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Tribal grant supports urban habitat project

COOS BAY — On a sunny February afternoon, a group of local high school students is giving nature a helping hand.

Working on swampy ground near the Eastside Boat Ramp, teens are planting trees to promote a native wetland habitat. Others are uprooting invasive Scotch broom.

This is the Coos Watershed Association’s youth stewardship program, an initiative that promotes native plant species while teaching youngsters to advocate for responsible landscape practices. It’s one of 57 organizations and projects receiving grants this week from the Coquille Tribal Community Fund.

Clark Walworth, Special to The World 

Drew Payne, a Marshfield High School student, brandishes his trophy: an uprooted Scotch broom.

“Teaching youth about the environment is something that the Coquille Tribe is very passionate about,” said Tribal member Jackie Chambers, who coordinates the Tribal Fund. “Any time we can get our youth outside is a good day to me!”

The program will receive $3,000 from the Tribal Fund, part of more than $290,000 being distributed during this year’s “Grant Week.” A second environmental grant, for $5,000, will help Friends of Coos County Animals pay for neutering cats whose owners can’t afford the service.

Alexa Carleton, the watershed association’s education program director, said the youth stewardship program is six years old. During the school year, the program draws high schoolers from Coos Bay. In the summer, it offers paid internships to teens from throughout the Bay Area.

The teens perform hands-on labor while learning environmental leadership. One project was a gravel area at the Coos History Museum, which the teens turned into a native dunes habitat. Coming soon will be a planter box in downtown Coos Bay, which they likewise will sow with native grasses. Interpretive signs will explain the unconventional landscaping.

Why native plants?

“Native plants are low-maintenance, because they’re used to our climate,” Carleton said. “These are plants that have co-evolved with other things in the area, such as insects and birds.”

Native plants help filter pollution, prevent erosion and provide wildlife habitat. But not everything that grows wild is a native plant. Many are invaders, such as ivy, purple loosestrife, and that thorny juggernaut, Himalayan blackberry. These thrive and spread because species that control them in their home territory are not present in their new surroundings.

Gracie Schlager, a Marshfield High School junior, explained her reasons for taking part in the program:

“Not only are we helping the environment, but we’re helping people in the community, and that’s something everyone should do in their life.”

Fire destroys Winchester Bay business

WINCHESTER BAY — Emergency personnel rushed to the scene of a business fire Tuesday evening shortly after 5 p.m. 

According to reports from Winchester Bay resident Kelly Morse, firefighters from the Winchester Bay Rural Fire Protection District and Reedsport rushed to the scene.

The World could not reach Winchester Bay Fire Department staff by deadline for details. 

"I was actually sitting in my dining room," Morse said. "I was talking with a friend and I asked do you have a fire going on in your backyard and she said, 'No.' And then I said, 'Are you sure?'"

"And then it got bigger," Morse said in a phone interview. 

Speaking at 6:50 p.m. Tuesday, Morse said this of the traffic on U.S. Highway 101 as emergency personnel were apparently continuing to still battle the blaze. 

"So southbound traffic — they're only letting a few vehicles (go) at a time. Same with northbound. They're detouring them through Winchester Bay not 101. Northbound traffic is still backed up. They're only letting three or four cars up at a time." 

Coos County Commissioners conduct day two of preliminary budget hearings

COQUILLE — Coos County Commissioners held round two of preliminary budget hearings for the 2018-2019 fiscal year Tuesday morning.

This series of meetings featured Coos County's biggest contributor to the general fund, the Coos County Forestry Department. This year, the forestry department hopes to bring in $4 million in timber sales alone.

The forestry department replants several acres of trees each year with a 40-year turn around for timber sales. This year they will be planting trees in over 584 acres at a cost of $80 an acre.

One hope for the revenue earned from the forestry department is to repair some of their roads. They’ve set aside $7,500 this coming budget year for new rock on their roads. Many of the forestry roads are not paved roads and are able to be made out of rock for cheap.

The parks department has budgeted to upgrade around 30 campsites at Riley Ranch. They hope to get a grant from state parks to improve the campsites by adding electricity to make them RV sites.

The parks department has also changed its reservation system to be more user friendly.

“Now when you go to check in, you actually see a matrix of dates that are available instead of just choosing specific dates and hearing that they're sold out,” County Commissioner Melissa Cribbins said.  

For the 2018-2019 fiscal year the parks department proposed a budget of $2,405,038.

Public works plans on replacing some of its older end-of-life culverts on county roads this year.

A recent 4-percent raise in fuel taxes should bring an extra $500,000 to the public works department this coming year.

The road department will be working on a project this coming year where it will upgrade the intersection where Seven Devils Road meets Whiskey Run Lane.

The department's 21 union employees are getting older and at least two are likely to retire in the coming year. The road department has suggested that five new positions be made available to replace theses outgoing people. They would also like to try and attract kids getting out of high school so they can train and promote from within.

According to Coos County Roadmaster John Rowe it’s been difficult to find qualified people for the higher up positions in the road department. To rectify that he would like to provide his workers with better training. He’s been looking into some programs offered by ODOT.

The planning department proposed a budget of $439,987 with a rollover of $88,177 in the planning fund from the current fiscal year.

Top intel official: US must do more to stop Russian meddling

WASHINGTON — The U.S. response to Russian meddling and disinformation campaigns has not been strong enough to deter Moscow's activities, a top intelligence official said Tuesday.

Adm. Mike Rogers, director of both the U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, said he's taken steps to respond to the threat, but that neither President Donald Trump nor Defense Secretary James Mattis has granted him any additional authorities to counter Russian efforts to sow discord in the United States.

"I've never been given any specific direction to take additional steps outside my authority. I have taken the steps within my authority, you know, trying to be a good, pro-active commander," Rogers said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. "I have not been granted any additional authorities."

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders wouldn't discuss what authority Rogers was referencing, but said the president was looking at ways to prevent Russian meddling. "I can tell you that we are taking a number of steps to prevent this and we are looking at a variety of other ways that we're going to continue to implement over the coming weeks and months," Sanders said.

Rogers told Congress that he thinks a more aggressive response is needed, but that he doesn't set policy and doesn't want to tell the president what to do.

"I believe that President (Vladimir) Putin has clearly come to the conclusion that there's little price to pay and that therefore, 'I can continue this activity,'" Rogers said. "Clearly what we have done hasn't been enough."

Rogers' statements fueled Democrats on the committee.

"We're watching them intrude in our elections, spread misinformation, become more sophisticated ... and we're just, essentially, just sitting back and waiting," said Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

Rogers said he didn't fully agree with the characterization that the U.S. was just sitting back and waiting. But he said: "It's probably fair to say that we have not opted to engage in some of the same behaviors that we are seeing" from Russia.

Rogers said he doesn't have the day-to-day authority to try to deter Russian activities at their source. He said that authority is held by Trump and Mattis. "There are some things I have the authority to do and I'm acting on that authority."

He said U.S. sanctions and recent indictments of Russians have had some impact. But Rogers said: "It certainly hasn't generated the change in behavior that I think we all know we need."

Meanwhile, Trump's longtime aide Hope Hicks declined to answer questions about her time in the White House during a nine-hour, closed-door interview with the House intelligence committee Tuesday, saying she was advised not to.

The panel is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and any contacts between Trump's campaign and Russia. As one of Trump's closest aides, Hicks is a key eyewitness to his actions over the past several years. She was his spokeswoman during the 2016 presidential campaign and is now White House communications director.

The top Democrat on the intelligence panel, California Rep. Adam Schiff, said after the meeting was over that Hicks answered questions about her role in Trump's campaign and answered some questions about the transition period between the election and the inauguration. But she would not answer any questions about events since Trump took the oath of office, similar to some other White House officials who have spoken to the committee.

Hicks did answer a question about whether she had ever lied for her boss, saying she had told "white lies" for Trump on occasion, according to a person familiar with the testimony. The person, who declined to be named because the committee's interviews are not public, said Hicks told the panel she had not lied about anything substantive.

Republican Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida, a member of the intelligence panel who was in the interview, said Hicks' answer was completely unrelated to the Russia investigation.

While the investigation is focused on Russian interference during the campaign, House investigators also had questions about her time in the White House, including her role in drafting a statement about a 2016 meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russians. That statement has been of particular interest to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating matters related to the Russian meddling and potential obstruction of an ongoing federal inquiry.

The White House has said the president was involved in drafting the statement after news of the meeting broke last summer. The statement said the meeting primarily concerned a Russian adoption program, though emails released later showed that Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., enthusiastically agreed to the sit-down with a Russian lawyer and others after he was promised dirt on Trump's presidential rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton. Hicks was with the president on Air Force One while they were writing the initial statement.

"All of our questions about what went into that statement went unanswered," Schiff said.