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Editorials from around Oregon

August 7, 2019

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

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Albany Democrat-Herald, Aug. 5, on Albany joining earthquake warning system:

It’s just one step forward, but we were nevertheless delighted to read the news about how the city of Albany has joined a pilot program for an early-warning system that eventually could provide residents and city systems a few vital seconds of warning before a major earthquake hits.

City workers last week installed a sensor in what’s known as the ShakeAlert system. The system is a network of sensors that takes advantage of how energy radiates from the epicenter of an earthquake to provide those precious few seconds — enough time, perhaps, for someone to take advantage of the training they’ve received during the annual ShakeOut drills, and certainly enough time for automated systems to take preparatory action.

Albany officials installed the sensor into the city’s central systems server, the location where city employees already have the ability to remotely close reservoir valves. And, in fact, this use in Albany offers an excellent illustration of how the ShakeAlert system can be used to minimize the amount of damage a big earthquake could cause.

Here’s a brief primer on the science behind the ShakeAlert system:

Quakes produce two types of energy that radiate out from the epicenter: primary waves, which scientists call p-waves, and secondary waves, which are called (you guessed it) s-waves. Primary waves travel faster than the secondary waves and typically don’t cause much destruction. It’s the s-waves, lagging a few seconds behind, that cause the damage.

It’s the gap between the p-waves and the s-waves — sometimes 10 seconds or so, sometimes longer, depending on how far the epicenter is located from ShakeAlert sensors — that offer the opportunity for the early warnings.

The ShakeAlert system could be extremely useful in preventing what the U.S. Geological Survey calls “cascading failures.” (The USGS has been working to develop and implement the system across the West Coast.) For example, it says, isolating and shutting down utilities before shaking starts could reduce the number of fires that start after a quake. A few seconds of warning could be sufficient to slow trains and taxiing planes, to prevent cars from entering bridges and tunnels or to automatically shut down and isolate industrial systems.

Or, in Albany, it could be enough time to close reservoir valves to allow those reservoirs to retain as much water as possible after the quake. That water could be delivered to residents, if transportation issues can be figured out. Or the water could be used by the fire department to help fight the blazes that often break out in the wake of an earthquake. If the sensor issues a false alarm (this has been a bug in the system in the places in California where the system is operational), it would be an easy matter to reopen the valves.

So the Albany sensor takes its place among the devices that already have been placed in Oregon, but there’s a statewide issue: For the system to be fully operational, experts say at least 75% of the 238 proposed sites in the state need to be installed and running, and we’re not there yet: At the end of this month, about 59% of the sensors will have been installed.

A bill introduced in this year’s Oregon Legislature would have contributed enough state money to the system to have it be fully functional by 2023, but funding specifically designated for ShakeAlert was eliminated during negotiations on the measure — a disappointing and short-sighted result. (And one that you sense legislators already are feeling sheepish about.) The state money would have paid for more than just the sensors; it also would have funded systems to deliver warnings to the public — which, after all, is kind of the point.

The Albany installation brings the system one step closer to critical mass. Legislators next year should take pains to close out the rest of the gap.

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The Astorian, Aug. 3, on effort to recall the governor from office:

As Oregonians decide whether to sign petitions to recall Gov. Kate Brown from office, it is worth thinking back to whom she displaced in the governor’s mansion.

That would be Gov. John Kitzhaber and first lady Cylvia Hayes.

Kitzhaber was hounded from office in 2015 after both were accused of conflicts of interest, particularly by blurring the lines between Hayes’ public role and her private business endeavors. Subsequent investigations uncovered more smoke than fire. Kitzhaber agreed last year to pay a $20,000 fine to the state ethics commission, and this spring Hayes settled for a $50,000 fine.

It is difficult to argue that the state was well-served by the public rush to judgment against Kitzhaber.

His resignation catapulted then-Secretary of State Brown into the governorship. A continuing irony is that it was Republicans who stood up for Democrat Kitzhaber and helped finance his legal defense. Republicans recognized he was being railroaded from office. They also preferred his collaborative approach and moderately progressive views to Brown’s all-out liberalism.

Brown served the rest of Kitzhaber’s term and was elected last fall to what would be a final four-year term for her. Now, separate recall efforts have been launched by the Oregon Republican Party and by Michael Cross of Flush Down Kate Brown and the Oregon First! PAC. To force a recall election that could remove her from office, either group has until mid-October to collect just over 280,000 valid signatures from voters.

The first lesson from the Kitzhaber fiasco is whether Oregonians would be better off with a known quantity as governor or someone new.

A successful recall would elevate State Treasurer Tobias Read to the governorship. The current secretary of state, Republican Bev Clarno from Central Oregon, was appointed to the position after Dennis Richardson’s death and, as an appointee, is barred by the state constitution from filling a gubernatorial vacancy.

Read, a Beaverton Democrat, is bright, politically ambitious and well-regarded nationally for Oregon’s programs to promote retirement savings. To much of Oregon, however, he remains relatively unknown.

Voters should be paying close attention and evaluating his leadership because there’s a good chance he will run for governor — whether it’s to succeed Brown in 2022 or, if she is recalled this year, as the short-term incumbent in a special election next year to finish her term.

In contrast, a related question is whether Brown, like Kitzhaber, eventually will mellow and moderate while in office. Of course, that took Kitzhaber until his unprecedented third term as governor. Unfortunately for Oregonians, Brown has shown no such inclination. Asked recently whether she planned to veto Republicans’ legislation in retribution for their state Senate walkout in June, Brown told Politico, “I will just say . revenge is a dish best served cold and slowly.”

Brown was the Democrats’ key negotiator in the deal with Senate Republicans that ended their first walkout. She takes things personally, instead of recognizing that her and others’ lack of clarity and specificity in that deal led to the second walkout.

Still, Brown is not the dominant cause of our state government’s overreach and undisciplined spending. She is the enabler. She possesses the bully pulpit, she can institute her will through agency appointments and directives, but the greater fault lies with the Legislature that makes the laws — and ultimately with voters who have allowed one political party to dominate.

Instead of making gains in 2018, Republicans went the other way, allowing Democrats to achieve supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature. One-party rule is not good for the state, regardless of which party it is.

Next year, three statewide offices are up for election — secretary of state, treasurer and attorney general — along with a majority of legislative seats. With the exception of certain urban legislative districts that are inexorably Democratic, each of those races provides an opportunity for Republicans to bring balance to our state government. A case can be made that the GOP should focus on those efforts — recruiting and financing excellent, independent-minded candidates who can appeal to voters in swing districts.

The recall campaigns against Brown may be great for venting political frustration, but the question for voters is: Would ousting a governor improve Oregon?

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Ashland Tidings, Aug 1, on Oregon hemp growing:

Leave it to enterprising southern Oregon growers to look for a better way to mulch their hemp fields.

Concerned about the environmental effects of using plastic sheeting as a weed and moisture barrier, a local grower is blowing straw onto a hemp field in the Applegate Valley as a test. The technique uses a blower he rented in Portland that grinds up straw and shoots it out 60 feet, moving seven tons an hour.

This growing season has seen a huge increase in acres planted in industrial hemp — a variety of cannabis low in the psychoactive chemical THC but high in fiber and cannabidiol (CBD), a substance widely believed to have medicinal properties. The 2018 U.S. farm bill enacted last December legalized the production of hemp as an agricultural commodity.

Jackson County has seen more acres planted in hemp this year than in pears and wine grapes combined, and leads all counties with more than 8,500 acres. Almost 56,000 acres are planted statewide.

Initial public reaction was critical of hemp farmers for using plastic sheeting to control weeds and reduce water use. Some growers are using a biodegradable material that can be tilled into the soil after harvest, but it costs more than plastic. So does the straw alternative.

Meanwhile, one data analytics firm predicts U.S. hemp sales will hit $2.6 billion by 2022, half of it generated from CBD products.

Local growers hope to cash in on that trend. Rogue Valley residents hope they can do it without clogging landfills with plastic.

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