Leaders from the east county community share their excitement for the future
CAMAS — Top Camas leaders gathered with a full house of residents for the 2019 State of the Community event Thursday evening, and addressed future projects, future ideas and the health of the community.
Hosted by Camas School Board President Doug Quinn, the event featured the CEO of the Port of Camas-Washougal David Ripp, the mayor of the city of Camas Shannon Turk and the superintendent of the Camas School District Jeff Snell.
Each presented their organization’s best accomplishments for the previous year, and elaborated on the most notable approaching projects. Their presentations were followed by a question and answer time which began with some contention but evened out as the night came to a close.
“We get to learn a little bit, we get to listen to a little bit, and you’ll get the chance to ask some questions,” said Quinn at the start of the evening. “There’s a lot of activity in our small community. I like to think of it as good things going on.”
The first to address the audience was Port CEO David Ripp. His presentation focused predominantly on the port’s acquisition of land and approaching construction of the waterfront development.
“One of the things I’m excited about, and always try and brag about, is that the revenues that these three entities [marina, airport and industrial park] generate, cover all their operating expenses,” Ripp said. “So, 100 percent of the taxes that you pay if you live in the port district, are invested back into the port.”
Currently, the port is receiving feedback on three designs for the waterfront area. The final product will not be simply the most popular design, but rather a mix of the most favored elements of all three, Ripp said.
He also elaborated on projects around the port’s industrial park, which has added new vendors recently as well as benefitted from the new roundabouts being constructed through the parallel stretch of SR-14.
The port’s Steigerwald Commerce Center is also moving up, with the 100-plus acre site being planned for development after the port received a state grant for the project.
“We get to decide and ask the community, what they would like to see in the property [waterfront development],” Ripp said. “Through those discussions, it wasn’t, ‘Yeah, we want another lumber mill or industrial business park here,’ we want to do something that enhances what’s there but also allowing the public to touch, feel and get out there and see the Columbia River.”
Next to speak was Camas Mayor Shannon Turk. Her presentation centered around several key goals including financial stability, improving infrastructure, managing growth, providing recreation opportunities for residents, and better communication.
Along the lines of financial stability, Turk relayed that the overall state of the community was “good,” and that budget items were progressing well as well as property taxes have gone down since last year.
“We continue to build upon our past successes and invest in our city in line with our strategic plan,” Turk said.
On infrastructure, she showcased three major projects: the updating of Brady Road, transportation improvements at Lake Road and Everett Street and the installation of a 2-million-gallon water reservoir.
Many years in the coming, the updates to Brady Road will bring in sidewalks, better landscaping, a safer median, and a large pedestrian walkway to one side. The new roundabouts and lane structure at Lake Road and Everett Street will be begin in mid-2020 and was determined to be the best option after several community outreaches.
“The infrastructure improvements that we will be working on this year enhance safety and traffic flow on our roads, and ensure the availability of clean water,” Turk said. “This is an old county road [Brady] where we are widening the roadway, we are going to add bike lanes … the utility work is going to be starting any minute, it will go through the winter, and they will finally finish the paving in late summer 2020.”
The mayor’s most contentious item, the proposed nearly $78 million Community and Aquatics Center, was outlined with detail. The issue prompted one citizen to shout at the mayor twice during the question and answer period before storming out of the meeting.
No other attendees voiced their concerns aggressively, but concerns regarding the additional cost per resident was clear from submitted questions and community engagement following the meeting.
Turk also expressed her optimism at the expansion of the Northshore development and the implementation of more greenspaces along Lacamas Lake.
“It’s north of Lacamas Lake from the western boundary of the city, to SR-500 in the east,” Turk explained. “The success in the Grass Valley area, has prompted the city to look for other areas where we can bring in family wage jobs.”
The final presenter of the evening was Camas School District Superintendent Jeff Snell. His time focused on many achievements made by the district in the past year, including the highest performing students in the county, having the Washington Teacher of the Year in the district and expanding schools with high on-time graduation rates.
“Our theme this year is around writing our collective stories,” Snell said. “We get to shape what those stories look like, and of course the characters of students come and influence that. We have a lot of ownership of what the narrative is, and the way we frame experiences for kids is really powerful.”
Snell also touched on the districts adjustment of accelerated grades from 5th and 6th to 6th and 7th. Accelerated grades allow some students who are ready to skip classes and move on faster.
He also acknowledged the need for better emotional support for studenst to quell stagnent rates of suicide and self harm across all schools, with 1 in 5 students within the Camas district say they have had thoughts of suicide.
The district is partnering with parents through a Student Wellness website and working to create a better dialogue between those in need of help and those able to supply it, he said.
“We are not changing this trajectory … suicide death rate, it’s not moving, and we should all be a little angry about that,” Snell said. “We’ve created some great opportunities for parents to come alongside and learn together on how do we best support our most prized asset that we have.”
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