THE LAND PRESERVATION RUSH
This was the year that several landowners and would-be developers opted for preservation instead of planned unit developments, cashing in on soon-to-expire capital gains tax breaks in the process. They found willing buyers in Central Oregon where thousands of urban and rural acres were set aside for public use. Perhaps the most visible of the properties was the so-called Miller's Landing parcel, which was acquired by the Trust for Public Land in partnership with the Bend Metro Parks. The roughly six-acre property, which is located just downstream from the Colorado Avenue bridge, is one of the few remaining undeveloped parcels along the Deschutes. It wasn't the only blockbuster land deal for the park district, which also managed to acquire 122 acres of riverfront property between Archie Briggs Road and Tumalo State Park. Both properties became available after proposed development projects were stymied by the housing bust.
In Sisters, the Deschutes Land Trust brokered another preservation coup with the acquisition of a two-mile riverfront property along Whychus Creek in an area that is expected to be one of the strong holds for returning steelhead and salmon in coming years. Finally, looking southward, the state of Oregon put together the biggest deal, at least in terms of acreage, when it acquired the 43,000-acre Gilchrist state forest from a private landowner in June. The property, located on the border or Deschutes and Klamath counties near its namesake mill town, is the first new state forest to be added to Oregon's public lands in almost a century.
HEALTH CARE REFORM
While this wasn't a local story per se, the ramifications and the debate over the future of our health care system certainly reached Central Oregon where folks seemed as divided here on the questions of single-payer and "socialism" as anywhere else in the country. It was no coincidence that the area's biggest health care provider, St. Charles Medical Center, opted to use the opportunity to push some of its own health care reform in our backyard with the establishment of a new Physicians Hospital Alliance that is designed to streamline care, but will also solidify the hospital's dominance for years to come.
THE MIDTERM MASSACRE
A story that had local, state and national ramifications. Possibly the biggest news was the GOP wave of victories that culminated in the party's retaking of the House while narrowing the Democratic majority in the Senate. Closer to home, a tightly contested race for the Oregon governorship resulted in a Dino Rossi-like loss for Republican hopeful Chris Dudley. The ex-Blazer fell to former and soon-to-be-again governor John Kitzhaber by roughly 6,000 votes after holding the lead for most of the night. It wasn't the only razor-thin margin in Oregon. Right here in Bend, the race between Scott Ramsay and Chuck Arnold went down to and then beyond the wire, with Ramsay pulling out a single-digit win after a mandatory recount. Perhaps the biggest sign of the times, though, was relative unknown Jason Conger's trouncing of first-term Bend state representative Judy Stiegler - a victory that officially returned Bend to "red state" status.
WHO IS JASON EVERS?
The Jason Evers story read like a post-Cold War script for Little Nikita, except that instead of a culturally embedded super spy, we got a super douche bag. Yes, Evers, already fading quickly from memory, was the Eastern European chess mastermind masquerading as Oregon Liquor Control Commission regional manager, who turned out to be living under the assumed identity of a slain Ohio toddler. Evers, real name Doitchin Krasev, was eventually outed by federal authorities during a routine background search of passport applicants, but not before bringing the OLCC to the brink of all-out warfare with the local bar owners, tourism officials and even city councilors who took issues with Evers' heavy handed enforcement.
THE DUGAN-FLAHERTY BATTLE ROYAL
The story began with a bruising campaign that saw D.A. Mike Dugan unseated by his former chief deputy, Patrick Flaherty. But in some ways the fracas was just beginning. Shortly after Flaherty's victory, Dugan's deputies began the process of unionizing to prevent Flaherty from clearing house. The D.A.-elect responded by preemptively dismissing Dugan's right-hand man, chief deputy Darryl Nakahira. The still unresolved scrap culminated in a letter from Deschutes County staff attorneys to Attorney General John Kroger, asking him to intervene on the county's behalf by asking Flaherty to hold off on hiring and firing deputies. As an exclamation point, the county's legal staff raised the prospect that its own deputy D.A.'s were cutting favorable deals for accused criminals represented by Flaherty's wife in hopes of currying favor with the D.A. elect. The A.G.'s office politely declined to wade into the shit storm.
THE SAWYER FIVE FIASCO
One of the holdovers from the Great Pyramid Scheme that was the entire Bend real estate market between 2003 and 2006, or thereabouts, was the recent indictment of Tami Sawyer and her husband Kevin on some 21 counts of fraud and embezzlement. Tami was a one-time real estate high flyer who took millions of dollars from her friends and neighbors that were subsequently "invested" into a crumbling house of cards that stretched from Cabo to Indiana. Instead of lucrative returns, her investors lost their retirement savings while the Sawyers allegedly enriched themselves, paying for cars, Mexican vacation homes and other personal expenses. Kevin, a captain in the Bend police department, took early retirement after being placed on administrative leave when the allegations of wrongdoing became public.
THE GREAT GOOSE GENOCIDE
Every small town needs one truly small-time story with just enough legs, or in this case maybe wings, to carry it into the national news cycle for a few fleeting hours. This past year, that story was the great goose massacre at Drake Park. It went something like this: After years of discussion about how to deal with an overpopulation of geese, the park district decided to employ lethal measures. Specifically, parks employees rounded up more than a hundred geese that were taken to a Westside maintenance facility and given a lethal dose of CO2 gas. According to the park district's own staff, the move didn't do much to cull the geese population and its attendant problems (most notably an abundance of goose shit) in our area parks. However, it did provoke the ire of animal rights activists from around Bend and beyond who showed their displeasure by organizing a "goose vigil" for the slain birds.
BANK OF THE CASCADES RESCUED
After teetering for more than a year on the brink of insolvency as its loan portfolio tanked, the once high-flying Bank of the Cascades was given a lifeline in the form of a nearly $180-million capitol infusion that will keep the bank afloat for the foreseeable future. Federal regulators had issued several orders to BOTC demanding that it raise enough money to essentially cover its bets, meanwhile the bank's share had dipped below the minimum $1-trading level on the NYSE, prompting concern that the bank could be delisted from the stock exchange. The bank addressed both issues late in the year with a reverse stock split along with the issuance of new stock to its investors who now control more than 80 percent of the bank's shares.
DUCKS BLOW UP BCS
OK, so this wasn't exactly a local story, nor was it a news story, per se. But the University of Oregon's football team's historic run to the BCS Championship game was an amazing saga that just got better as the season went on, unless of course, you're a Beavers fan who had to tolerate the Duck's success and a Civil War drubbing on their home turf. While it may be just one game, in a state and a conference (USC cheaters notwithstanding) that hasn't gotten much respect from the college football world, it feels like a lot more.
This was another national story that seemed to be particularly salient in Central Oregon where unemployment hung stubbornly in the teens and businesses, including restaurants and retailers, struggled to hang on. Look no further than the once-booming housing market where foreclosures and short sales now dominate the Bend market. Downtown, restaurants continued to struggle with both Staccato and Marz closing. It was so tough that even Subway packed up and left. We could go on about employee pay cuts, mandatory furloughs, unemployment benefits drying up, but you know the rest. So here's looking at you, 2011. Let's get the next decade start off on the right foot.