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Editorials from around Oregon

June 26, 2019

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

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Mail Tribune, June 26, on electric utility planning shut-offs to reduce wildfire risks:

Pacific Power is doing the right thing by announcing in advance that it may shut off electricity in fire-prone areas if conditions warrant this summer. The company’s plans are reasonable, and it is making every effort to limit inconvenience to customers.

A power line was the cause of the Camp Fire last year that killed more than 80 people and destroyed the town of Paradise, California. PG&E, the utility responsible for that line, now faces bankruptcy and billions of dollars in damages.

After the fact, a newspaper investigation found the company had delayed a safety overhaul of the century-old line. Also, PG&E had planned to shut off the line before the Camp Fire erupted, but customers objected to losing power.

Pacific Power has taken that lesson to heart, and is explaining its plans now in detail, so customers are prepared should it become necessary to interrupt power. That would likely happen during drought conditions if high winds threaten to blow trees and other debris into power lines.

Shutting off power would be a last resort, and power company officials say data from the past decade showed conditions would have prompted only one shut-off for about one hour. Shut-offs ideally would be announced 72 hours in advance.

If shut-offs do occur, the company will offer air-conditioned tents for residents who must leave their homes during a power outage.

Pacific Power’s regional business manager told the Mail Tribune the company has a strong maintenance program, and we have no reason to doubt her. Beyond contingency planning, the company is also increasing its efforts to clear vegetation from around power lines and poles and ramping up inspections.

None of these measures will prevent fires igniting for other reasons. Lightning remains the biggest risk factor, along with human causes such as carelessness in dry forests and sparks from vehicles.

But planning to shut off power at the right time will remove one potential ignition source, helping keep residents as safe as possible in high fire risk areas. Rural residents should be prepared, and sign up for the county’s emergency citizen notification system on the county’s website.

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The Bulletin, June 24, on salmon returning to the Upper Deschutes River Basin:

That 46 upper basin spring Chinook salmon have made their way to the Upper Deschutes River Basin this year is good news. It’s not, however, time to declare victory for the fish that disappeared in the mid-20th century with the completion of Round Butte and Pelton dams in Jefferson County.

The decline of anadromous (born in freshwater, matured in saltwater and returned to freshwater to spawn) fish began as far back as the late 1800s, according to a 1996 article in The Bulletin. That’s when commercial fishermen spread nets across most of the mouth of the Deschutes for the first time.

The fish disappeared from the upper river when the two dams were built on the river in Jefferson County in the 1950s and ’60s, though efforts continued to try to save them.

Now, a joint effort by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and Portland General Electric to restore the fish appears to be taking hold. So far this year, more upper basin spring Chinook have returned than in the past.

This year’s numbers are the good news, and it’s certainly worth celebrating. At the same time, however, there’s plenty of work still to be done, as those involved with the restoration effort know all too well.

They know they still face an uphill battle. The salmon have been gone for decades, and declining for decades before that. Efforts to improve their upper river habitat and to make the trip to that habitat safer and more successful are still young — the first Chinook made the trip successfully in 2012 — and it’s hard to predict how successful ongoing returns will be.

For the moment, however, salmon lovers can cheer what’s happened so far, knowing the project is still very much a work in progress.

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Baker City Herald, June 21, on settlement of lawsuit against Baker City:

Brian Addison has settled his lawsuit against Baker City and former Police Chief Wyn Lohner, and the agreement, which includes a $155,000 payment to Addison, is a victory for him and for every citizen’s constitutional right to criticize the government without fear of reprisal.

Never mind that the agreement includes the predictable legalese about how neither the city nor Lohner admits “liability or wrongdoing.”

Or City Manager Fred Warner Jr.’s statement that “the insurance company just decided to settle. They thought the cost of going to court was more than what they paid out.”

Or Lohner’s contention that “it’s always disappointing when the truth doesn’t prevail.”

Both Lohner and Warner had to sign the agreement to make it official.

Addison received $155,000 because he complained about a series of incidents involving the Baker City Police Department after he wrote an editorial, published in the Record-Courier newspaper in 2008, contending that the department had violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on illegal searches. Addison’s editorial was based on officers using the department’s drug-detecting dog at Baker High School during the Class 1A state basketball tournament.

Although the lawsuit did not go to trial, based on depositions and other records it appeared that Addison had compiled compelling evidence that after his editorial was published, he was subject to traffic stops at an unusually high rate. He also lost his job in Baker City after Lohner had a conversation with his employer.

Multiple federal judges found Addison’s case sufficient to justify a trial.

District Judge Michael Simon, in denying Lohner’s motion claiming that his discussions with two of Addison’s employers were also protected under the First Amendment, determined that Lohner had “engaged in a campaign of harassment over a period of years against Addison.”

Lohner appealed Simon’s decision, but a three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that decision. The Appeals Court judges wrote that although Lohner and other public employees also enjoy First Amendment protection, “this constitutional protection does not give them license to engage in a ‘campaign of harassment and humiliation’ against another person in response to that person’s exercise of the right to speak.”

Lohner contends that in conversations with Addison’s employers he said he was concerned that Addison was potentially violent, and that, as police chief, it was his duty to worry about public safety.

This is not a persuasive argument. And it’s not likely that the jury that would have heard evidence at a trial would have found it compelling either.

What does seem likely is that the evidence would have refuted any reasonable belief that the timing of Addison’s interactions with the Baker City Police Department and his loss of a job — happening after he wrote an editorial suggesting the department had violated citizens’ constitutional violations — was nothing more than a series of coincidences.

Addison’s lawsuit, and its conclusion, should serve as a reminder that each of us has the sacred right, enshrined in one of America’s foundational documents, to express our opinions with the expectation that we won’t be subject, solely as a result, to punitive action by our government.

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