The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

The year in review: 2016 in Sentinel news


Following are some of the top stories reported by The Sentinel in 2016.

Jan. 6, 2016

Ekone Ranch focus of concerns

Ekone Ranch sprawls across 1,060 acres around Rock Creek Canyon near Goldendale. The facility is an off-grid, working ranch with horse camps, personal and group retreats, and programs that teach sustainable living skills. It’s the site of a natural burial ground. Its idyllic image may belie a backstory of what some sources are calling a wanton betrayal and coup, as well as of possible violations of its non-profit status.

The ranch, operating under a 501c3 IRS tax-exempt structure called the Sacred Earth Foundation (SEF), bills itself as “A place for children of all ages,” and among many people—including its detractors—the organization is recognized as doing a lot of good work. Many of its programs and staff are widely praised, serving as they do a highly engaged niche appeal. The ranch has close to 30 horses and runs horse camps in the summer, largely aimed at girls. SEF’s White Eagle Memorial Preserve is a natural burial ground certified by the State of Washington where the deceased can be laid to rest in a natural setting by the family. The ranch holds workshops and educational events, drawing upon instructors with acclaim in their fields. Its web site recognizes Ray Mitchell, who died suddenly in 2007, as the moving force and originator of the ranch, and in a few places it even mentions his partner at the time, Nancy Fisse Davis, commonly known as Fisse.

The irony there is that Davis is the person SEF ousted from the organization she helped form and into which she invested large amounts of money. Now Davis is investigating possible remedies to her ouster and eviction.

SEF does not deny removing Davis from its board and from the property she bought for the foundation and which she saw as her home for the rest of her life. In the intervening time the foundation has asserted variously that Davis’ removal was (initially) only a temporary separation and (subsequently) that she left because she found ranch life “too tough.” A mediation two years ago offering a settlement of all grievances in return for Davis gaining the title to a piece of the land she had purchased was rejected by the SEF board.

Davis and Mitchell placed their properties in the ownership of SEF in a fervor of idealism. After Mitchell’s death, a subsequent board of directors took control of the foundation. While the board may have been within its authority to remove Davis from the board, questions remain about the integrity of its actions and whether or not it acted lawfully in evicting Davis from the land in regard to appropriate landlord-tenant due process. There are also allegations against SEF of serious financial impropriety.

Those who say Davis was shockingly mistreated by SEF speak in strong terms. SEF has offered only cursory general statements on the matter, along with a referral to an attorney and its insurance company. It has also sent emails to its mailing list urging them not to talk with The Sentinel.

Jan. 20. 2016

Goldendale School District goes for a bond

Goldendale School District residents will receive ballots in a week to vote on a bond proposal to make upgrades to Goldendale schools.

The last time Goldendale School District passed a bond was March 28, 1974. That led to the construction of the school campuses as we now know them, occupied in December of 1976. Goldendale constituents haven’t had a bond payment for the past 12 years, but will soon be asked to pass another bond to upgrade all three campuses.

A proposal to build a new high school was defeated in 2011. The current proposal is intended to address needs viewed as critical by the district to get through the next 20 years. According to Superintendent Mark Heid, the school listened to the community (following the bond defeat) and have developed the current proposal based on public comment and the pressing needs of the school.

The bond request is for $9.2 million, about a third of what was proposed in 2011. The state would provide a match estimated at $2,874, 708 for a total project cost of $12,077,512.

Feb. 3, 2016

WDFL looks to buy county land

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which owns or manages 1 million acres in the state, has identified 10 more tracts of land it may buy. The properties total nearly 10,000 acres and range from a 5,000-acre ranch in Lincoln County in Eastern Washington to 13 acres of wetlands in Snohomish County in Western Washington. Most of the properties have been used for livestock grazing or crop production.

In Klickitat County, the department is proposing 60 acres in the Bowman Creek area. The land would become part of the Klickitat Wildlife Area. WDFW’s property acquisitions have drawn criticism for taking private property off county tax rolls. Following a formula set by the Legislature, WDFW makes payments to counties in lieu of taxes, but the payments are less than the taxes a private landowner would pay. The Department is taking public comment.

WDFW would set the land aside for hunting, fishing, recreation and wildlife preservation. Some land could be leased to ranchers or farmers, said Cynthia Wilkerson, WDFW land conservation and restoration section manager.

Feb. 10. 2016

Bond vote fails

Results from the Klickitat County Auditor’s Office last night show the Goldendale School District’s proposed $9.2 million bond was narrowly rejected by district voters.

As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, the vote margin was 51.4 percent against the bond versus 48.6 percent for it. Total votes were 1,112 against and 1,050 for.

M&O levies in Centerville, Glenwood, and Klickitat all passed.

Feb. 17, 2016

Lyle School District charts new path

A transformation is taking place at Lyle Schools. Following years of turmoil, the school seems to be recovering from the brink of disaster. In 2012, the school was described by Tom Merlino as a failure and was placed under the management of the state through OSPI and ESD112 under what were called binding conditions. Merlino was appointed by ESD112 to help the district make the hard cuts that would make the district solvent. The outlook was dim with the school on a trajectory towards dissolution.

Today there is a new spirit at the school, one of positive attitudes, cooperation and high expectations. No longer bankrupt, the school is planning a future based on the logo “all means all.” It is the mantra of new Superintendent, Andy Kelly, and it means there is a renewed level of commitment to student success.

Lyle voters soundly rejected two maintenance and operation levies in 2012. The budget had faded to the background and strong opposition toward the school administration became the central issue. It led to the school being underfunded, and while he left on his own volition, Superintendent Martin Huffman was forced out. It may have been the district’s darkest hour, but it was also the turning point.

The change began under the leadership of Dr. Glenys Hill, who was hired as a part time superintendent in August, 2012. Hill was seen as a tough, principled leader who had two issues on her plate, resurrect productive dialog within the community and fix the budget. Hill brought the public into the conversation and the school board adopted the strict cuts laid out by Merlino. The next year, Lyle passed a maintenance and operations levy and the district began to heal.

March 2, 2016

School board considers failed bond’s future

A post-mortem was conducted on the late school bond vote at a special Goldendale School District meeting Friday at the Middle School library. Superintendent Mark Heid led the board and a crowd of onlookers through a discussion on why the bond failed and what to do next.

“We want to do some surveys,” Heid said, “online, on our website, and also put some things in the paper, on the radio, so that people would have access to that so we get more feedback.”

Heid said the next available time for another bond measure was April, but Friday was the last day to file. That leaves August as the next available time, followed by the general election in November.

The board had asked Heid to go out to another architectural firm for a second opinion on some of the bond items. After doing that, Heid reported costs options were similar or even slightly higher than the first round. He emphasized too that the district had to include some items in order to qualify for state funds.

March 30, 2016

Cantwell in the county

Washington’s Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell’s car blended in with all the others stuck in traffic on Highway 97 on the Maryhill Grade about midway between the Columbia River and Goldendale. Road crews were still working on shoring up the sides against rock slides, and the senator, on her way to a meeting in Goldendale, was stopped. “She’s going to be a little late,” said David Reeploeg, her central Washington director, told the 18 people crowded into the county public works conference room.

Among them was the event host, Klickitat County Commissioner David Sauter, who was asked before the meeting if he had organized it. “Yes and no,” he responded. “When I saw her in D.C. I invited her to stop in the county when she had a chance. But I don’t know if this was because of that invitation.”

Cantwell had contacted Sauter only a week earlier, mentioning she would be able to stop in for a meeting. Word went out quickly, and the attendees were equally quick to respond. Besides Sauter, the complete invitee list included: Mayor Mike Cannon, City of Goldendale; Mayor Betty Barnes, City of Bingen; Larry Bellamy, City Administrator, City of Goldendale; Jim Smith, General Manager, Klickitat PUD; Amanda Hoey, Executive Director, Mid-Columbia Economic Development District; Miland Walling, Klickitat County Advocate; Joel Madsen, Columbia Gorge Housing Authority; Jeff King, Director, Klickitat County Emergency Management; Dave Mcclure, Klickitat County Economic Development Director; Dana Peck, Executive Director, Goldendale Chamber of Commerce; Randy Knowles, Klickitat PUD Commissioner; Doug Comstock, President, Mt. Adams Chamber of Commerce; Pat Munyan, City Administrator, City of White Salmon; Leana Johnson, Treasurer/Clerk, City of White Salmon; Jay Mclaughlin, Mt. Adams Resource Stewards; Wayne Vinyard, Port of Klickitat County; and Ryan Ayres, Chief Human Resources Officer, Mercer Canyon Farms.

April 6, 2016

Grange to honor birthday

Goldendale Grange Number 49 will be recognizing Klickitat Counties Centennial Farms “plus 25 years” at its 105th Grange anniversary potluck luncheon Sunday, April 10, at 1 p.m. The potluck luncheon is open to all persons interested in the Grange organization or hearing about its many activities.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) as a part of the Washington State Centennial in 1989 canvassed the state to locate 100-year-old farms. To qualify, a farm must have been in production since 1890 and had to have remained in the same family for those hundred years. By centennial time in 1989 the WSDA had identified 412 Washington State Centennial Farms in 36 of Washington’s 39 counties. Fourteen of those farms were located in Klickitat County.

In 2014, Washington State celebrated its 125th anniversary and WSDA wanted to reconnect with its original 1989 Washington Centennial Farms. They wanted to analyze the changes that had occurred in the past 25 years and find out how many of the farms were still engaged in the production of agriculture. Of the original 412 farms in 1989, 286 choose to participate in 2014 and of those farms, 253 are still owned by the same family as in 1989.

In Klickitat County, of its original 14 Washington Centennial Farms, one is listed as no longer in the same family but still being farmed, four are listed with “no reply”, and nine are still farmed by the same family as in 1989. It is these families that the grange wishes to recognize at its anniversary.


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