Ice and Snow; Cold grip loosens slightly; Police overtime patrols; Elliot State Forest alternatives sought; Local gas prices fall; Cold Weather Shelter open; and Spirit of Siuslaw

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Ice and snow pummel southern Willamette Valley

Schools and public offices in many parts of the state are closed today because ice and snow blanketed much of the area.  Everything in the Florence and Mapleton areas are open today.

Lane County road crews spent much of late yesterday afternoon and early evening responding to downed trees and branches in the West Eugene, Veneta and Junction City areas.  By eight pm supervisors had recalled them because it was unsafe.

Things to the south have been pretty messed up as well.  Interstate Five near Roseburg was closed until about ten pm last night because of several ice-related crashes.  Power outages were reported in many areas of Douglas County last night.

Forecasters expect things to begin warming up today, but they urge people to refrain from driving to and from… and around… the southern Willamette Valley until things begin thawing out.

Grip of snow and ice beginning to ease

Crashes, downed trees and avalanches impacted driving in Western Oregon following Wednesday’s snow and ice storm.

A thick blanket of ice coated much of the vegetation in the Southern Willamette Valley, bringing down trees and branches in the Eugene-Springfield area.  In Portland, motorists abandoned their cars by the hundreds after afternoon snow flurries caused several crashes and impossible driving conditions.

The poor conditions extended south on Interstate Five.  It was closed for a time last night near Roseburg because of several crashes.  Crews had the road reopened by ten pm though.

In the Cascades, things were even worse.  A rapid accumulation of snow… projected to be nearly two feet worth… resulted in two avalanches on Highway 20 over the Santiam Pass.

No injuries were reported, but ODOT and State Police said several vehicles required assistance.

Things were expected to thaw out some today, but overnight lows could dip into the mid 20s inland, and to 32 degrees along the coast, bringing the possibility of slick conditions.

Cold Weather Shelter

The Florence Cold Weather Shelter opened again last night, offering a warm and dry space for people who had no other place to go.  Reverend Greg Woods with the Presbyterian Church of the Siuslaw said it opened Tuesday night and Wednesday because of low temperatures.  No word yet on whether or not it will reopen tonight.  With forecast low temperatures expected to be 32 degrees tonight, it’s likely it will do so.

The volunteer run ad-hoc shelter did not report any openings last winter, but it’s already been utilized four times this month.

Local gas prices continue fall

The average price for a gallon of regular gas in Oregon slipped ever-so-slightly this week… a half-penny says Marie Dodds with Triple-A of Oregon.

It’s at $2.40 a gallon.

The local average went down three-cents this week and is at $2.15… six cents below the national average price.

Dodds said Oregon is one of only nine states that saw average prices fall in the past week.  That’s because several non-OPEC countries agreed to produce less oil.  That was in response to OPEC’s production cut announced November 30th.

Those “looming” supply cuts, she added, have fueled a rise in crude oil prices, sending retail gas prices higher in many markets.

Spirit of Siuslaw

The Executive Director of the Siuslaw Watershed Council has been awarded that organization’s annual “Spirit of Siuslaw” award.  Liz Vollmer-Buhl was singled out by Watershed Council members for her work not just in the past year, but over her 12-plus-year relationship with the Siuslaw Region.

Vollmer-Buhl is described as being a “blur of motion” and was compared to the Siuslaw River itself which, according to a press release this week, never stops moving.

She began as a volunteer with the group and became the Monitoring Coordinator in 2004.  Four years later she was named Executive Director and has been successful in writing and securing several grants for the agency, as well as raising awareness of watershed health.

She was presented the award during the annual meeting December 7th.

Elliot State Forest Alternatives Sought

Governor Kate Brown proposed an alternative to privatization of the 84-thousand acre Elliot State Forest in western Douglas County this week.  The State Lane Board, made up of Brown, Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins, and Treasurer Ted Wheeler, took no action on the single offer to buy the forest and place it in private hands.  Lone Rock Timber Company, in conjunction with the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Indians, submitted the state mandated minimum bid of $220-million.

Brown is proposing to use $100-million in state bonding authority to allow other competing bids that would protect public access and preserve habitat for endangered species.

Under current state law the forest must be managed for timber production with profits benefitting the state common school fund.  Expenses have exceeded revenues in recent years.

Brown says her proposal would allow other competitive offers that would compensate the school fund.

The Land Board will meet again in February.

Overtime patrols on tap for police

Lane County Sheriff’s Deputies, along with Oregon State Troopers and local police officers will be stepping up patrols in the coming two weeks.  They’ll be focusing on drivers who may be driving under the influence of intoxicants.

Deputies, troopers and officers will be putting in lots of overtime on weekends between now and January 1st.

The intention is to prevent traffic crashes caused by impaired drivers.

Deputy Tim Ware is encouraging drivers to operate their vehicles safely during hazardous weather conditions and to drive sober.

Additional funds to pay for officer overtime are being provided by the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association.