Take a turkey to FISH, and help spread the ‘thanks’

Comin’ up on the best day of the year, and Pastor Vicki Stifter of Riverside Community Church says a crew from the church on Monday afternoon helped 30 families — 62 adults, 44 children — with turkeys for Thanksgiving Day.

“This was one of the largest numbers of people ever served in an afternoon shift,” she wrote to her e-mail list. “However, we only have a few turkeys left and will be open again on Wednesday!”

So, buy a turkey and take it up to FISH — 1107 Pine St., just west of 12th Street on the right-hand side — to help someone less fortunate enjoy the national celebration of family and community.

“If you are able to contribute, turkeys can be dropped off at FISH between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Wednesday or between 3:30 and 4 p.m.”

If you can’t make it, call Billie at FISH to arrange drop off: 541-490-5109.

Value-added ag conversation feeds start-up energies

Kudos, to Mid-Columbia Economic Development District and Gorge Grown Food Network for joining Washington State University for scoring the grant that led to a full-day “conversation” Tuesday on the topic of value-added food processing.

The Buzz has reported here on a variety of startups that fall into this category. It’s a natural for the Gorge.

When you think about Pocket Fuel and Gorge Delights and Rack & Cloth Cider (the list goes on), you can appreciate how more people are expressing their entrepreneurial spirit by taking the fruits of our land and turning them into shelf- or fridge-stable products.

The conference at the Columbia Gorge Hotel brought together people who have taken the leap, or who want to, with a mix of people who have the talents and connections to make new products happen.

They talked about what they do, and they talked about what might be the next big thing (or small, not product niche). The lineup on the morning panel of small and successful ventures gives an idea of how this sector already has health roots in the Gorge.

– Don Stevens, from Gorge Delights, making fruit snacks out of facilities in North Bonneville for 12 years.

– Russ Loughmiller, with Muirhead Canning (Hood Crest Fruit), a fixture in The Dalles since the end of World War II. Loughmiller and his wife, Jenny, bought it in 2006.

– Connie Shaw, with Oregon Brineworks, an organic farmer who started the fermentation business in 2013 with her husband, Brian, out of a desire to preserve and transform organic crop from other like-minded growers.

– Marty Hutchinson and Steve Kollars, both of Oregon Cherry Growers, who work with 60 cherry growers and, among other things, produce 80 percent of the cherries used in U.S. ice creams.

– Bruce Nissen, founder of Fox Barrel and Crispin ciders, who is now preparing to open a million-case canning line in February in Stevenson, under the Let’s Dream Big brand.

Appropriate to the topic, Nissen observed that the millenial generation is in love with product diversity. Millenials, he said, are not loyal to specific brands. They’re loyal to the concept of authenticity. Small, niche, new — that’s what captures their dollars.

Shaw spoke, as well, to her view that artisinal products.

Hutchinson spoke about the challenges Oregon Cherry Growers faces in finding skilled and unskilled workers. He noted how they have been working with Columbia Gorge Community College to tap the mechanical skills of students emerging from its renewable energy technology program to run and repair its processing equipment.

If you couldn’t attend, but want more, contact Jessic Metta of MCEDD, at 541-296-2266. She shared a few links for your further explorations. They follow:

  • Girish Ganjyal from WSU is involved in a course this Monday in Richland on product development for value-added foods.
  • The Northwest Food Processors Association has a ‘free’ Associate membership for small food processors in the Northwest. NWFPA will have valuable information and hands on training opportunities in a variety of subjects important to food processors.
  • Another organization that may also provide help: Northwest Specialty Foods Association:
Metta is also planning to post presentation information from the Tuesday event at the MCEDD page devoted the outcomes of the grant.

Judge trims amount owed in falsified Bambinos billings; tax debt mounts

Months after working her last shift at the Bambinos International Learning Center in Hood River, Tammy Justin still hasn’t received her last paycheck of more than $1,000.

She’s just one of a long line of creditors who have filed liens against the property at 220 Clearwater Lane in Hood River, and its owner, Lorena Lowell.

Almost a year ago now, Lowell appealed a state Department of Human Services claim for reimbursement of $83,118 in alleged over-billing for child care services. Because the claim did not involve criminal charges, the hearing was handled in December 2013 by a hearings officer for the Department of Administrative Services.

Last summer, Administrative Law Judge Steven Demarest reversed claims in four of the 12 DHS cases.

The state in those four cases claimed over-billing that amounted collectively to $62,133. As a result of those reversals, Lowell still owes the state $21,189.

Demarest, in his June 10 final order, wrote that the case “is marked throughout by the lamentable lack of records from claimant and inconsistent statements ….”

Demarest based his reversal of the four DHS claims on “persuasive evidence … that when the claimant [Lowell] billed the Department for child care for employees who were Department clients (that is, they qualified for child care support), it [Bambinos] did not provide free child care, or child care at a nominal rate, to other employees working in the same type of position.”

Karen Ertel, a DHS compliance specialist, represented the agency at the December 2013 hearing.

She said Lowell provided statements from employees who said they didn’t get free day care and actually paid $25 a month. She also said some of those witnesses were personal friends of Lowell’s.

John Carter, who heads up the DHS investigations unit, said “regardless of the amount, $21,000 is still a substantial amount of money and a substantial loss. With any level of fraud, there’s no tolerance for us.”

The case arose from a phone call to the state Department of Human Services by an unidentified Bambinos employee in late 2012. Two investigators with the agency’s Fraud Investigation Unit conducted an extensive investigation that led to allegations of “falsified” Child Care Billing forms for reimbursement under the state’s Employment Related Day Care program.

Law judge Demarest also noted that classroom attendance records, which the DHS uses to determine accuracy of its payments, were unavailable in many cases.

Copies provided a year after the start of its investigation, Demarest wrote, “not only inhibit the Department’s ability to administer the child care program, it raises questions about the validity and reliability of the records. That is particularly true in this case, where the evidence shows that claimant altered and created false records.”

Two former Bambinos employees told The Buzz they had witnessed or heard of forms falsified before submittal for state reimbursement.

In a separate action, the state Department of Education disqualified Bambinos in 2013 from participation in the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Citing unspecified “deficiencies,” the Department reached an agreement with Lowell requiring repayment of $12,279. That payment was due by June 1, 2013.

Aimee Craig, public affairs director for the Early Learning division of the Department of Education, said the agency has received no repayment.

“As far as I understand, the money has not been paid back to the Department of Education,” Craig wrote in an e-mail. “The case was turned over to the Department of Revenue for collection.”

Former employees told the Buzz that Lowell bumped up attendance numbers to boost payments for food assistance. They also said she filled out reimbursement forms with parental incomes lower than what they actually earned, so they would qualify for subsidies.

Compounding financial challenges facing Lowell and the facility that once housed Bambinos, Hood River County in August filed notice in Circuit Court to foreclose on the property. The county later received payment of $33,869 in tax and interest for the 2009-10 tax year, forestalling the foreclosure action.

DeAnna Lainhart, Chief Deputy Tax Collector, said last-minute payments in tax foreclosure actions typically come from lenders, who stand to lose all interest in the property if it actually moves to a sheriff’s auction.

Lowell & Sons LLC still owes the county $106,926 in property taxes dating back to the 2010-11 tax year. According to county records, the property has a real market value of $1,866,840.

Although child care services at the facility ended in September 2013, other businesses are operating out of the facility. According to its Facebook page, D’Lish Delivered is providing catering services, including lunches to Horizon Christian School. And according to the Oregon Corporations Division, Lowell’s business partner, Mark Doty, registered a new business, Hood River Hostel, at the Clearwater Lane address in September.

Other still active liens filed against Lowell include

  • Nov. 2010 – IRS, $14,976,
  • 2009 – Marcus and Karol Cameron on behalf of the Cameron Family Revocable Trust
  • 2008 – Mid-Columbia Economic Development District, to secure a loan
  • August 2013 – IRS, $13,968.73 (quarterly withholding report)
  • November 2013 – IRS, $13,672.18 (quarterly withholding report)
  • January 2014 – IRS, $780 (partnership information filing)

Since this case came to light in early 2013 (through exclusive reports in The Buzz), Lowell has consistently declined comment. She did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the results of the hearing or on plans to deal with other unpaid tax bills.

In an e-mail that she circulated locally on July 11 — and which someone on that list forwarded to The Buzz — she wrote: “Of course there were some administrative mistakes on my part regarding record keeping but his (the administrative law judge’s) ruling was over 90% on my favor.”

The dollar amount reduction was actually closer to 75 percent, and the number of cases reversed was just a third of the total filed by the DHS.

And as for Tammy Justin? She’s working at the Fairfield Inn in The Dalles, and says it’s going fine.

“At least I’m getting paid,” she said.

As Hood River shuts down, Brown delivers the town

A UPS delivery truck somehow managers to plow its way through 4 inches of snow to drop a package in a westside neighborhood without the benefit of plowing services.

A UPS delivery truck somehow managers to plow its way through 4 inches of snow to drop a package in a westside neighborhood without the benefit of plowing services.

Go, Brown.

On a day when Hood River County Schools canceled classes in anticipation of snow (it started to fall after 8 a.m.), and the Hood River Garbage Service bumped collections back a week — hey, I have every-other-week pickup, and the can is full — the good folks (probably wearing shorts) at UPS somehow managed to get into our neighborhood and deliver their deliverables.

Here’s a suggestion. Next time it snows, box your kid up in a cardboard box and call UPS. Have them deliver the box (and kid) to school.

Then box all your garbage up in a cardboard box and call UPS. Have them deliver the box (and garbage) to the transfer station.

Sure, it was slick out there. Some people slapped chains on their cars, and got to work just fine.

If you can’t figure out how to deal with this occasional fluff, move to Anaheim. No wonder we’re trailing the rest of the industrialized world in just about every metric that matters (check this graph from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, that speaks to  how industrialized countries are improving the level of college education. The U.S.? Second lowest overall improvement, after Israel.).

Clearly, the Brown people know something the rest of us have forgotten: Get in the cab, and drive. Good job, guys.

Port bridge lifts Nov. 17 suggest planning to avoid unexpected delays

The Port of  Hood River advises motorists — commuters, in particular — to adjust travel plans on Monday, Nov. 17, to leave time for traffic delays related to four to six lifts of the Hood River Bridge.

The lefts are part of routine inspection of the lift mechanisms and will begin after 9 a.m.  Each lift could take up to 15 minutes.  Port staff will provide traffic control and make all efforts to minimize the disruption of traffic.

Direct other questions to the Port office at 541-386-1645.

Coming to a Gorge, near you

Here are a few of the businesses recently registered with the State of Oregon, in the Hood River area. Sorry I don’t have more information to share, or time to chase these people to the ground, but if anyone connected with any of these enterprises is reading this and cares to share more, they can call us at 541-386-8860. Here’s what’s coming at you ….

  • Trillium Engineering
  • Know Your Fruit
  • El Rio Khag
  • Star Route Press
  • LP Development LLC
  • Villegas Painting Co.
  • Hood River Brewing Co. (associated with Dick Baltus, one-time markeing communication contractor for Mid-Columbia Medical Center, out of Roseburg)
  • Hood River Venture LLC
  • Hood River Consulting Engineers LLC
  • Post Canyon Ranch (associated with Michael Van Sissern, of Blackbox World, and Area 54 DJ services)
  • Healing Tree Family Medicine
  • Mt. Hood Hostel, LLC
  • Breathe Beverage LLC
  • Future  Folk LLC
  • Dan Gavere Workshop LLC

Gorge Current fills event publicity void

We saw a new business filing awhile back for something called the Gorge Current, but owner Janelle Koester was still ramping up for launch, and asked for a delay in sharing the news.

Well, it’s live. It fills a void left by the death of The Animal web site, which pulled the plug earlier this year.

Janelle is the talented designer behind the dearly departed joeboard.com (About a year ago. What? You, like us, hadn’t noticed? Too bad. It was a nice expression of the classified ad concept, trumped by the growth of Craigslist, according go Janelle.)

The Gorge Current clearly has a focus on events, which of late have become the dominant content expression of the Hood River News (see Jim Drake, page A3).

Janelle says she is busy adding content. So, point being, if you have an event and want to get it out there, send it her way. Nice add, J, to the local content mix.


GO! folk to whoop it up at GOvember Party Nov. 14

Everybody loves a party, especially if it lets you … party like a local?

Well, that’s the promise, although it’s up to you to decide how a local might party.

To see — and contribute your own groove — show up Friday, Nov. 14, at Springhouse Cellar for the Gorge Owned annual party, themed the GOvember Party & Fundraiser.

GO! Director Lindsay Miller says the event will let supporters celebrate accomplishments of the past year, and learn more about Gorge Owned, which works to “create a strong local economy, a healthy environment and a vibrant community in the Gorge.”

The GOvember Party includes food catered by Solstice Wood Fire Cafe and Bar, locally crafted beverages, and music from local bluegrass favorite The Shed Shakers. Doors open at 6 p.m. and music starts at 7:30 p.m. Attendees can purchase raffle tickets for a chance to win packages from GO! member businesses. Plus, the first 20 people to join Gorge Owned will receive a free T-shirt.

Admission is $20. Purchase tickets online or the night of the event at the door.

Hat trick video features Hood River athletes

Check out the Hood River Hat Trick video, which aired Oct. 25 on NBC’s “Go Pro Presents World of Adventure,” an Emmy-Award-winning series showcasing content from the best athletes and
stories in adventure sports, features a hat trick in Hood River. Athletes featured in the vid include kiteboarder Sensi Graves, kayaker Rush Sturges and mountain biker Gary Paasch.

Thanks to Amy Hunted of Weinstein PR for tipping us off. You can also find the vid on the World of Adventure web site.