the economy. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s GDP Now gauge finds the American economy growing at more than 4 percent. Say what you will about the quality and pay of jobs, but unemployment is historically low. Retail sales and manufacturing data will be released in the week ahead. They will be dissected for signs of building inflation pressure, which has been blamed for the sell-off in the bond market.

The stock market, though, is more capricious and myopic than the economy. The October sell-off came with the S&P 500 and Nasdaq at record highs. That’s tough to remember when the Dow Jones Industrial Average flashes triple-digit losses at the closing bell, trade tensions between the U.S. and China remain on edge and President Donald Trump says the Federal Reserve has “gone crazy” by raising interest rates.

In the week ahead there will be no shortage of answers offered explaining the waning risk appetite of investors. Investors will vote with their money, not their voices.

Pasco port gets $7.1 million for snow damage
Author: Wire Services

PASCO — The U.S. Department of Commerce has awarded $7.1 million to the Port of Pasco for road and stormwater improvements at the Big Pasco Industrial Center.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced the award from the department’s Economic Development Administration on Tuesday.

The project will support a reported 270 new jobs and retain 100 more.

The grant acknowledges that Big Pasco operations were hurt by the 2017 winter snowmelt that caused widespread damage to area roads and caused a building in the neighboring Port of Kennewick to collapse.

Big Pasco is a 600-acre facility with access to rail, the Columbia River and local freeways. It provides almost 2 million square feet of space for manufacturing, warehousing, fruit and vegetable packing and other activities.

Harney: New options open for homeowners seeking a reverse mortgage
Author: Kenneth Harney

You’ve probably seen actor Tom Selleck suavely pitching federally insured reverse mortgages on TV and thought, hmm, that sounds interesting. He says you can turn your home equity into cash and not pay back anything — no principal, no interest, no fees — for years after your retirement.

And it’s true: Some form of a reverse mortgage could be a good choice for you, but it might not be the government-backed type Selleck is hawking. Those loans have hit tough times, and growing numbers of lenders have begun offering alternatives — proprietary, non-government reverse mortgages, including an innovative variant unveiled last month that allows owners to retain their current low-interest-rate regular mortgages while pulling out additional funds via the industry’s only “second-lien” reverse loan.

A little background: Annual volumes of the Federal Housing Administration’s reverse mortgages have tanked to their lowest level in 13 years and appear headed for further declines. The program is a financial nightmare for the FHA, performing so poorly that the FHA’s commissioner, Brian D. Montgomery, complained recently that it is “still hemorrhaging money,” despite repeated reform efforts.

Worse yet, FHA recently discovered hanky-panky in the appraisals used for reverse mortgages. An internal study by the agency found that in a sample of 134,000 loans, a stunning 37 percent of them had inflated values — the appraisers hyped the numbers — thereby exposing the agency’s insurance fund that backs the mortgages to bigger hits down the road. Some of the bogus value estimates billowed as high as 30 percent over actual market value in 2008 and 2009, though the average has moderated more recently.

Federally insured reverse mortgages are targeted at homeowners 62 years and older. They allow borrowers to supplement their retirement incomes by converting their home equity into cash via lump sum payments, monthly payments or credit lines. No repayment of the debt is required until the homeowners sell the house, move out or die. If the amounts borrowed exceed what the house can bring in a sale, the lender can file a claim against FHA’s mortgage-insurance fund and receive compensation.

Because of continuing multibillion-dollar insurance-fund losses, FHA has tried to rein in the reverse-mortgage program by limiting the amounts seniors can borrow against their houses, raising insurance premiums, and requiring applicants to demonstrate that they are creditworthy. These restrictions and other issues such as high fees have contributed to the program’s sharp plunge in volume, from just under 115,000 new loans in 2009 to 48,385 in fiscal 2018, the lowest total since 2005.

Drastic declines in business volume like this have spurred lenders to come up with alternatives. At least four major companies now offer proprietary, non-government reverse mortgages. They include Finance of America Reverse, Reverse Mortgage Funding, Longbridge Financial and One Reverse Mortgage. All of them allow much larger maximum-loan amounts than FHA. They also charge no mortgage-insurance premiums, and may permit loans to owners of condominium units in developments that have not been approved for FHA financing.

Kristen Sieffert, president of Finance of America Reverse — which continues to offer standard FHA-insured reverse mortgages along with its four proprietary alternatives — told me “we want to create a new proprietary product market for the long haul” that offers homeowners nationwide more flexibility and innovation than FHA can. For example, at the end of September, her firm debuted the industry’s first and only “second-lien” reverse mortgage, which is designed to allow owners who have low fixed rates on a first mortgage to retain that loan while tapping their equity via a fixed-rate second mortgage requiring no immediate repayments.

Other companies’ proprietary offerings have their own special niche features designed to improve on FHA’s rules: Equity Edge’s program lowers the eligibility age for some borrowers to 60 instead of 62; One Reverse Mortgage permits loans on houses with solar panels, to cite just a couple of examples.

Proprietary reverse loans have their own downsides, however. Generally, they are not aimed at the lower- to moderate-cost housing market like FHA, so they screen out potentially large numbers of owners from coverage.

They may limit the total amount of equity you can access more strictly than FHA and require better credit histories. Like all reverse mortgages, proprietary alternatives should only be considered after discussions with an experienced financial counselor to make certain you’re getting a good deal.

Bottom line: They’re an important, growing resource for senior homeowners and worth at least a look if you’re considering a reverse mortgage.

Working in Clark County: Ally Ross, funeral director in training, Northwood Park Funeral Home
Author: Lyndsey Hewitt

Ally Ross stood silently outside of a building on a recent Wednesday morning, dressed in black. Ross and a small group watched as 88-year-old Oscar Davis of Battle Ground was given military honors before his cremains, kept in a golden urn, would be placed in a granite vault.

Arms behind her back, Ross gazed on, only moving slightly when a bee zipped around her during the ceremony.

People can only hope to endure attending a funeral a few times in their life. But for Ross, death is the reason for a job as a funeral-director-in-training at Northwood Park Funeral Home in Ridgefield.

Ross, 31, has been at the funeral home since April 2017, with the title of intern. But she performs many of the same responsibilities as Northwood Park Funeral Director Michael Dahl. For Davis’ funeral, she was filling in for Dahl, who had been working with the family but was out of town for the day.

At this point, she said, she can do just about everything Dahl can do; she just hasn’t yet taken the two-part funeral director exam, required through the state Department of Licensing and administered through the International Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards.

Davis wanted to be cremated, so the ceremony took place in a narrow pathway on the south side of Northwood Park Funeral Home, rather than at a graveside in a cemetery.

Taps played over speakers and then two Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers dressed in their military uniforms presented Ruth Davis, Oscar’s widow, with a folded flag. The mood at the funeral was more happy or celebratory than sad, as the small group of about 15 family members gathered for the brief ceremony. Then they spent time talking with one another.

Ross said each funeral or family is different and she works to put herself in their shoes, no matter the situation.

“How old were they? Was it a sudden death or were they 104?” Ross said. “You have to have sympathy and empathy for them, but at the same time, you have to be kind of the rock and let them do their grieving. A lot of times, you’re their punching bag.”

Some might avoid such an emotionally daunting profession, but Ross always knew she was interested in working closely with families.

“I’ve always had — I don’t want to say ‘fascination,’ because it’s not fascination, but an interest in working with the deceased,” Ross said. “I never thought of it as being a funeral director or doing this, I was always thinking like a medical examiner or something like that.”

She attended Washington State University in Pullman for six semesters and Washington State University Vancouver for one semester, where she completed her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, she said. Then she attended Clark College, where she received an associate’s degree in paralegal studies.

Previous to the funeral director path, she was working as a legal assistant at Jordan Ramis, a law firm in Vancouver, where she learned a lot about the legal system — useful knowledge in the funeral world, too. Funeral directors are required to know a variety of laws dealing with cremation, burial, embalming and handling of bodies.

A new path

She wasn’t able to work closely with people at the law office. So she sought a career change.

She found a job posting to be a family service counselor for Pierce Group Inc., which manages eight funeral homes and four cemeteries, mostly in Cowlitz County. Northwood Park Funeral Home is its only Clark County location. Ross’ first job with it was at Steele Chapel Funeral Home at Longview Memorial Park Cemetery. She still lives in Longview and commutes to the Ridgefield funeral home.

The funeral home, which competes with Vancouver funeral homes, attracts all types of families, including bilingual Spanish and Russian families, veterans and more.

But there are also the cases involving unexpected tragedies, Ross said, such as the death of a baby.

Due to have a baby boy next month, Ross won’t take on baby funerals. It’s too much, she said. Her first case was a baby.

“After that, I was like, ‘I’m done.’ Unfortunately, it does come up more often than it ever should. I can do the paperwork aspect of it, but I can’t do anything if there’s a picture or anything like that. I don’t do it. I don’t attend a funeral,” Ross said, adding that she has a 21-month-old child at home.

She’s been working on having a memorial installed at the cemetery for babies, so people have a place to go if they desire. Pierce Group Inc. has approved the plan for the memorial. Ross said she’s working with Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center to let families know about the service. Northwood Park already offers services for babies at greatly reduced costs.

While those plans are in motion, Ross will be taking off work soon for a few months for maternity leave. Once she returns, she’ll take the funeral director exam — and finally have her dream job.

“I truly think this is kind of my calling, which is interesting, because everything I went to school for, I decided it didn’t suit me,” Ross said. “It’s kind of clich? — that if you enjoy your job, you never work a day in your life. But that’s kind of how it is.”

Working in Clark County, a brief profile of interesting Clark County business owners or a worker in the public, private, or nonprofit sector. Send ideas to Lyndsey Hewitt:; fax 360-735-4598; phone 360-735-4550.
Therapy dogs can spread superbugs
Author: MIKE STOBBE, Associated Press

NEW YORK — Therapy dogs can bring more than joy and comfort to hospitalized kids. They can also bring stubborn germs.

Doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore were suspicious that the dogs might pose an infection risk to patients with weakened immune systems. So they conducted some tests when Pippi, Poppy, Badger and Winnie visited 45 children getting cancer treatment.

They discovered that kids who spent more time with the dogs had a six times greater chance of coming away with superbug bacteria than kids who spent less time with the animals. But the study also found that washing the dogs before visits and using special wipes while they’re in the hospital took away the risk of spreading that bacteria.

The results of the unpublished study were released at a scientific meeting in San Francisco.

One U.S. health official said the findings add to the growing understanding that while interactions with pets and therapy animals can be beneficial, they can also carry risk.

“Whether covered in fur, feathers or scales, animals have the potential to carry germs that make people sick,” said Casey Barton Behravesh of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pet therapy can help people recover from a range of health problems. Past studies have shown dogs or other animals can ease anxiety and sadness, lower blood pressure and even reduce the amount of medications some patients need.

But there have been episodes of the superbug MRSA riding around on healthy-looking therapy dogs.

MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, often live on the skin without causing symptoms. But they can become more dangerous if they enter the bloodstream, destroying heart valves or causing other damage. Health officials have tied MRSA to as many as 11,000 U.S. deaths a year.

The bacteria can spread in day cares, locker rooms and military barracks, but public health efforts have focused on hospitals and nursing homes.

The Baltimore study looked at 45 children who interacted with the four dogs — petting, hugging, feeding or playing with them — over 13 visits in 2016 and 2017.

Among kids who had no MRSA, the researchers found the superbug on about 10 percent of the samples taken from those kids after the dog visits. They also found MRSA on nearly 40 percent of the samples from the dogs.

The researchers think the dogs were generally clean of MRSA when they first came to the hospital, but picked it up from patients or others while they were there, said one of the authors, Meghan Davis.

“Our hypothesis is it’s really person-to-person transmission, but it happened through contact with the fur,” said Davis, a Johns Hopkins public health researcher and veterinarian.

Under hospital protocols, therapy dogs must be bathed within a day of a visit and are checked for wounds or other health problems. Children who see them are supposed to use hand sanitizer “but that wasn’t strictly enforced,” said Kathryn Dalton, another one of the researchers.

Later in the study, the researchers asked the dogs’ owners to bathe the animals with a special shampoo before the visits. They also had the dogs patted down every five to 10 minutes with disinfecting wipes at the hospital.

Those steps dramatically decreased the bacteria level on the dogs, Dalton said.

Vancouver woman: ‘I feel like I get back my life again’
Author: Columbian staff writer

Akemi Noll scrambles around the third court inside the Vancouver Tennis Center, rallying with her husband, Joe.

Noll, a 52-year-old Vancouver resident, displays a backhand, then a forehand, making Joe chase after tennis balls. Noll is only a recreational tennis player, but her skills are beside the point.

Six months ago, Noll needed a wheelchair just to leave her house.

Now she plays tennis three times a week.

That physical transformation is because of a deep brain stimulation surgery Noll had at Oregon Health & Science University in May. The surgery eases the effects of Parkinson’s, a disease Noll was diagnosed with about 12 years ago.

“I don’t need to depend on anybody so I can be an individual,” Noll said.

“It’s like a light switch,” Joe Noll added.

The surgery was performed by Dr. Kim Burchiel, who pioneered deep brain stimulation, or DBS, in the U.S., conducting the first American DBS surgery at OHSU about 28 years ago. The surgery is now conducted in about 100 medical centers nationwide, according to OHSU.

Burchiel explained that Noll’s recovery from the surgery is toward the “home-run” end of the spectrum, though he said most of the thousands of DBS surgeries he’s performed provided beneficial results for patients.

The surgery helps with slowness and stiffness of movement and the tremors associated with Parkinson’s through pulses from tiny electrodes implanted in the brain. Burchiel explained that the central nervous system is built so that it can “regulate us to the degree that we can move about when we choose, and not move when we don’t want to.”

With Parkinson’s, those systems don’t operate the same. They’re out of balance, with too little movement or too much movement, something that can be exacerbated by Parkinson’s medication, which can cause writhing body movements. By using fine stimulating electrodes in the centers of the brain that create movement, DBS rebalances the systems.

“Some of the centers are widely overactive, and stimulating them seems to calm that down,” Burchiel said.

Noll’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s was so devastating that it took her more than a year to accept it and start taking her medication. Noll said that she “lost her 40s,” as she had to use a wheelchair whenever she left the house, and became extremely weak once her medication wore off.

Noll still has Parkinson’s — it’s without a cure — and takes her medication, but she’s now fairly active. She takes tennis lessons three times a week, and likes to walk her new Irish terrier puppy, Jake (she’s hoping to get another dog before next year). One reason Noll chose tennis is because it’s a sport she can keep playing as she ages.

“Maybe I can keep continuing when I get old and still can play and enjoy the life,” she said.

Joe Noll jokes that his wife has gotten so good at tennis that he needs to start taking lessons to compete. The wheelchair that Noll used before her surgery hasn’t been used since. Before Akemi Noll’s Parkinson’s diagnosis, she tried to take up skiing. Now she’s going to give it another shot.

“I feel good and fun,” Noll said. “I feel like I get back my life again.”

Wyatt Stayner: 360-735-4546;;

Pitts: True Americans won’t shrug off planet’s poor health
Author: Leonard Pitts

What if the end of the world came and nobody noticed?

It’s not quite an idle question.

You see, something remarkable happened last week. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists working under the aegis of the United Nations, issued a report on our planet’s health. Turns out it’s worse than we thought. Barring prompt — and politically unlikely — measures to drastically cut carbon output within the next decade, they say we’ll begin to see worsening droughts, wildfires, coral reef decimation, coastal flooding, food shortages and poverty beginning as soon as 2040.

You can expect mass evacuations from the most heavily impacted areas. As one of the report’s authors, Aromar Revi, director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, told The New York Times, “In some parts of the world, national borders will become irrelevant. You can set up a wall to try to contain 10,000 and 20,000 and 1 million people, but not 10 million.”

And we haven’t even gotten to the remarkable part yet. That has to do with our collective response to this doomsday prognosis. In a word, America shrugged.

Beyond our bandwidth

That’s a necessarily subjective analysis, but I’ll stand by it. Yes, news media dutifully reported the story and pundits dutifully sounded the alarm. But none of it seemed to quite register. Two days later, the story was pretty much over, our attention having already moved on.

You might correctly say this is to be expected, given the lack of environmental leadership from a White House that wants to bring back coal. But there’s also a subtler force at work.

Largely because of Donald Trump, you see, we live in a starkly different world than we did just three years ago. The unprecedented has become the ordinary, the emergency the everyday. Children in cages MeToo Robert Mueller Stormy Daniels Brett Kavanaugh Jeff Sessions North Korean nukes election hacking anonymous op-ed administrative coup EPA corruption emoluments clause NFL attacks collusion confusion and lies, oh my.

It has become impossible to care about all you should care about, keep up with all you should keep up with. The human mind doesn’t have the bandwidth for it. Every day, you feel like you’re running uphill on an ever-accelerating treadmill with no stop button.

So then you read where the planet is melting, dire results expected soon, and you just shrug and file it away with all the other terrible things you’ll worry about when you get a chance. That’s understandable. But it presumes a luxury we don’t have — time. Again, this report says the world has 10 years in which to save itself — and we’ll spend at least two of those under Trump.

Hinge points of history

Always before, the hinge points of American history have somehow managed to find the people the times demanded: citizen soldiers at the founding, Union patriots at the unraveling, tough-minded strivers during depression and global war, American dreamers in the freedom years. But seldom before has the nation seemed as exhausted and fractured as it does now.

So the question of the moment is: What will this new hinge point bring out of us? The answer will come at the ballot box over the next two years. And the whole world waits with us to find out what we are. Are we truly the ignorance, incoherence and chaos of the moment, or are we the sense of purpose and can-do that have always before defined America at its crossroads?

If we say it’s the latter, then we should feel ashamed, chastised by our history. Because if that history tells us anything, it tells us this:

America doesn’t shrug.