Firestorm: Ex-Deschutes Forest chief in hot seat over rules ‘streamlining’

Six months after returning to Central Oregon for a grilling by Sen. Ron Wyden, Forest Service Associate Chief Sally Collins, former supervisor of the Deschutes National Forest, finds herself in the hot seat over a proposal to streamline (or circumvent, in the critics’ views) environmental reviews for logging and other work on the national forests.

The day before Thanksgiving, with most of Congress home for the holidays between sessions, the Forest Service released its new “land resource and management planning rule” proposal. In its own announcement, the Forest Service called the rule (available for review at http://www.fs.fed.us/emc/nfma) “a simpler, more responsive planning process.”

“The national forests and grasslands are for everyone,” Collins said in announcing the proposal, which brought the expected rounds of praise from the forest products industry and scorn and derision from the environmental community.

“The proposed rule is designed to more effectively involve the public and to better harmonize the environmental, social and economic benefits of Americans greatest natural resource – our forests and grasslands,” Collins said.

Forest Service officials said the proposed planning rule “retains the basic principles” from the rules that took effect two years ago, during the closing months of the Clinton administration, which the Bush administration later put on hold. But it also said, “The proposal provides forest managers with more flexibility to tailor analyses to the specific characteristics and challenges presented by their forests and grasslands.”

“It also eliminates most of the procedural requirements and redundancies in the planning process, which could allow plans to be completed in a third of the time,” the agency said, reporting that a study of planning costs projected the proposed rule would “ save roughly 30 percent from the 2000 rule.”

“These savings can be used to address critical areas, such as wildfire prevention, watershed restoration, and recreation facility maintenance,” Collins said. “The Forest Service wants to improve its planning processes to spend its available resources doing real work on the land, and not disproportionately on planning and analysis.”

The proposal applies to 192 million acres of public lands in 155 national forests and 20 grasslands in 44 states. The rule is slated to be published in the Federal Register in the next few weeks and will include a 90-day public comment period, followed by an expected 6-month process of crafting the final version of the regulations.

Enviros deride rules as Thanksgiving turkey

Holiday or no, the comments flew fast and furious within hours of the announcement.

“The timber industry has much to be thankful for” this Thanksgiving, read the headline on the news release from the Sierra Club (http://www.sierraclub.org), which claimed the industry “will enjoy a hearty feast of increased logging,” as the proposal would “make forest plans voluntary and eliminate opportunities for public participation.”

“These new forest rules reflect the Bush administration’s belief that only timber companies belong in America’s national forests,” said Carl Pope, the Sierra Club’s executive director. “When the Bush administration rewrote the rules, they wrote the public out of the equation.”

“These sweeping changes in forest management rules reflect the Bush administration’s continued efforts to undermine forest protections and reward timber industry contributors,” the organization claimed.

The new forest rules proposal also came out just five days after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a move to relax air pollution standards on older industrial plants that seek to modernize, part of what environmentalists claim is an effort to roll back decades of environmental protections.

Administration officials say the change in forest planning rules is aimed at speeding up an overly burdensome, time-consuming process, and that forest plan reviews would take about two years to conduct, compared with the seven years at present. They are aimed at giving forest officials more leeway in complying with a 1976 law mandating the preservation of diverse plant and animal species.

“A lot has changed in the last 30 years,” said Collins, whose associate chief position is similar to that of a private organization’s chief operating officer.

“This new rule cuts out a lot of red tape,” Collins said. “You shouldn’t need to have a Ph.D. to understand this process. Our planning process was intimidating for the average citizen.”

The proposed rule gives two options for the National Forest Management Act of 1976 requirement for diversity of plant and animal communities. But environmentalists said both options give local forest managers too much discretion.

Republican rule of Congress gives foes tougher task

Girding for a coming battle, environmentalists claimed the Bush administration proposal amounted to a repeal of key portions of 20-year-old regulations governing forest use.

Congress can play a role in such regulations, but as everyone involved knows, the mid-term election results mean that Republicans will control both chambers of Congress, starting in January, thus making it a much taller order to head off administration plans.

Nevertheless, eight Senate Democrats and six House Democrats fired off a letter to Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth, claiming the proposed rule “eliminates any assurance of protection for fish and wildlife and their habitat.”

At the May hearing in Redmond, Wyden decried the “excessive gobbledygook” in what Bosworth has called “analysis paralysis,” and asked Collins, “Isn’t the only way you are going to make any significant changes toward streamlining the process … is through federal legislation?”

“I think you are right,” Collins said. “I do think there’s a potential to expedite the process, if Congress will help.”

After the hearing (see earlier bend.com story, bendbugle.com/?p=5086), Collins noted a steady drop in forest funding was tied to a steep drop in Western Oregon timber sales.

“We’ve got to do something to get on top of the processes,” Collins told bend.com. “It’s not responsible to use dysfunctional analysis requirements, piled on top of (each other).”

But the proposal that resulted from such discussions has drawn support, and fire, from the expected quarters.

A spokesman for the American Forest and Paper Association (http://www.afandpa.org), a trade group for the timber industry, said the rule changes would allow forest managers to cut the risk of catastrophic wildfires and “will restore common sense to the forest management process.” Michael Klein added, “I don’t think it will necessarily mean more tree removal.” (A few days earlier, the organization praised the Clean Air Act reforms as a “common sense update” that would eliminate red tape and simplify confusing, often contradictory regulations.)

But William Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society (http://www.wilderness.org), called the proposed National Forest Management Regulation “one of the most egregious assaults our public lands have faced from the current administration.”

“Under this proposed rule, forest plans could be adopted and revised without preparing an environmental impact statement, leaving the American people with only minimum information about the environmental effects of Forest Service proposals,” Meadows claimed.

“But it not only takes away opportunity for strong citizen participation at the beginning of the planning process,” he said, “it also eliminates the opportunity for the public to appeal any final plan that the Forest Service institutes.”

Seeming to set the stage for a court fight, Meadows said the regulations “not only violates important principles of good forest stewardship, it also violates laws like the National Forest Management Act and National Environmental Policy Act, which require the Forest Service to protect wildlife habitat and water quality and to provide the public and scientists a meaningful role in the decision-making process.”

“The American people deserve better for their national forests’ stewardship,” The Wilderness Society leader concluded.

Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, claimed the proposal was shaped by Mark Rey, undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources and environment, who used to be vice president of the American Forest and Paper Association. But a Forest Service spokeswoman told The New York Times that while Rey was “in the chain of command,” the plan was devised mainly by Collins and Bosworth.

And so, the woman who Wyden praised in Redmond last spring as “really gutsy” (and mentioned as Bosworth’s possible successor as Forest Service chief) will be in the line of fire in the latest round of debate over the future of America’s national forests. Hopefully, Collins won’t need to don that yellow protective firefighter gear to survive the inevitable firestorm.

Two Redmond teens killed in fiery crash were drinking; OSP seeking provider

Oregon State Police are looking to the public for help in finding who gave two Redmond High teen-agers the alcohol found in their system after they died in a fiery single-vehicle crash near Estacada two weeks ago.

The fatal crash occurred around 7:45 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 15, as the driver, Gilliam Bellamy Friend, 16, of Terrebonne, and passenger Stuart A. Variz, 17, of Redmond were in a 1990 Mazda pickup truck, heading south on state Highway 211, about 6 miles south of Estacada. They were on their way to Friend’s father’s Christmas tree farm in Colton to help with the harvest.

An OSP crash reconstructionist has determined that Friend’s vehicle – which had been traveling at a high rate of speed and passing traffic, according to witnesses – was going 50 mph when it failed to negotiate a curve on the rain-slick highway, careened down a slope, struck several trees and burst into flames.

Friend, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was thrown from the truck, and both teens died at the scene of their injuries. (See earlier bend.com story, bendbugle.com/?p=7008).

Blood tests have determined that Friend’s blood alcohol level was .08 percent and Variz’s .05 after the crash, said OSP Sgt. Aaron Olson. State law dictates that .08 percent is the level at which someone is driving under the influence, but it also says any driver under 21, with any amount of alcohol in their blood, is under the influence, since it is illegal for them to consume alcohol.

Beer cans and marijuana were found at the crash scene, Olson said, adding that tests for marijuana in the bloodstream take longer to complete, roughly three weeks. The weather at the time – rain and patchy fog – also was “a significant factor” in the crash on the dark, winding road, the sergeant added.

“It’s a true tragedy, compounded mainly because they were minors,” Olson said Saturday. “What we’re hoping to gain is that someone will come forward” with information about who gave the alcohol to the teens, possibly leading to an arrest – and averting future tragedies.

Olson asked that anyone with information on who furnished alcohol to the minors – a Class A misdemeanor, with a 2-year statute of limitations – contact him at (503) 731-3020, ext. 244, or 1-800-452-7888. The case number is 02-523508.

California climber rescued after Smith Rock fall

TERREBONNE – A 27-year-old woman from San Jose, Calif., was hospitalized in stable condition after falling about 20 feet while climbing Friday at Smith Rock State Park, officials said.

Kai Katherine Lee suffered back and rib injuries and a cut to her head in the fall, which was reported around 1:45 p.m. in the “Cinnamon Slab” area of Smith Rock, said Redmond Fire & Rescue Capt. Cathy Smith.

Park Ranger Dave Slaght and numerous climbers helped remove Lee from the scene, and no technical, high-angle rescue was required, Smith said.

Deschutes County sheriff’s Search and Rescue also responded to the scene to assist, but the woman already was en route to Central Oregon Community Hospital, spokesman Tom Wells said. A nursing supervisor said Lee had been admitted and was in stable condition Friday night.

Blinded by the light: Draft rules wouldn’t force changeouts

A citizen panel that has been crafting an ordinance regulating outdoor lighting in Bend is trying not to pick any big fights – and so, unlike a several-years-old Deschutes County counterpart, the current proposal wouldn’t require changing out old, glaring lights. Time could take care of that – or perhaps, a later set of rules, if need be.

The proposed lighting rules were the subject of a work session, then a brief, generally favorable hearing before the Bend Planning Commission last Monday night. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t more questions and details to address, such as enforcement issues. The citizen committee will meet again Dec. 5 to work on those issues, before returning to the planning commission with a revised version.

Committee advisory and contracted city planner Mike Byers noted in his memo on the rules that earlier drafts had been revised and discussed by the city council’s land use subcommittee, and the most recent version included changes recommended by a national lighting expert.

The short, 3-page ordinance, avoiding technical gobbledygook, is not intended to darken the night sky for star-watchers and astronomers to the point where safety and security are compromised, for property owners, motorists or anyone else, he explained. The goal, instead, is to provide safe, adequate lighting that serves its intended purpose, while reducing non-essential lighting and glare.

The rules would apply to all kinds of structures and property, including residential, industrial and commercial property, as well as public facilities. But it would apply only to new lightning fixtures and those (not the bulbs) replaced after the ordinance is adopted, not applying retroactively to existing lightning fixtures.

“That is a lot more palatable,” Byers said, to many property owners who had expressed concerns about the costs involved in requiring changeouts.

In a case of coincidental timing, the current issue of Sky and Telescope (http://www.skyandtelescope.com) has the second cover story this year on the issues related to outdoor lightning and “promoting night-sky-friendly” lighting. “You don’t have to fight City Hall to ban bad lights,” one headline reads. “Make City Hall your friend.”

The key line in the draft ordinance states: “All outdoor lighting fixtures subject to this ordinance shall be designed or have a shielding method to direct light emissions down onto the site and not shine direct illumination or glare onto adjacent property.”

The draft rules go on to say all exterior building lights, “except those required for security,” are to be extinguished by 10 p.m., or within an hour after the end of business hours, whichever is later, but planning commission members asked for more clarity about how a 24-hour gas station, for example, would be affected.

Long list of exemptions in proposed rules

The rules also would require “full cutoff” fixtures, as they are known, for street lighting, meaning the bulb and shielding couldn’t hang below the fixture, directing light out, instead of down. Sports fields also would have to turn off their high-intensity field lights by 10 p.m. or by the end of the day’s final event.

Byers showed off some examples of retrofit shields for home lights and mentioned the idea being discussed of getting high school shop classes involved in making them.

There’s a 10-item list of exemptions, including “all outdoor light fixtures lawfully installed and operating prior to the effective date of this ordinance.” However, the draft rules go on to say the city later could adopt ordinances that deal with retrofitting or removal of such fixtures.

Other exemptions include correctional institutions, holiday lights up for no more than 60 days, carnivals and fairs, temporary lights for TV or movie productions and “residential decorative … and low-wattage lighting used to highlight driveways and landscaping … providing they are properly aimed and shielded.”

There some other, potentially sticky parts of the rules, such as ban on “the operation of searchlights for advertising or promotional purposes, and of course, the penalty for violations, which would constitute a Class C civil infraction, and be subject to abatement under the nuisance provisions of the city code.

Planning commission member Jeff Ellington asked why neon lights were included in the exemption, and Byers explained that the committee believed those kinds of lights “don’t shine light up (into the sky) that much.”

Byers also noted that some areas of town, such as Broken Top and some developments on Awbrey Butte, already have far more restrictive outdoor lighting regulations than the city is proposing.

As was explained at some stakeholders meetings last June (see earlier bend.com story, bendbugle.com/?p=5402), the benefits extend not only to better neighbor relations, but can save money as well, since not wasting light can mean using lower-wattage, more efficient fixtures.

School district worried about cost of retrofitting

Sharon Smith, attorney for the Bend-La Pine School District, submitted a letter expressing “concern about the impact (of the rules) on the lighting at existing facilities and costs for retrofitting.”

On the other hand, Smith noted, “The Lighting Committee has taken the approach that the proposed ordinance will be for new lighting installations only. We think this is a very prudent approach. Their next step would be to adopt an ordinance that addresses retrofitting. That step will require substantial analysis and public input.”

The lawyer suggested only minor modifications or clarifications to the current draft proposal, but warned of the impacts of the potential follow-up rules regarding existing lights.

“The expense to retrofit existing lighting would be very onerous for the school district,” Smith wrote, especially due to the recent crunch in state school funding. “However,” she added, “the district does support the concept of the lighting ordinance in general and does plan to participate in seeking solutions for conversions of existing facilities that may not meet the intent of this proposed ordinance.”

Patty Rosen, chairwoman of the citizen lighting panel, used a portable, shielded light fixture in a darkened City Hall chambers to explain what the group is talking about – first shining the light out into the audience, then over her head.

She then introduced a special visitor: Angela Squires, public relations director for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s Vancouver Centre and an expert in the field of controlling light pollution.

She gave a 15-slide presentation that included satellite imagery and photos of the right and wrong way to light streets, sidewalks and the like.

“We call it responsible lighting,” Squires said. “What we’re talking about is good, quality lighting. We need light at night, but what we need is good light.”

One slide clearly showed that a “huge increase in light pollution” in the last 30 years, she said, but some simple, common-sense regulations can reverse that trend. She quoted author and comet co-discoverer David Levy as saying that “$3 billion is wasted annually in America, lighting the underbellies of seagulls.”

Harsh lights create shadows, `false security’

Repeating a point made at earlier meetings, she also said that proper security lighting can provide “real security, rather than false security,” by not using an overabundance of harsh, glaring lights that create deep shadows for wrongdoers to hide in.

Squires said she noted on the drive to Bend from the Redmond airport that “you do have some full cut-off fixtures” in streetlights that shine down, not out.

And while some might argue the point, Squires said the city of San Antonio, Texas, found that vandalism was “greatly reduced” when schoolyard lights were turned off at night. “Vandals need light” to pick their targets, she said.

Saving the night sky and the view of stars is something one generation owes the next, she said: “To me, it’s like saying, `Are you going to prevent your children from seeing the trees, the flowers?’”

Squires said she is among those who regularly visit the University of Oregon’s Pine Mountain Observatory (http://pmo-sun.uoregon.edu) east of Bend, unique in the Northwest in that it’s open to the public. But she said they have been able to document over the years that “the night sky is seriously deteriorating” as the glow of Bend comes calling.

The only other speaker at the hearing was Rod Tomcho of Tennant Development, who offered support for the proposed rules while encouraging that they allow flexibility regarding light fixtures and streetlights as well.

The written record will stay open until Monday, Dec. 9, for further testimony.

Planning commissioner Don Leonard said he was concerned about the lack of an enforcement plan. “The worst thing you could have is an ordinance with no enforcement power,” he said. Byers said it would generally be a complaint-driven, code enforcement issue.

Dike Dame of Cascade Highlands Limited Partnership was on hand for another matter, related to amending the destination resort designation for land between Broken Top and Century Drive. But he also testified on the lighting ordinance in a way, noting how in the `60s, he was one of six young people who went door to door, raising funds for the creation of the Pine Mountain Observatory.

“I think you’re doing a good thing here,” he said.

Meanwhile, the scheduled second part of a public hearing on a proposed grading ordinance (see earlier bend.com story, bendbugle.com/?p=6878) last Monday was put off again, until Feb. 10, so the task force that crafted it can do more work on the proposal, along with another public workshop in January on the final draft.

Save $3 on Snowblast tubing at Mt. Bachelor

Bend, Ore. – November 29, 2002 -With coupons available from Central Oregon Subway restaurants receive $3 off any session in the Mt. Bachelor Snowblast Tubing Park Saturday, December 7 from 10 AM to 4 PM compliments of FOX 39.
Coupons, good for adults and kids 2-hour or all day tubing sessions in the FOX 39 Snowblast Tubing Park, are available at nine Subway restaurants in Bend, Redmond, Sisters, Sunriver and LaPine. For a list of locations please visit www.mtbachelor.com. Regularly priced 2-hour tubing tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for kids. All day tickets are $25 and $20 respectively. Tickets can be purchased at the Guest Services building. Parents are reminded children under 18 years will need a signed waiver release and must be at least 42 inches tall.
The Snowblast Tubing Park is located on Mt. Bachelor in the West Village so be prepared with warm, dry clothes including hats and gloves. Sunscreen should be worn even when the sky is overcast. Lodge facilities including the West Village Cafeteria, Castle Keep Restaurant and Bachelor Ski & Sport are open to all guests using the Snowblast Tubing Park.
For more information please visit www.mtbachelor.com or call 800-829-2442.
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Mt. Bachelor is in the Cascade Mountain Range just 22 miles southwest of Bend, Oregon. 3,683 acres of terrain surround the classic cone-shaped peak of 9,065 feet. Mt. Bachelor receives 350 inches of light, dry snow each year. Ski Magazine readers have ranked Mt. Bachelor’s lifts best in North America three of the last four years. For more information please visit our website at http://www.mtbachelor.com .

Qwest gets high marks in latest PUC quality report

Salem, OR -Qwest Communications gets high marks in the October Service Quality report prepared by the staff of the Oregon Public Utility Commission.

“This is the first time that I can remember Qwest has had zero held orders in a one month period and they had just four in September,” said Senior Telecommunications Engineer Irv Emmons.

The report covers performance standards for such things as filling orders, and making repairs within a set amount of time and the performance of the company’s telecommunication network.

“This is really great. Our efforts and Qwest’s efforts have paid off for customers throughout Oregon,” said Commissioner Joan Smith.

In October the company met Commission service quality standards for blocking, business office center access, commitments for service (provisioning), held orders, held orders over 30 days, repair service center access, and repair reports cleared within 48 hours.

Service quality fines levied against Qwest for poor service have been steadily declining. In 2000, the Commission fined Qwest $725,000, for 2001 $225,000, and Qwest has accrued $65,000 in fines through the third quarter of this year. Recent issues include getting calls answered in a timely manner and performance of the network.

In June of 2001, the Commission put the company on a six-month plan because customers were having to wait too long to get their calls answered by Qwest when requesting various services.

Despite this recent improvement, the Commission will continue to closely monitor the company’s service quality performance in light of the company’s financial difficulties.

Of Qwest’s 77 wire centers, only one wire center failed to meet the minimum threshold for trouble report rates during October.

The Commission’s standards address the following service quality indicators.

BLOCKING

STANDARD: Ninety nine percent of dialed calls should not experience blocking during any normal busy hour.

BUSINESS OFFICE CENTER ACCESS

STANDARD: This standard sets the maximum time that a customer should wait to talk to a representative when ordering new service. The timing starts after the call is transferred from the voice response unit to a representative. Then a representative (live person) is required to answer the call within 20 seconds at least 85 percent of the time. A maximum of one percent of the calls may encounter a busy signal.

COMMITMENTS FOR SERVICE (PROVISIONING)

STANDARD: Each telecommunications carrier provides a commitment date to a customer when they receive an order for service. This is a date by which service is expected. The date is normally six (6) business days unless another date is determined by good faith negotiations between the customer and the carrier. Each telecommunications carrier is required to meet at least 90 percent of its commitments for service.

HELD ORDERS

STANDARD: A held order is a request for service that is delayed beyond the commitment date due to lack of facilities. Telecommunication carriers are not to exceed the greater of two held orders per wire center per month averaged over their Oregon service territory or five held orders per 1,000 inward orders.

HELD ORDERS OVER 30 DAYS

STANDARD: The total number first line orders in excess of 30 days past the initial commitment date shall not exceed 10 percent of the total monthly held orders standard within a telecommunications carrier’s Oregon service territory.

REPAIR SERVICE CENTER ACCESS

STANDARD: Each telecommunications carrier is to measure the answering time from the time a call is directed to a representative (real person). The representative is required to answer the call within 20 seconds at least 85 percent of the time. No more than one percent of the calls may encounter a busy signal.

REPAIR REPORTS CLEARED WITHIN 48 HOURS

STANDARD: Each telecommunications carrier is required to repair reported trouble within 48 hours of receiving a report at least 95 percent of the time each month.

TROUBLE REPORT RATE

STANDARD: Each telecommunications carrier is to maintain service so that the monthly trouble report rate does not exceed two per 100 working access lines per wire center more than three times during a sliding 12-month period.

Detailed Service Quality information is available on the internet at http://www.puc.state.or.us/squality .
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Sunriver hero: Disabled daughter’s screams bring parents’ rescue

SUNRIVER – Twelve-year-old Sally O’Neill can’t speak, but she sure can scream – and that’s what rescuers said likely saved the lives of her parents after they fell through the thin ice covering Lake Aspen on Thanksgiving Day, trying to save the family dog.

When asked if she is proud of herself, Sally puckers up and gives two kisses – her way of saying, “Yes, yes.”

The next day, last Friday, the family went back to the “scene of the crime,” as her father called it, and looked in amazement at the broken ice left behind.

“It was a terrible thing – scary,” recalled John O’Neill. “I’ve been thinking about it all day, and how, looking back, I should have done things differently.”

The Portland family’s 14-year-old dog, Jake, had walked out on and fallen through the thin ice on the lake, located behind Sunriver Nature Center, around 4 p.m. Thursday, just as the sun was starting to set and the evening began to turn bitterly cold.

But things went from bad to worse when O’Neill, 50, plunged into the icy water while trying to rescue the pooch.

“My dog was drowning. What do you do?” he said Friday. “I thought I would be strong enough to push Jake up and get myself out… but you hit that water and you can’t move.”

Then – to make matters worse – his wife,, Annette, also 50, went out to try to help them both. “John said, `I can’t do it; I’m going under.’ So I reached my arm out to him and when he grabbed my hand and pulled, it broke the ice and I went in.”

“What was scary was, when you get in there, you just lose your energy in just a few minutes,” she said. “We just hung onto the ice.”

They fell in about 25 or 30 feet from shore.

Sally, the youngest of the couple’s three daughters, has cerebral palsy, is confined to a wheelchair and cannot speak. She watched with alarm from the shore and began screaming – one thing she can do.

Those screams caught the attention of people in the nearby parking lot, who rushed to the scene, and one couple called 911, John O’Neill said.

Bystanders alerted by screams try to help

A few of the bystanders tried to throw straps and logs out to the couple before the rescuers arrived, but were unsuccessful.

It took fire crews roughly four minutes to respond and “just a few minutes to get `em out of the water,” said Sunriver Firefighter/Paramedic George Fox, using a rescue rope in a bag that is designed to be tossed onto the ice in such situation. “It feeds out until it crosses over the people,” Fox explained.

Annette O’Neill said her husband surprised her, when it was his turn to be pulled from the icy water.

“I didn’t even think he would be able to hold the rope, because he was worse off than I was,” she said. “But he grabbed the rope by one arm, and grabbed Jake’s collar by the other. That was scary.”

Jake, “is part of the family,” she said. “He’s really crippled. Luckily, it’s his back legs. His front legs helped him doggy-paddle a good 25 minutes or so. He was better off than we were, in a way.”

“Looking back,” John O’Neill said, “I would have run as fast as I could have to get to a phone to call for help. But you’re afraid that when you get back, he won’t be there. Everything just happened so fast.”

Because of the delay in time it took for 911 to be called, the O’Neills figured they spent 20 or 25 minutes in the icy waters.

Due to hypothermia, John O’Neill’s body temperature had dropped to the high 80s and his wife’s to the low 90s. They were taken by ambulance to St. Charles Medical Center for a checkup, and were treated and released.

“The police and fire departments were really wonderful,” Annette O’Neill said, prompting a slew of kisses from Sally. “Yes, yes, yes, yes!” (To answer “No,” she sticks out her tongue, by the way.)

But police thought it was Sally who was pretty wonderful, saluting her courage and quick thinking.

Sgt. P.J. Beaty of the Sunriver Police Department prepared a “letter of recognition” for the girl, and brought it to her at the family’s condo the next day.

It stated that the 12-year-old “distinguished herself by performing courageously in an incident that could have taken the lives of her parents.”

“Sally’s quick thinking and ability to overcome her disabilities ultimately saved her parents’ lives,” the letter noted. “The Sunriver Police Department would like to thank and honor Sally O’Neill for her exceptional courage and conduct under a very difficult situation.”

John O’Neill – beaming with pride for his daughter – said, “Sally just about jumped out of her wheelchair when they gave her the letter.”

“She is so excited, and she is so proud of herself,” her mother added.

The couple’s two other daughters, Natalie, 19, and Molly, 17, pitched in after the rescue. One finished making Thanksgiving dinner and watched her little sister, while the oldest went to pick up their parents at the hospital.

So was it an especially thankful Thanksgiving dinner? “Let’s just say we didn’t have our usual bickers,” Annette O’Neill said.

Fox said, “There is no ice that is accessible in Sunriver, except for the ice skating rink. We do not encourage people to go out anywhere on the ice. We just don’t get the long-term cold to make it thick enough.”

Still, he noted, “We’ve brought dogs and stuff in (from the water) before. They are part of the family, and you never know how folks will react when they get in trouble.”

Poverty: A surprisingly full-time occupation

Renée Davidson participated in a poverty simulation workshop on Tuesday, November 26 as part of Homeless and Hunger Awareness Week. Below is a first-hand account of her experience.

Fourteen of us have come to the Bend Community Center to spend a month in the “State of Poverty.” Some of us, myself included, have lived here before. For others, this poverty simulation workshop will offer a first peek into the life of the poor.

After a spaghetti dinner, we sit in chairs arranged in circles. Each circle represents a family. A manila folder on one of the chairs contains a description of that family’s financial and personal situation, varying amounts of cash, cards representing household items of value, plus a green transportation pass and a red ID card for each family member. During the simulated month of poverty, each family will pick at least one card from the “luck of the draw” pile.

The five pretend families range in size from two to six members. Some families have one or more working members and still qualify for government assistance. Others make too much to be eligible for assistance, but not enough to pay the rent. At least one person has drugs or alcohol-related problems. A Latino family with limited English skills has health problems related to pesticides from migrant farm work. Still others are elderly or have medical conditions.

My family is small – only two of us. I will be Gerald Guten, a 3-year-old boy with asthma problems. Sweet Pea Cole will play Gayle, my jobless 25 year old mother. We live in a run-down part of town with two broken windows that the landlord refuses to fix. We have neither a phone nor income, and we’re trying to pay off a loan for our furniture and stove.

We do have $20 in cash, as well as a refrigerator, camera, jewelry and television worth $100 each. And we have two transportation passes. We’ll each need one for every trip we take – to the grocery store, bank, pawn shop, state agencies, utility companies, school, etc. These passes represent the resources required to get from one place to another. Even walking takes time and energy.

Week One:
The whistle blows and we begin our first 15-minute week in this simulated month of poverty. According to our information packet, we can apply for TANF benefits, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. That’s the latest federal acronym for welfare.

We use our only two transportation passes to get to the Department of Human Services to apply for TANF benefits. Mom starts filling out the five-page form while I entertain myself with another 3-year old, Harvey Hanlow, who is played by 11-year-old Perris Clayssens. The form requests our names, social security numbers, birth dates, household budget, and much more. Neither of our mothers can complete the forms before their names are called, forcing them to reschedule their appointments. Another woman filling out paperwork receives a surprise visit by the local police. Her teenage son is in custody for bringing a gun to school. Seems he drew a bad luck card.

A second whistle ends the first week before mom can finish our paperwork. No benefits this week.

Week Two:
When the whistle blows, we realize we used all our transportation passes getting to the DHS office last week. We need to return there for benefits, but mom still hasn’t finished the paperwork. She is furiously filling out the form when I scream, “Mom, I’m hungry! I want McDonald’s!”

Mom is visibly shaken at the realization that we never got around to buying food last week. As it turns out, only a few families will buy food during the whole month. None will buy enough to actually feed their families. Without real hunger pains to remind us to eat, it’s easy to overlook the grocery store and food bank.

Mom gathers up the paperwork, our ID cards, valuable items and cash. We hurry to the Bank/ATM to purchase transportation passes. They’re $1 each, but we’re charged $2 each for the first two because we ran out. $12 buys us eight passes. The banker keeps the first two to represent our initial trip to the bank. We’re left with six transportation passes and $8.

Two green passes get us to Big Dave’s Pawn Shop. Here, we are offered $50 for our $100 television, but we owe $60 for furniture and a stove. After much pleading from mom, Big Dave agrees to let us wait until next week to pay off our loan.

We use two more transportation passes to go to the Food Pantry, where we get $35 worth of food. Bellies full, we head back to the ATM to purchase four more passes. Now we have $54 to our name.

We return to the DHS office with our paperwork just as the whistle sounds the end of the second week. We just wasted two transportation passes.

Week Three:
Bright and early Monday morning, a policeman takes me away because of child neglect. Mom hasn’t purchased the asthma medication I need, or taken me to the health clinic. They won’t release me until she brings a receipt for the medicine and makes an appointment for counseling.

While I stay in protective custody, Mom tries to pawn her ring. Big Dave already has lots of jewelry, so he won’t give her much money. He also won’t buy our refrigerator, as his bleeding heart won’t allow him to leave us without the means to store food.

Now the landlord is looking for mom because we haven’t paid the rent. At the end of the third week, our situation is looking desperate.

Week Four:
I don’t know what happened to mom. I haven’t seen her for a week. My friend Harvey joins me in protective custody after wandering into traffic while his mother was otherwise occupied. A grown-up played by local writer Michael Funke joins us after failing to appear in court for making an illegal U-turn. Eventually, one of his family members bails him out.

The landlord finally tracks down Mom, who tries, without success, to sell our furniture to the landlord. Our chairs are overturned to show that we have been evicted. Two other families have also lost their homes. At the month-end whistle, it feels as if a tornado has torn through the room, ripping apart families and scattering individual members. I am still in protective custody. Mom is still filling out forms.

Debrief:
After the simulated month, we share our reactions to the poverty simulation. Brad Hunter, who came to the simulation at the urging of a friend, laments, “I didn’t know it was so involved and so complicated to be poor. To work with agencies, they all require certain things. If you don’t have those things, you have to start over.” He says, “I picked up a little of the despair of not being independent, of not being able to pay your rent and feed your kids.”

One family ultimately ends the month with a roof over their heads and money left over. But they failed to report that their 17 year old daughter had gotten a job. That’s welfare fraud, a federal offense.

Other family members share stories of being charged a fee to cash their paychecks because they didn’t have bank accounts. Others talk about being evicted from their homes because they couldn’t produce a receipt for rent they paid. One participant says, “I felt used by people – at the bank, at the state agencies. I really felt the various places did not treat me very well.”

Paul Clayssens, father of Perris, admits that the simulation brought back memories of being a poor student. “Standing in line, rescheduling appointments, eventually losing it,” he remembers. “Do you look for work, apply for benefits, or go to the food pantry? There aren’t many jobs out there. Crime is starting to look pretty good. Or maybe selling my kid on the black market.”

My pretend mom, Sweet Pea Cole, explains her mixed emotions at having her child taken away. “If my sick 3-year-old is in custody, he’s getting food and medication. He’s safe. That allows me to go do what I need to do.”

Personally, I am struck by the amount of work involved in being poor. Just getting from the bank to the welfare office to the pawn shop to the utility company is time-consuming and expensive. In many cases, state agencies are located across town from one another, and public transportation is non-existent.

My life of simulated poverty stands in stark contrast to the stereotypical image of welfare recipients. We’re definitely not sitting around in front of the television, snacking on Doritos, reproducing like rabbits. We’re pounding the pavement every day, trying to find a way to make ends meet.

We’d like to live within our means. Unfortunately, our meager resources don’t even come close to meeting our basic needs – food and shelter – much less “luxury” items like medicine and child care. We have already cut every corner imaginable. Our only option is to increase our means – through a second job, public assistance, a life of crime, or perhaps “shacking up” with another wage earner.

Getting public assistance is more difficult than it seems. Transportation, language and literacy barriers deter some families enough that they give up altogether, abandoning the application process. In the simulation, five people made 23 appointments for public assistance, but only two families completed the TANF process. Those who did jump through all the hoops found their benefits still didn’t cover the basics.

This may be a safety net, but apparently, it’s full of holes.

Bend’s new flying, flaming artwork has at least one fan

Okay, call me insane, call me an artistic ignoramus, call me a traitor, but I like the Big Red Bird.

The Big Red Bird is “Phoenix Rising,” the sculpture by Frank Boyden that’s been erected in the new traffic roundabout at Galveston and 14th St. in Bend.

For those who haven’t seen it (and it’s well-nigh impossible to miss if you’re anywhere near it) Boyden’s sculpture is a bright-red, stylized rendition of a big bird attached to the top of a shiny metal pole that looks to be about 12 feet high.

The sculpture is supposed to represent the Phoenix, an immortal mythical Egyptian bird that supposedly lived in the desert for 500 years, then consumed itself in fire, and then rose again out of the ashes.

Boyden’s Phoenix is the latest, and most controversial, in a series of artworks that have been appearing in the roundabouts that are sprouting all over Bend. They’re being commissioned and paid for by Art in Public Places, a private, non-profit group.

Over the years, Art in Public Places has placed a lot of art in public places around Bend, some of it controversial and much of it not.

The non-controversial sculptures tend to be realistic – they look more or less literally like what they’re supposed to look like. These include the sculpture of what appears to be two copulating salmon in front of the Bend Public Library, the famous Man and Ducks on Park Bench at the corner of Wall and Franklin streets downtown, and the gaggle of bronze geese in the little park overlooking the Deschutes near Colorado Avenue.

The controversial sculptures tend to be the non-representational ones – those that don’t look like anything in particular, including the Big Shiny Aluminum Boxes at Kenwood School and the Giant Rusty Arches overlooking the Bend Parkway.

The roundabout sculptures follow the same pattern. I haven’t heard any complaints about the realistic grizzly bear near Bend High School or the realistic group of deer in another roundabout.

But the Giant Totem Pole (“Sunrise Spirit Column”) on Mount Washington Drive, the Giant Shiny Letters (“Mount Bachelor Compass”) on Century Drive and – especially – the Big Red Bird have drawn a barrage of flak.

One local letter-to-the-editor writer said the Phoenix sculpture looked like “a chicken with its butt on fire.”

Another described it as a “gargantuan hunting decoy for some extinct variety of giant pink flamingo.”

Angry neighbors of the Big Red Bird besieged the Bend City Council at a recent session, one of them describing the procedure for selecting and placing public art as “Machiavellian.”

The neighbors want to have some sort of say in approving the pieces of art that are placed in their neighborhoods. The city council is mulling over the proposal.

In theory, this looks like a good idea. In practice, it would be a disaster.

It’s been said that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. One hesitates to imagine what art designed by a committee would look like.

The only kind of art that would stand a chance of winning broad neighborhood consensus would be the blandest sort of realistic sculpture. Do we really want Bend’s public places filled with nothing but bronze deer, ducks, salmon, bears and beavers?

Besides, neighborhoods aren’t static; their populations change constantly. Who’s to say that 10 or 20 years from now, the new residents won’t think the sculpture picked by the former residents is an intolerable horror?

By and large, the Art in Public Places folks have done a good job of selecting art for the city, and I think they should be allowed to go on doing it without a lot of meddling by fuss-budget neighbors or politicians.

Meanwhile, why are people getting their panties in a wad over this issue? I mean, it’s not as if any of the art being put in the roundabouts is obscene or anything.

I don’t like all of the sculptures that are going into the roundabouts. For instance, I don’t care very much for the giant totem pole or the big metal compass letters. But, what the heck, that’s just my personal taste. I’m not going to storm City Hall over it.

As for the Big Red Bird, as I said at the beginning, I actually like it. And after they get over the initial shock, my hunch is that most of the neighbors will too. It’s kind of like putting a large new piece of furniture in your living room – it always looks strange at first.

I do think somebody ought to paint that shiny pole some dark color, though.

Bend’s ‘Rocket Guy’ plays it for laughs in ‘Conan’ talk-show appearance

Bend’s own “Rocket Guy,” Brian Walker, knew better than to play his dream of building and flying his own rocket into sub-orbital space for anything but laughs in his first big network TV appearance, Thanksgiving Eve on NBC’s “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”

After hundreds of TV, radio and newspaper interviews over the past two years, Walker (http://www.rocketguy.com) no doubt has heard them all – the serious questions, the silly ones and everything in between. But his 7-minute appearance gave everyone their share of laughs, with a prop he brought along – his first successful toy, a small air-powered rocket – boosting the levity, likely just as intended.

Too bad O’Brien didn’t have time to learn of (and no doubt crack wise about) the biggest piece of news in Walker’s personal life of late – his Oct. 15 marriage to the Russian woman he found on the Internet and fell in love with, also bringing an 8-year-old son into his life (see bend.com’s story from earlier this year, bendbugle.com/?p=4303). One can imagine the jokes that would have ensued.

After a brief video showing the smaller-scale rocket model Walker has built in his back yard, Walker entered the studio to applause and the host’s logical first question: “Why do you want to launch yourself into space?” Walker explained how he grew up watching space shots and “wanted to be an astronaut,” but soon learned he “didn’t have the right stuff.”

That brought O’Brien’s first wisecrack: “So you say, `I don’t have the ability to be in one of the professional rockets, so, I know what I’ll do – I’ll make my own!’” (Laughter ensuing.) “That’s an interesting train of thought.”

Asked why he didn’t follow in the footsteps of well-off space hitchhikers like N’Sync’s Lance Bass, Walker explained the obvious – that he doesn’t have millions to pay for a ride – but also said, “I don’t want to just take a ride with someone. I want to do something on my own.”

O’Brien said he had to applaud Walker’s initiative, but then he asked how the rocket worked, and the Bend resident pulled his small, desktop air-whoosh rocket out from behind the desk, prompting the expected derision from the late-night host.

“What the hell?” O’Brien said upon first glance at the toy. “This doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.”

Walker gamely tried to explain, without getting too technical, how the “system will boost the rocket into the air, give it its own momentum.” (Then up the small rocket went, toward the studio lights; Walker reached out but couldn’t snag it on “re-entry.”)

“And this is the thing – this is what you use to calm people down?” O’Brien asked with seemingly sincere incredulity. “’Calm down – I know what I’m doing!” the host said, and popped the rocket back into the air with a slam on the desk, as Walker had done.

Fellow guests join in the fun

O’Brien’s former co-host, Andy Richter, on the show to plug his Fox series, joined in in defense of Walker, sort of: “I’m buying it. You takin’ investors? You sold me with that!”

Then O’Brien noted that astronauts have to be in top physical shape, and asked Walker if he’s doing well in that arena.

“I’m working on it,” Walker said. “The past two years, I’ve been putting in so much time on the rocket, I’ve got a little beer excess to lose,” he added, patting himself on the stomach. But he did explain that he’d been to Russia to train, on a centrifuge and the weightless-plane rides, “doing all the basic training.”

“It’s just the beer you have a problem with,” O’Brien cracked. “You’ve been to Russia, you’ve been in a MiG, but it’s the beer you’ve got a problem with.”

“They didn’t say it would stick with me so long,” Walker retorted.

Asked the biggest risk he’d face, Walker said it’s “at launch,” but that the way he’s designing things should “significantly reduce the risk.”

But O’Brien noticed his other guest for the night, rapper-actor Snoop Dogg, smiling and shaking his head, and couldn’t resist noting, “Even Snoop Dogg doesn’t think this is a good idea!”

Then the zany host pulled a familiar cartoon image to mind: “I’m thinking of Wile E. Coyote – he launches, there’s a big explosion, he’s all signed, and the Road Runner laughs and he runs away.”

Walker surely wasn’t offended, just gamely going on to notice his plans for a pressurized vessel and space suit.

Of “tin foil?” O’Brien cracked. Nope, a real Russian Space Agency suit that Walker bought. O’Brien appeared impressed, perhaps: “They’ve got the best.”

’I’m worried about you,’ Conan says

Walker said he’ll have two parachute systems in the capsule and “two in the escape area,” and that brought some concern from the host who’d been ribbing him.

“I’m worried about you,” O’Brien said. “How can you escape from the capsule if you’re in trouble?”

Walker said he’ll get to 2,000 feet elevation, even if all of the systems fail. That didn’t sound too great to O’Brien. Nor did the ejection system, as Walker explained that he “releases the handle and it blows me out the side.”

“Is there an opening for it, or are you just crushed through the side?” O’Brien said, again drawing laughter.

Walker did the “I shoulda had a V-8″ knock on his head: “I’m really glad I came out here – I hadn’t thought about that!” (But of course, he added, “There’s an opening.”

Asked when he plans the launch, Walker said next summer.

“You really want to do this?” O’Brien asked. “We can’t talk you out of it?”

“Isn’t this against the law?” was his next query, and Walker explained how he’s met with Federal Aviation Administration officials, who were “really supportive. They want to see I go through all the right steps.”

O’Brien mocked his own mental image at encounter, asking if he was sure they didn’t bust out laughing the moment he was out the door. Richter piled on: “You can’t fire bottle rockets. How can you shoot a bunch of washing machines into space?”

Walker said, “There’s no law against building and launching a rocket. If somebody says you can’t leave, they’re basically saying you can’t leave the planet.”

The backyard spaceman said there’s the need for anyone planning such an endeavor to coordinate with officials: “Let’s face it, I don’t want to pass through the passenger session of a passing 747.”

“Neither does anybody on the 747,” O’Brien retorted, briefly acting out the aftermath of such an encounter, as a wounded passenger: “I don’t want chicken. I want beef!”

O’Brien gave Walker’s Website a plug, then turned serious – well, as serious as a late-night talk show ever gets.

“You know what?” he said. “You seem like a nice person, so I guess I’m wishing you well. And I hope to God everything goes well and that you’ll come back and talk to us afterward.”

Walker had a better idea, and an invitation: “You can come to the launch.”

“No way in hell,” O’Brien replied firmly, breaking Walker up. The host then offered a and farewell handshake to Bend’s own “Rocket Guy,” as the applause and music swelled before going to the inevitable commercial break.

If Walker can set up his risky launch as well as he does a comedian’s punch lines, maybe it’ll work and he’ll come home safe to his brand-new family next year, or whenever he finds the time between all those interviews to get it all done and ready to fire into space.