The Chronicle - Centralia

Missing child alert issued after Washington murders; victims ID'd as ex-wife, girlfriend

An Amber Alert has been issued for the ex-police officer facing a rape charge suspected in two West Richland killings on Monday.

Washington State Patrol issued the alert for former Yakima officer Elias Huizar, 39, who is believed to have his 1-year-old son Roman Huizar with him. Investigators believe he may be fleeing to Mexico, according to the 9:55 p.m. alert.

The alert also identifies his victims as his ex-wife and girlfriend.

West Richland police identified Huizar as being the suspect in the shooting outside William Wiley Elementary School about 3:20 p.m. Monday as students were being released for the day. His ex-wife was a paraeducator at the school.

While serving a search warrant at his West Richland home, another person was found dead, according to a 8 p.m. news release.

Huizar was being investigated for raping a friend of his teenage girlfriend. He was also under investigation into whether his relationship with the teen girlfriend was legal. She was the mother of the 1-year-old, according to court documents. It is unclear if she was the second victim. She was not previously identified because of her age.

Investigators believe that Huizar is armed and considered dangerous, and is likely to commit more crimes, said an earlier news release.

Court documents show his ex-wife Amber Rodriguez filed last Friday for a change in custody for their two sons, ages 5 and 9. Rodriguez is listed on Wiley elementary's website as a paraeducator. It is unclear where the other two children are.

The school went into an immediate lockdown as parents were arriving to pick their kids up and as students were getting onto buses.

Parents were forced to abandon their cars in the parking lot and along the street as police officers converged on the school and began searching for Huizar.

West Richland resident Chris Worley told the Tri-City Herald he was in his backyard when he heard 4 to 5 gunshots.

"I thought it was someone hitting something with a hammer. It didn't sound like a gun. Then a woman came flying out here before the cops even got here and started screaming that someone was shot ... ," he said.

School staff rushed kids back into the school to keep them safe. Students on buses were taken back into the building.

Classes at Wiley Elementary are canceled Tuesday but all other Richland School District schools were scheduled to be open. However, state testing at the high schools was reportedly delayed until another day.

Court records show Huizar's home is on the same block as the school. It's unclear if it had been searched yet Monday evening because officials did not take questions at a brief news conference at Flat Top Park.

Officers from all over the Tri-Cities region responded to the shooting. Some surrounded the house and others began searching for his silver 2009 Toyota Corolla with license plate CBZ4745.

He is described as being 5-foot-6, 170 pounds. Anyone who sees the car or knows were he may be, is asked to call 911.

The Uvalde Foundation, a national nonprofit, is offering support and resources for victims and community members impacted. They have opened their 24 hour national school crisis response hotline to communities. Resources are available by calling 254-206-9089 or online chats.

Rodriguez and Huizar divorced in 2020 and she recently filed for a protection order after he was charged with raping a teenage girl, according to court documents.

Friday's hearing in Benton County Superior Court was for Rodriguez's request to modify their custody agreement after she filed for a protection order for her and the children.

It's unclear what the outcome of that case was, a hearing was set for May 14.

Rodriguez first filed for a protection order in early February after learning of his arrest on the rape charge, writing that she believed Huizar would harm her and their children, according to court documents.

She said Huizar has harassed her since their 2020 divorce and believed he is mentally and emotionally unstable, according to her statements in the request for the order.

She also wrote that Huizar owns guns.


Huizar rape charge

Huizar is a former Yakima police officer and school resource officer.

On Feb. 3 he was arrested and accused of raping a teenager in his West Richland home.

Investigators said he sexually assaulted the unconscious house guest after a night of drinking with his 17-year-old girlfriend and the teen, according to court documents.

Huizar worked for the Yakima Police Department between 2014 and 2022 but it's not clear where he'd been working since he left the department. He was arrested after his girlfriend allegedly caught him assaulting the teen.

The two teens left in Huizar's truck and drove west until they found a Benton County sheriff's deputy parked in Benton City.

The girlfriend also took her and Huizar's 9-month-old baby. When West Richland police went to his home on Highlands Boulevard, he refused to open the door and they forced their way into the house.

Detectives are investigating if Huizar's girlfriend was of legal age when she became pregnant.

Huizar posted $200,000 bail that evening and was released from the Benton County jail.

He was ordered to surrender his passport, not to drink alcohol and not to contact his girlfriend or the other teen.


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Six people in Interstate 5 pro-Palestinian protest charged with misdemeanors

The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is following through with charges against six people involved in the Interstate 5 pro-Palestinian protest earlier this year.

The Jan. 6 protest caused a 6-mile traffic backup on the highway for about five hours. Videos on social media showed hundreds of protestors on the highway, chanting phrases such as, “Hey hey, ho ho, the occupation has got to go!”

Out of 12 people referred by the Washington State Patrol, six were charged on Friday. Five are being charged with criminal trespass in the second degree and disorderly conduct. The other is being charged with disorderly conduct.

According to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, police investigators referred these cases as misdemeanors, not felonies.

Five other individuals are still being investigated and one case was declined due to insufficient evidence to prove charges against the defendant.

No one was arrested by police at the Jan. 6 protest. In comparison, the recent protest at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on April 15 had 46 people arrested and booked that day.

The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office stated that the Jan. 6 incident had to have police identify people later on based on admissible evidence, which creates a different legal scenario compared to when someone is booked and identified and fingerprinted the same day.

“We understand that people may not understand the need for follow-up work between Jan. 6 and today, but we wanted to ensure we were in a position to prove these cases beyond a reasonable doubt,” the office stated in a news release. “Our legal and ethical obligation is not the mere filing of charges, but in filing charges we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt in court.”

Speed bumps on the road to Washington's eclectic vehicle sales goals

The Washington state Legislature’s goal of transitioning the transportation sector away from fossil fuels and toward electric vehicles is facing numerous challenges, one of which is the lack of available public charging ports.

In January, 21.5% of all vehicle sales were electric, 19.9% of all sales in February. Both represent an increase in EV’s percentage of vehicle sales compared to the same month in 2023. Overall, Washington state has one of the highest EV adoption rates in the nation.

However, Dan Bowerson with the Alliance for Automotive Innovation told the state Electric Vehicle Coordinating Council at its April 3 meeting that while that’s “very good news” he added that the lack of charging stations is hindering even higher sales.

“Consumers are simply not going to buy a vehicle they don’t have confidence they’re going to be able to fuel," he said. “They need to know the charging stations are there before they’re purchasing a vehicle. They need to know the charging stations are up and running. It does us no good if a charging station isn’t functioning when a driver pulls up to it.”

Washington currently has 2,153 public charging stations that have a total of 5,644 EV charging ports. As of July 2023, there were 104,050 all-electric vehicles registered in Washington, the fourth highest in the nation, which means there are 18 EVs for every charging port. According to the council, there will need to be 3 million charging ports by 2040, which would require the construction of 250,000 annually for the next 16 years.

According to the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Plan For Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Deployment, the goal is to have a charging station every 50 miles or less across the state’s highway network.

“Realizing this vision will eliminate ‘charging deserts’ and remove a significant barrier to EV adoption,” the plan states. “Furthermore, it would prepare the state for its goal that, beginning in 2030, all new private passenger vehicles will be electric.”

The lack of charging stations is a problem not unique to the Evergreen State. Bowerson said that nationwide the country will need 1.25 million public charging stations by 2030 to support the transportation sector if EVs by then represent 50% of all sales. However, that would require the daily installation of 427 chargers.

“I think there is a great opportunity here,” Bowerson said. “Not saying it’s not doable, not saying it’s impossible.”

As for the total cost for both residential and public charging installations to meet the state's goal, the council’s transportation electrification strategy offers various estimates, ranging from $2.7 billion to as high as $7.4 billion.

Right now, WSDOT has been allocated $15 million for highway charging projects. 

The council’s next meeting is on May 1.

Washington state GOP chair defends handling of state convention

Hurt feelings may be lingering for some Republicans following the GOP party convention in Spokane last weekend, but the state party chair tells The Center Square that the media coverage of the event was unfair.

Multiple news organizations reported the three-day gathering of candidates and delegates as “chaotic” with “rules being broken” to support certain candidates.

But Jim Walsh, chair of the Washington state Republican Party, says that was not at all the case.

“I was telling people in the media for months, it’s going to be a real convention, it’s going to be unscripted and not a coronation,” said Walsh, who also serves as a state representative from Aberdeen.

“We did have our convention rules and we have Robert's Rules as we always do, and we never broke any of our rules, so this narrative that we somehow broke rules is false,” Walsh said.

Walsh was referring to some controversy surrounding GOP gubernatorial candidate Semi Bird, who ultimately won the support of the party’s endorsement over Dave Reichert.

Bird’s candidacy has been called into question over transgressions that occurred about 30 years ago.

In 1993, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of bank larceny for lying on a credit application by using his father’s name and Social Security number.

Under the plea agreement, Bird was sentenced to two years of probation and agreed to pay restitution and a $500 fine.

Party Vice Chair Lisa Evans said Bird had not been forthcoming about the matter during candidate vetting and she motioned for the convention to not endorse any candidate for governor. 

That did not go over well with the majority crowd of Bird supporters. 

GOP officials ultimately changed the rules to a 15-year lookback for any candidate's history, but Walsh says that’s entirely on the up and up.

“This idea that we broke our rules, those are talking points,” he said. “The report was amended from the floor, which is following the rules, both our convention and Robert's Rules.”

Republican candidate Reichert didn’t see it the same way, telling other media outlets the inner-workings of the party were “deceitful and deceptive.”

He was reportedly in town prepared to attend the convention, but ended up leaving before delegates voted 72% in favor of Bird receiving the party’s endorsement.

Reichert told McClatchy News there was an anticipation that the convention would turn “chaotic by a few that have taken over the party,” influencing his decision to not attend.

Asked if he has spoken to Reichert since the convention, Walsh said, “No, I sent him a very short text message and thanked him for participating as long as he did, and told him I look forward to talking with him in the future, but I have not spoken to him”

If Reichert wins the August primary — he's ahead in the polls — the question becomes, will Bird supporters get in behind the former King County sheriff?

“My job is to unite people behind common sense conservative candidates, and I will do that, I always do that,” Walsh said. “I can’t predict what will happen and I’ve said all along winning in November is our ultimate goal.”

Assuming Bob Ferguson is the Democratic nominee and candidate Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, does not advance after the primary, will Mullet’s supporters get behind Ferguson or support the Republican?

Mullet is a true centrist, according to Walsh.

“There aren’t many of those left in Washington," he said. "I think his supporters, if they are also true centrists, that they will be more inclined to vote for the common sense conservative, than an extreme left candidate like Bob Ferguson.”

Other convention priorities included initiatives, those already on the ballot this November and those that could be on the ballot.

Walsh said he heard plenty of discussion and enthusiasm for the initiatives during the convention.

“There was uniform, darn near 100% enthusiastic support for the three that are going to be on the ballot," he said. "Those are I-2117, I-2109 and I-2124. And there was more general support for the three new ones too, especially to repeal HB 1589; the sort of ban on natural gas in Washington is clearly the strongest of those three.”

Walsh told The Center Square that getting enough signatures on all three new initiatives by July 5 may be an uphill battle, so they are likely to focus on the initiative to repeal House Bill 1589.

The Center Square did reach out to the Reichert campaign for comment, but did not receive a reply.

Family seeks support for Thurston County woman seriously injured after horse 'takes off running'

A fundraiser has been announced for a Thurston County woman seriously injured in a horse-related mishap last week, according to GoFundMe. 

Cristi Vanderhoof was about to mount her horse on Wednesday, April 17, when something spooked the horse that caused it to “take off running,” the fundraising post reads. 

The woman was dragged by the horse and hit her head against an arena wall, according to the post. 

Vanderhoof was later flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle where she was treated for “bruising, swelling and bleeding in her brain.” 

“Nearly a week later she’s still sedated as doctors treat her other injuries, which include fractures to her skull, ribs and face,” the post reads. 

“The nurses have warned us that this journey is a marathon not a sprint and will be the worst roller coaster of ups and downs imaginable,” Cristi’s sister, Trisha Brock, wrote on GoFundMe. 

“If you know Cristi then you love her — that’s just how it is. She is the queen of making everyone around her feel special and loved.” As of Monday evening, the campaign had raised more than $10,000 of a $50,000 goal.

To view the fundraiser or contribute, visit

Grays Harbor County gas plant property value drops by $52M; agreement says costs of climate bill pushed down the value of largest taxpayer

In December 2023, a historic property tax adjustment delivered a blow to the value of a natural gas power plant near Elma, raising taxes of remaining property owners in the area and across the county.

The adjustment shrinks the value of the Grays Harbor Energy Center by a sum of more than $100 million for the next three years. The natural gas power plant, which sits on 20 acres of private land within the boundaries of the Satsop Business Park, is the most valuable property in Grays Harbor County, formerly set at $128 million.

The agreement, a memorandum of understanding, sets the plant’s 2024 taxable value for the next three years: a 40% decrease, to $76.5 million, this year and a 25% cut for two more years after that. The company cannot appeal again during that time.

Signed by the Grays Harbor County Assessor and the property owner, Grays Harbor Energy, the agreement states that the high costs of carbon credit purchases imposed by the state’s Climate Commitment Act substantially reduced the plant’s market value.

The deal marks the largest property tax adjustment in the history of Grays Harbor County and is unprecedented in the context of the Climate Commitment Act.

Opponents of the landmark bill hope voters will repeal it by voting in favor of a ballot initiative in November.

The legislation requires businesses that emit greenhouse gases to pay for pollution sent into the atmosphere. Under a cap-and-invest program, covered businesses purchase carbon allowances at auctions for pollution over a certain threshold. Auctions have brought in more than $2 billion for climate change projects so far.

The agreement states the Climate Commitment Act “imposed significant obligations on GHE (Grays Harbor Energy) which significantly impact GHE’s ability to do business.”

According to the agreement, carbon purchases acted in this case as “external obsolescence” — when a value depreciates because of some outside factor, not any change to the property itself.

Dan Lindgren, Grays Harbor County assessor, said the required costs for carbon make the business less profitable, which led to a diminished value of the power-producing equipment on the open market.

Metal combustion turbines, which turn burned natural gas into electricity are tied to the profitability of the power they create, Lindgren said.

“That equipment is meant for one purpose: to take natural gas and turn it into electricity. That’s it,” Lindgren said in an interview. “You can’t retrofit it to do something different. So, when the power generation plant business, or the natural gas power plant business, becomes no longer viable, those turbines, they’re scrap metal.”

Taxpayers in Grays Harbor County will pay higher property taxes because of the drop. Property owners closest to the plant will see the biggest impact.

In the most extreme example, the East Grays Harbor Fire and Rescue District, which contains the power plant, homeowners with a house worth $250,000 are paying $217 more per year on property taxes than they would have without the plant’s adjusted value, according to a calculation performed by the assessor’s office. The total levy rate in that district, $10.15 per $1,000 of assessed value, would have been $0.87 cents lower if not for the appeal.

“The tab has to be picked up by the remaining taxpayers in the district,” Lindgren said.


Property appeal and lawsuit vs. state filed in tandem

The effects of the agreement on taxpayers could have been much harsher.

When Grays Harbor Energy came to the county in 2022 with a tax value appeal, the company asked for a value of $18.5 million, a fraction of the previous value.

But after a year of negotiations between the assessor’s office, the company and its tax consultants, much of that value was retained. Lindgren said the company was “very honest and upfront with us” about how allowance purchases would affect its bottom line.

“I try to always do the right thing by the taxpayer and listen to whatever concerns they have,” Lindgren said. “When they have valid concerns like that, and valid reasons their value has been affected, we’re going to change that value.”

In the appeal, dated Dec. 16, 2022 — before the climate bill went into effect in 2023 — the company’s tax consultants estimated a $60 million yearly cost for carbon emissions, stating, “The property is the only gas-fired electric generation station in the state of Washington subject to these government mandated expenses, which provide no offsetting sales or profit benefits, and effectively eliminates any value for the plant on the open market due to the expectation the plant will no longer be profitable.”

The company used similar language when it sued the state over carbon allowances three days earlier. In federal court, the suit argued the climate bill was unconstitutional in discriminating against private owners of natural gas power plants, which are required to buy carbon allowances while natural gas utilities receive them for free.

A U.S. District Court judge threw out that argument, writing that the law did not unfairly target Grays Harbor Energy or its parent company, Chicago-based Invenergy, due to its out-of-state headquarters. The ruling distinguished Grays Harbor Energy as an “electrical generating station” separate from the state’s electrical utility companies with gas-fired industry.

The ruling was handed down the month before the deal was signed but after deliberations over the property tax appeal had already occurred. Lindgren said he was not aware of the judge’s ruling when the agreement was signed — it includes a stipulation that would return property values to normal if, for whatever reason, including the lawsuit, the company no longer had to pay carbon credits.

Lindgren said he felt it “seemed unfair” that the Grays Harbor Energy Center had been “singled out.”

Power-producing utilities in Washington are regulated by the state’s utility commission, which decides when power companies can raise rates. Grays Harbor Energy is not regulated by that same commission and sells power wholesale to customers and utilities across the country, running the plant when market conditions are profitable, according to court arguments submitted by the state.

Before the lawsuit, Invenergy unsuccessfully lobbied for an exemption from carbon purchases while lawmakers drafted the Climate Commitment Act, said former state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, a lead author of the bill and former chair of the Senate’s Environment, Energy and Technology Committee.

In an email, Carlyle said he viewed Invenergy’s property tax appeal as another attempt to avoid paying the costs of pollution, rather than a kink in the climate bill. He said he’s unaware of property value adjustments to other polluting properties.

“There is nothing in the Climate Commitment Act that meaningfully reduces the value of Invenergy’s facility,” Carlyle said in an email. “Invenergy’s story line is a made-up narrative constructed by PR folks, lawyers and lobbyists to reduce their property taxes to virtually nothing compared to fair market value. The state legislation requires covered entities that emit CO2 including Invenergy to cap their emissions and pay some of the cost of their own pollution to reinvest in local communities statewide. That’s it.”


Profit margins unclear

Under the Climate Commitment Act, which aims to put the state at net-zero emissions by 2050, the state is set to continually lower limits on greenhouse gases, and costs of pollution will grow, meaning companies that reduce emissions pay less, an incentive to invest in expensive carbon-reducing technology.

Invenergy did not respond when asked about whether it had invested in decarbonizing its natural gas plant in Elma. The company did not provide information when asked about how, specifically, carbon costs have affected its bottom line.

According to Lindgren, the assessor, Grays Harbor Energy provided data about income to the assessor’s office for the purposes of the appeal but was “unable to disclose that information to the public as it is proprietary information.”

Martin Grego, a spokesperson for Invenergy, provided a statement in response: “New market changes required an appropriate property tax adjustment for the Grays Harbor Energy Center which continues to operate as one of the most efficient power producers in the state.”

Invenergy operates 13 natural gas plants across the company, but wind, solar and thermal are the largest part of its portfolio.

The company announced in 2022 it had developed 30 gigawatts — 10 million homes worth — of clean energy, making it the “largest privately held global developer, owner and operator of sustainable energy solutions in the world.” It owns the largest solar project in the United States and the largest wind farm constructed in a single phase, according to the release.

Natural gas, which burns cleaner than coal, is necessary to support the clean energy transition, the company says.

The Grays Harbor Energy Center is Washington’s fourth-largest individual source of pollution, surpassed only by the coal-fired power plant TransAlta in Lewis County and oil refineries.

The company has participated in all five carbon auctions hosted by the state Department of Ecology, according to auction summaries. The agency does not publicize company-specific results from the auctions, but The Daily World obtained information about the first two auctions through a public records request through the county.

Grays Harbor Energy told the county in July 2023 it had purchased 779,000 carbon allowances between the first two auctions. Up to that point in the year, the plant had released 571,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to about 136,000 cars driving for one year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s emissions calculator.

Each allowance unit, which can also be purchased on secondary markets, is enough to offset one metric ton of greenhouse gas emissions. According to auction summaries from Ecology, carbon prices sold at $48.50 per metric ton in February and $56 in May of 2023, putting the expense for Grays Harbor Energy during the first two auctions somewhere between $37 million and $44 million.

At the state’s fifth and most recent auction in March, with Grays Harbor Energy continuing to participate, carbon prices dropped by half, to about $26 per unit.

By Nov. 1, companies must turn in allowances equal to 30% of their emissions from 2023.


Future factor in appraisals?

It’s unclear if costs of the Climate Commitment Act will factor into property values in the future elsewhere.

According to a March email from Department of Revenue Spokesperson Mikhail Carpenter, state appraisers began work Jan. 1 on property appraisals for 2024, which contain data from the previous year, the first year of carbon auctions. Carpenter said 2024 appraisals “may include information about CCA credit allowance payments.”

“Until our appraisal team has had an opportunity to see how CCA credit allowance payments are accounted for and work through them in the greater context of Washington’s property tax system, we cannot say with any certainty that they will or will not affect the appraised value,” he said. “If it does affect the value, it may be unique to the individual taxpayer’s situation and addressed on a case-by-case basis. To date we are not aware of any other Assessor adjusting market value prospectively via an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding).”

County assessors can request advisory appraisals on properties worth more than $25 million, though it’s up to the county to determine final values.

Lindgren had the Grays Harbor Energy Center appraised a few months before the plant appealed the final value. A state appraiser put the value between $97 million and $115 million.

Because the appraisal occurred in 2022, before carbon auctions began, Carpenter said, the department did not factor allowance purchases into the value. The company notified appraisers afterward about concerns that carbon costs would affect the plant’s value.

Lindgren said that even though Grays Harbor Energy did not pay into the carbon program until 2023, the power plant was affected by a “market stigma” after the Climate Commitment Act passed in 2021.

“Any potential buyer would be considering that considerable future cost in determining market value,” he said in an email.

Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office: Woman lights ex's car on fire

A Kelso woman is facing felony arson charges after allegedly igniting a fire inside a convertible belonging to her ex-boyfriend.

Court records show Anastasi Courtney Ouellette, 34, of Kelso, is accused of second-degree arson and second-degree malicious mischief for allegedly starting the fire in the parking lot of RiverStone Villas apartments at 104 Solomon Rd., Kelso.

Ouellette is currently out on a $5,000 bail and a no-contact order has been issued. Her next court appearance is set for Thursday. 

According to a police report, Ouellette admitted to cutting the convertible roof of her ex's car, but not starting the fire.

A witness noticed smoke coming from the victim's parked red Mitsubishi Eclipse on April 15, leading to a 911 call.

Authorities report finding a burnt ball in the driver's seat. Cowlitz 2 Fire personnel detected a chemical odor in both the cabin and trunk, indicating the potential presence of an accelerant.

A police report says they also found a plastic container inside the car with socks and rags next to insect repellent, which had a flammable warning. 

Security footage shows Ouellette and another person placing items inside a boat near the Eclipse, a police report states.

The victim, who said he was ending a months-long relationship with Oullette, told authorities she threatened to burn his belongings. 

The day before the fire, Ouellette texted him "Call me now, or I'm about to burn everything," and "You talk to me now, or you won't like what happens next," he showed Cowlitz County deputies. 

NYT Politics

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The Stand (Washington Labor News)

Heart of Sacred Heart strikes | Boeing offloading | Starbucks v. NLRB
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Tuesday, April 23, 2024   LOCAL   ► From the Spokesman-Review — ‘We are the heart of Sacred Heart’: Providence technical workers are now on strike — With chants of “We are the heart of Sacred Heart,” the Providence hospital strike launched Monday afternoon. Jubilant picketers lined up outside of Sacred Heart around 2 p.m. […]

The post Heart of Sacred Heart strikes | Boeing offloading | Starbucks v. NLRB appeared first on The STAND.

Portland Business News

Lot across from Multnomah Falls will now charge up to $20 for a parking spot
Author: Daisy Caballero
This story is available courtesy of Portland Business Journal media partner KGW-TV. Visitors hoping to snag a free parking spot across from Multnomah Falls will now have to pay up to $20 during the peak season. And visitors aren’t so happy about the news. The lot is privately owned and operated by Sasquatch Shuttle, a provider of parking and transportation services in the Columbia River Gorge region. Co-owner Alan Dayley told KGW that the meter machine was installed last Tuesday and was up…