2016: A Look Back
From a newly-hired city manager, continued work on the bypass and a fatal fire with a suicidal twist, it was a year full of surprises
By Colin Staub and Seth Gordon, Graphic reporters
As a new year gets off the ground, here's a look back at some of the biggest stories of 2016.
Threat to the bypass
As the year opened, discussion among Newberg residents, city officials, state officials, traffic consultants, non-Newberg residents, other-city officials and more, was heating up over one proposed intersection on the south end of town.
Phase one of the Newberg-Dundee bypass, which was well under construction by that point, was designed to intersect with Highway 219, where traffic would be directed either north to Highway 99W, or south toward McKay Road.
But a design choice that gave traffic the option of going straight across the intersection and onto Wilsonville Road was generating some anger among homeowners who predicted traffic increases along the winding road if cars chose to use it as a shortcut to Interstate 5.
After countless hours of city hearings, threats of lawsuits, intervention by state officials and finally collaboration, the issue was settled with a reconfiguration that will eventually create a new intersection farther south on Highway 219. For the time being, Wilsonville Road will remain connected to Springbrook Road as is it is now, though it will be reworked as a right-in, right-out connection.
Mill's history comes to an end
Although most of the 200-plus workers were laid off months earlier, the new east coast corporate owners of the Newberg paper mill announced in early 2016 that the facility would remain shuttered forever.
That meant the permanent end of the city's more than century-old industrial landmark, which most residents had a connection to in one way or another.
WestRock Co., which purchased the mill just months earlier, had no such sentimental connection: in a later conference call a company executive noted that the Newberg location was "not a significant contributor to the overall economics of the transaction."
School shooting averted
A planned shooting at Newberg High School, which was thwarted when the Newberg- Dundee Police Department arrested 17-year-old student Jacob Hill and a classmate on the evening of March 3, shook the community and held the public's attention for several months as Hill was promptly tried in Yamhill County Juvenile Court on two counts of first-degree attempted assault and one count of attempted unlawful use of a weapon.
Hill and four other friends first planned the attack while skipping school Feb. 29 at Friends Cemetery. Testimony during trial indicated it was Hill who first brought up the idea to shoot up Newberg High School. It was because of further steps that Hill took to further plan and prepare for the shooting, including attempts to obtain a gun, that he was the only one charged in the case.
After Hill missed a mandated group counseling session March 3, another member of the group reported the plot to a counselor, who in turned notified police, leading to Hill's arrest.
Hill was eventually found "in the jurisdiction of the court," which is the equivalent of a guilty verdict in adult criminal court, on all three charges April 29 by Yamhill County Circuit Court Judge John Collins, who found that Hill had taken "substantial steps" toward enacting the shooting.
It took much longer, however, for Hill to be sentenced, as Collins remanded him to the custody of the Oregon Youth Authority and recommended he be placed in a youth correctional facility June 24 following a contested disposition hearing. Hill, who will be subject to the OYA until he is 26 years old, expressed relief that the trial was over so that he could "move on so I may go somewhere else to get help and make steps in the right direction."
Dairy Queen reopens its doors
When a fire destroyed the Newberg Dairy Queen building in the spring of 2015, locals had no choice but to wait patiently for the restaurant to reopen.
After an entire summer without the classic summer refreshment stop, followed by a long fall and winter of driving by and seeing the empty and dilapidated building, there was understandably a large community response when construction began on the restaurant's replacement. It ultimately reopened in April.
An article announcing the rebuild remains one of this newspaper's most shared articles over social media in recent memory (a close second was a piece announcing the upcoming Black Bear Diner location in town, suggesting restaurants hold a particular excitement for the Newberg population).
Marijuana sales legalized
In May the Newberg City Council voted to repeal a ban on "early" recreational marijuana sales out of medical dispensaries, effectively legalizing pot sales for anyone 21 and older.
The decision followed months of the council taking a fairly guarded stance on marijuana sales — prohibiting recreational sales out of dispensaries even while the state allowed the practice, for instance. But when a local dispensary owner asked the city to reconsider in May, councilors revisited the ban, looked at how things were playing out in communities that had not adopted such a ban, and ultimately reversed their decision.
"I still don't like anything about the marijuana industry in the town of Newberg, but at this particular point of time I don't see any way forward but to maybe wrap up this final chapter in how the business is conducted in the city of Newberg," Councilor Stephen McKinney said at the deciding meeting, casting a surprise vote to allow pot sales.
Third city manager in three years
After two back-to-back city manager scandals and costly resignations, new City Manager Joe Hannan had his work cut out for him when he took on the job in June. Most recently working in the same role in Alaska, Hannan was hired through a months-long search process, underwent numerous interviews and rose to the top of a pool of 70-plus applicants.
City officials praised Hannan for his experience managing issues similar to those Newberg is now facing, while he worked in other Oregon communities.
Youth homes closed by state
The Oregon Department of Human Services sent a shockwave through Newberg when it announced in June that the state would shut down all youth homes operated by Chehalem Youth and Family Services, which housed and cared for 16 youths at the time.
In an announcement sent to numerous community members, DHS detailed a list of troubling alleged incidents that led to its decision, and said the state had made "extraordinary efforts" to help CYFS solve the problems.
The Newberg nonprofit disagreed with the state's assessment and appealed the findings. Information was kept under wraps over the summer, but a records request in the fall revealed that CYFS and DHS had come to a settlement that stipulates the youth homes will remain closed, but that CYFS doesn't admit to any of the allegations.
Trailer explodes with tragic backstory
An already-dramatic mobile home fire in June took an unexpected turn into the bizarre and tragic when it came to light that there had been an occupant inside who died in the fire, and that the fire wasn't an accident but was a planned suicide attempt.
The suicide was allegedly assisted by 75-year-old Edna Bennett, who also lived in the trailer and allegedly stockpiled a dozen gallons of gasoline to help blow up the mobile home, and left shortly before the fire was ignited. Bennett awaits trial in 2017.
Amazingly, despite the explosion and blaze, nobody else was hurt in the fire, the one positive in an otherwise sad story.
Local fire department dissolved … temporarily?
The trailer explosion was one of the last firefighting efforts of the Newberg Fire Department, which shortly afterward merged into Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue.
The agreement is officially just for two years as a trial run, but if the voters choose to make it permanent the local fire department would dissolve permanently.
City officials decided to contract with TVF&R in light of rising costs for fire service, a growing service population and a lack of revenue or ability to raise it to the necessary amount.
While there were reservations among residents, and fears that beloved local traditions like Toy and Joy would come to an end, according to TVF&R the contract has gone smoothly for its first six months — and the fire agency has so far continued the fire department's time-honored community events.
Pool breaks ground, aims to stay under budget
The Chehalem Park and Recreation District's ongoing efforts to build a new $20 million aquatic center began to bear fruit in 2016, as construction finally began in earnest in November.
The district celebrated that progress with a "water-breaking" ceremony Oct. 16 at the current pool, as 14 stakeholders broke the surface of the pool with golden-painted shovels instead of the customary dirt.
"We had a lot of shovels and we could have had twice that many people with shovels," board president Pete Siderius said. "It's nice to be part of a community where people are that involved. I grew up in a community like that, where if something needed to be done, the community would come together to get it done. It's very nice to still live in a place with that much civic pride."
Controversy, though, arose again after the removal of an entire grove of Douglas Fir trees in early December in adjacent Pool Park. Plans called for a majority of the trees to be removed, but the 20 remaining firs were later taken down as a safety measure because they were more exposed to wind and received poor health evaluations from contracted arborists.