Editorials from around Oregon

July 3, 2019

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:


The Astorian, June 29, on ocean safety:

Ask our brave friends in the Coast Guard and they will tell you with cool assurance that the people who survive a rescue at sea are wearing lifejackets. Those who fish or sail without wearing one have little chance of surviving a dunking in the unforgiving Pacific Ocean.

The jolly fisherman outside of Ilwaco City Hall is an amusing character with his changing outfits and decorations, but his message to wear life jackets is serious. And it is one locals and visitors alike should heed.

Our beaches are among the most beautiful in the North American continent. We are proud to make this paradise our home, to protect and preserve it and enjoy its scenic attributes.

But danger lurks.

The Pacific County Sheriff’s Office has begun a campaign online to properly highlight the dangers of the ocean, focusing on tides, currents, undertow, sneaker waves and water temperatures.

We are happy to share their advice.

“Rip currents are the most hazardous beach condition a swimmer can face. Not only on beaches, but anywhere there are breaking waves. Several people drown in rip currents every year.

“The real danger with rip currents is not that you’re getting pulled away from shore, but how you react. Most swimmers will panic and try to swim against the current. They will tire quickly and soon go under.”

There’s another important safety consideration. If you are on the beach and observe someone in difficulty in the ocean, call 911 and remain in place so you can direct first responders and show what you saw — and where.

Anyone who has family members who insist on playing in the ocean must watch them the entire time. Better yet, be firm on young people and instruct them to do no more than dip their toes in the water, if they must. Wading out beyond calf level exposes anyone to those sneaker waves and undertows the sheriff’s office warns people about.

Both can be fatal, as can logs in the water and at the shoreline. Lifted by Mother Nature’s powerful wave action, they can break bones and render even the strongest people unconscious in the water and at its edge.

For locals, who should be more aware of the hazards, there is always the question of whether to intervene when you believe that another person’s behavior is putting them at risk. Far better to do so, than endure a lifetime of regret.

And then there is the number of vehicles being trapped by the prevalence of super-low tides. Of course, it is amusing to add snarky comments to photos posted online about visitors and even locals whose vehicles are swamped by incoming tides.

But it truly isn’t a laughing matter. Parking your vehicle on the flat sand and walking down the beach is a risk — because the tide comes in so quickly and can soon engulf a car or truck.

The vehicles have to be removed and are inevitably ruined beyond repair. Anyone trapped inside a vehicle likely would need to be rescued. And the action of the waves just a few feet out is enough to move a heavy vehicle, even one filled with saltwater. It creates a danger. It is costly to remove.

We realize the irony in saying welcome to visitors, “have a nice time,” but adding that they should be cognizant of the dangers here. But it is an unchanging truth.

Coastal law enforcement, fire and rescue responders know if we get through a summer without a drowning tragedy it will be very rare indeed — because too many people choose to ignore safety warnings and the kind of advice printed above.


The Register-Guard, June 28, on Eugene homeless camping:

Eugene City Council dove headfirst into uncharted legal waters this week. No one is satisfied with the current state of homelessness, but empowering property owners to call the cops when a tent goes up between the sidewalk and the street asks for a lawsuit.

Frustration at campsites is certainly justified. Trash and worse typically accompany them. Under the best circumstances they can be a nuisance that deters customers or disrupts a neighborhood. Often, though, it’s far worse as camps become centers for crime and aggressive behavior.

Property owners and businesses need a means to ensure that the homelessness crisis does not remain so immediately disruptive to peace, livability and livelihoods. Council’s new law aims to provide that means, and it makes a kind of sense. Property owners are responsible for maintaining the parking strip. It’s only fair, then, to let them have some say over what happens on it. Now they can call the police about campers who won’t leave when asked, and police can enforce trespass laws.

The legal underpinnings, however, are much more complex. In some places, the property owner actually owns the planter strip, but the city has a public right of way on it. In other places, the property line is at the sidewalk. That’s an important distinction insofar as allowing private citizens to make the call about public spaces is risky.

We wonder if this isn’t an attempt to get around a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in a case out of Boise that concluded cities may not forbid camping in public spaces if there is nowhere else for campers to go. Under this rule, the city can say it’s not preventing campers, the neighboring property owner is. Courts might not appreciate the difference.

There also is a risk that property owners will enforce trespass in a discriminatory way. They could call the cops on homeless people sleeping on the parking strip but look the other way when it’s a customer hanging out to enjoy a coffee.

Eugene is not alone in struggling with this situation. Portland, for a time, experimented with a program that went the opposite direction. The city explicitly allowed overnight camping in public spaces. It was an unmitigated disaster.

Eugene needs something more than “move along” as its response to problem camping. If the planter strip becomes off limits, the city must provide an alternative. Ideally that would be shelters and supportive housing that help people transition into self-sufficiency and long-term housing. Getting ahead of that curve will require public investment and coordination between the cities and county. They can start with much-discussed crisis center and other public shelter facilities to support it.

It’s an interesting quirk of the English language that there is no universally agreed upon term for the space between the sidewalk and street. It’s a “planter strip,” a “tree lawn” or a dozen other things depending on where you are. If this policy blows up into an expensive, controversial lawsuit, council might start using a term popular in some communities — “hell strip.”


Albany Democrat-Herald, June 28, on addressing the effects of wildfire smoke:

If you traveled to southern Oregon last summer, you might have caught a glimpse of what the new normal will look like across the U.S. West: In Ashland, where smoke from wildfires forced the cancellation of more than two dozen performances at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, it was common to see people on the street wearing air masks.

It’s not much of a stretch to say that those masks (be sure to look for one that’s rated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health as N95 or P100) will soon be an essential accessory for summertime in the West. Climate change and other factors are working to ignite more intense and frequent wildfires in the region, and more wildfires inevitably bring more smoke.

And wildfires don’t have to be burning locally to fill the mid-valley with smoke: In recent summers, fires burning as far away as Canada have funneled smoke into the region.

It used to be, as a fascinating story from The Associated Press explained this week, that experts considered the smoke from wildfires a relatively minor and short-lived nuisance, offering little health risk to anybody save the most vulnerable populations.

But as each successive wildfire season brought increasingly intense fires, scientists began taking another look at the potential risks from long-term exposure to smoke. The latest research on the topic is sobering — and comes with implications for public policy.

The biggest health hazards from wildfire smoke come from microscopic particles that can trigger heart attacks, breathing problems and other maladies. The particles, about 1/30th of the diameter of a human hair, penetrate deeply into the lungs to cause coughing, chest pain and asthma attacks. (This is why just slapping a dust mask over your mouth and nose likely isn’t going to get the job done; those masks won’t stop these tiny particles.) Children, the elderly and people with lung diseases or heart trouble are most at risk.

Over the past decade as many as 2,500 people each year died prematurely in the United States from short-term wildfire smoke exposure, according to Environmental Protection Agency scientists.

An associate professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University, Jeffrey Pierce, has estimated that chronic smoke exposure causes about 20,000 premature deaths per year. Pierce said that the figure could double by the end of this century due to hotter, drier conditions and much longer fire seasons.

And the scope of the problem is only going to grow: Over the next three decades, more than 300 counties in the West will see more severe smoke waves from wildfires, sometimes lasting weeks longer than in years past, according to atmospheric researchers led by a team from Yale and Harvard.

We’ve worked hard over the last few years to seismically retrofit our public buildings. Maybe the next big project will involve adding smoke protections to those buildings. In Ashland, for example, voters in 2018 approved a bond measure that includes money to retrofit schools with “scrubbers” to filter smoke. Other public buildings and businesses already have them. A community alert system allows 6,500 people to receive emails and text messages when the National Weather Service issues smoke alerts. In Seattle, officials recently announced plans to retrofit five public buildings as smoke-free shelters.

Efforts such as these likely will be part of summertime life in the West for years to come. In the meantime, of course, we need to work on ways to reduce the intensity and frequency of these fires, including better management of forestlands and the use of tools like prescribed burning (better predictive techniques allow officials to precisely say where the smoke from these fires will go). The choice seems clear: We can deal with a little bit of inconvenience from an occasional prescribed burn — or try to deal with increasingly thick deal with skies that increasingly are choked with smoke every summer.