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Central Oregon's Top Stories of 2017

It was the year of wacky weather and hazy air, eclipse prep and falling roofs, surprises and sadness: Here's a look back at 2017.

Curtis Vogel, Manager of News and Local Content,Central Oregon Daily Dec 27, 2017 16:00 PM

Wait, what happened?

APOC-ECLIPSE...NOT!

After planning for a wide range of disaster scenarios for months, state and local officials painted a picture worthy of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie to prepare Central Oregon for what was expected to be hundreds of thousands of people descending on the area—especially in Madras, the location which NASA scientists had proclaimed as "the best place in the country to watch the solar eclipse" in August.

It turns out all of those warnings may have scared some of the visitors away, as local businesses lost thousands of dollars, overstocking their stores in anticipation of Apoc-Eclipse 2017.

Law enforcement and government officials were in a no-win situation. If they had downplayed the potential impact and then became overwhelmed by a major emergency, they would have gotten the blame for that, too.

For anyone who got to experience the solar eclipse in Madras, it was truly an awe-inspiring moment. For many others, the frustration surrounding the overblown predictions overshadowed the event itself.

For a recap of the Oregon Eclipse Festival, check out our tale on Festie Lyfe: A Tale Of The Symbiosis Global Eclipse Gathering

SMOKY SUMMER

Other than residents in the Sisters and Black Butte Ranch area and some visitors in the Elk Lake area, most Central Oregonians were spared any direct impact from the flames of the many wildfires across the state—but no one could escape the smoke that drifted from those fires as well as fires in California, Washington and Montana. It settled over our region for the better part of three months, forcing the postponement and relocation of outdoor athletic events and eventually causing the cancellation of the Sisters Folk Festival.One very real concern for visitors in the days leading up to the solar eclipse was the air quality, and the possibility that smoky skies would obscure the show that some were traveling from all over the world to see.

Thanks to the progressive fire management policies and rapid response times of Central Oregon's local and federal fire agencies, most properties were kept out of harm's way, but it's hard not to see the Summer of Smoke as a harbinger of fire seasons to come.


WINTER FROM HELL, IF HELL FROZE OVER

When your community's average annual snowfall is around 22 inches, and you end up getting more than 50 inches in one season, it's fair to engage in some hyperbole about the winter of 2016-17.

Still, longtime residents will tell you that's exactly how they remember the winters of their childhood, with snow piled up in the middle of some streets and on top of cars.

Whether it was an anomaly or a return to form, the Snowmageddon was definitely a wake-up call for city and county officials about the need for plans, manpower and equipment to keep pace with the snow.

And who could forget the attack of El Nina?


DEATH IN DOWNTOWN BEND

We're not Chicago.

Michael Tyler Jacques was shot and killed in downtown Bend a year ago. The office was cleared.

We're not Baltimore.

We're not even Portland.

So when Michael Tyler Jacques was shot and killed by a police officer in downtown Bend in the waning days of 2016, the case continued to make headlines throughout the first half of 2017.

The 31-year-old Jacques was pulled over at the corner of Bond and Franklin Dec. 23, 2016, after witnesses called 911 to report his erratic driving. Within moments of the traffic stop, Bend Police officer Scott Schaier had tasered Jacques then fired his weapon three times, striking and killing Jacques.

An investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice cleared Officer Schaier of any wrongdoing, but there is still a civil case pending from Jacques' family, and a sense that more big-city problems are encroaching on our growing town.


COCC SAFETY OFFICERS IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Kaylee Sawyer, from Bend, was allegedly killed by Edwin Lara in 2016 on COCC's campus.

While not necessarily a top story on its own merits, the Deschutes County District Attorney's warnings in 2017 about the actions of campus safety officers at Central Oregon Community College served as an editorial bridge between the top story of 2016 (the murder of Kaylee Sawyer) and what is sure to be the top story of 2018 (the murder trial of Edwin Lara).

Both DA John Hummel and Bend Police Chief Jim Porter believe COCC campus safety officers have been overstepping their legal boundaries since at least 2015. After Lara was arrested and charged with the murder of Sawyer, allegedly killing her while on duty as a safety officer, Sawyer's family seemed to agree with Hummel and Porter's assessment when they filed a federal lawsuit against COCC in July. The issue is sure to play a role in the possible conviction or acquittal of Lara when his murder trial begins in October.

OSU-CASCADES BLINDSIDED

When officials for OSU-Cascades requested a $69 million bond from the state to help them take the next step in the expansion of the Bend campus, they didn't necessarily expect to come out of the legislative session with all of that funding—but they certainly didn't expect the answer they received. The campus got just $9 million, basically covering the planning portion of the next academic building but little else.

Lawmakers who opposed the request cited various reasons, including only wanting to fund "shovel-ready projects" because of budget constraints, but the real theme of the chorus of "nos" seemed to be a backtracking from the original mission granted to OSU-Cascades–to be its own separate campus with its own separate funding.

In the last weeks of 2017, Gov. Kate Brown (who used the "shovel-ready" reason when the state denied the original request) made a renewed request for $39 million for OSU-Cascades. Given that her upcoming opponent in the governor's race is from Bend, some believe the request could be more of a political maneuver.

LET THERE BE SCHOOLS

Thanks to the passage of a record-setting $268 million construction bond, Bend-La Pine Schools will build a new elementary school, a new high school and make more than 150 other improvements in facilities throughout the school district.

Now, it's up to Bend-La Pine School officials to reward the voters' faith with efficient and timely spending.


BUEHLER... BUEHLER... BUEHLER

State Rep. Knute Buehler is trying to become the first Republican to take the Oregon Governor's office in 30 years, in what already looks to become the most expensive gubernatorial election in the state's history.

Longtime Oregon pollsters say simply putting an "R" next to your name in a statewide election can get you 40 percent of the vote. It's the other 10 percent that's the tricky part.

The Oregon Democratic Party started a campaign against him before he even started running, with bills designed to force Buehler into making tough votes, and allegations of ethics violation allegations, mostly dismissed.

If Buehler can survive what's sure to be a far-right challenge in the Republican primary, he has as good a shot as any Republican of the last two decades to rebalance the power in Salem.


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