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Elkton City Council discusses emergency preparedness weeks after devastating snowstorm

ELKTON — Highway 138W between Sutherlin and Elkton still bears evidence of the most destructive snowstorm in decades.

Downed Douglas fir trees riddle the side of the road; guard rails are smashed to the ground where trees fell. Roofs on abandoned barns are caved in. Some downed power lines have yet to be removed, although power has been completely restored to the area — there’s still no power at the local transfer station, however.

At the Elkton City Council’s regular meeting Thursday, councilors discussed how to prepare for the next natural disaster. It’s a conversation many towns in Douglas County have started after being completely cut off from the outside world for days.

Areas of north Douglas County were hit particularly hard as heavy rain started Feb. 23, turned to snow the next day and persisted for days after. Many Elkton residents reported more than a foot of snow on their properties. Highways in and out of town didn’t reopen for almost a week after the storm started, and most residents were without power for more than three weeks as the snow caused a Douglas Electric Cooperative system-wide outage.

“Overall, we handled the storm pretty well, but there’s always room for improvement,” said Mayor Daniel Burke at the Thursday meeting.

Councilors said the community of 210 residents came together to make sure people were safe, but they agreed to start creating more emergency preparedness procedures.

City Councilor Ryan Fall, who is also a volunteer firefighter, shared a worksheet, which listed his ideas for better emergency preparedness. It included creating easy-to-read, event-specific fliers that could advise people how to prepare for severe storms, earthquakes, fires and even epidemics or other civil emergencies.

“I’ve seen other locations have a quick disbursement flier,” Ryan said. “I think that’s probably where our community could have benefitted the most — quick dissemination of information. You’ll see on here: places to go, what is the actual danger level, what are road and transportation like.”

The worksheet included creating a place in town where people could write information about elderly or disabled family members who need to be checked on by first responders in an emergency.

Much of the conversation surrounded creating communication systems when cellular towers are down as they were during the recent snowstorm.

“The county had some significant issues with its communication towers,” Burke said.

Fall said downed towers stifled first-responders.

“Our 911 went down, and our repeaters for the fire department were in dead zones,” he said.

Jerry Burke, Mayor Burke’s brother who recently purchased a property in Elkton after years living out of the area, said at the Thursday meeting people trapped in town need to be able to notify family out of town they are safe.

“You can do all your communications here, but you’ve got two, three generations outside of the area who are trying to find out who’s what,” Burke said.

Jenny Peddicord, who recently purchased the Elkton Masonic Lodge, said at the meeting she would be open to establishing the lodge as an emergency shelter in town.

“We’ve seen in the historical records that the lodge was used for things like evacuation during the flood in the 1960s, the famous Christmas flood,” Peddicord said. “We’d be happy to potentially be a place to go.”

Councilors said they want to form a committee composed of community members who want to start creating emergency preparedness procedures and resources.

City Council also voted to accept a $5,000 donation from the Jordan Cove Energy Project for emergency relief efforts, which are ongoing.

“The city has some funding, but it really doesn’t help,” Burke said about the donation.

City Council President Joan Smith said an upcoming community dinner at the school in May could be an opportunity to talk with residents about forming an emergency preparedness committee.

“It’s to bring people back together after the disaster,” Smith said. “Everybody liked being together, you know, so if we can put the two together, I think it’s a good idea.”

Trump 'strongly looking' at releasing migrants in Dem cities

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday he is strongly considering releasing “Illegal Immigrants” into Democratic strongholds to punish congressional foes for inaction on the border— just hours after White House and Homeland Security officials insisted the idea had been rejected as fast as it had been proposed.

“Due to the fact that Democrats are unwilling to change our very dangerous immigration laws, we are indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing Illegal Immigrants in Sanctuary Cities only,” Trump tweeted. He added that, “The Radical Left always seems to have an Open Borders, Open Arms policy — so this should make them very happy!”

He later told reporters that he was “strongly looking at” the idea of releasing migrant families into those communities, though there were no immediate plans in place to implement Trump’s threat.

“They’re always saying they have open arms. Let’s see if they have open arms,” he said.

The reversal, which appeared to catch officials at the Department of Homeland Security off guard, came as critics were blasting news that the White House had at least twice considered a plan to release detained immigrants into so-called sanctuary cities, using migrants as pawns to go after political opponents.

Before Trump’s comments, both the Department of Homeland Security and a White House official had insisted in nearly identical statements that that plan had been floated but then flatly rejected.

But not, apparently, by the president, who emphatically revived the idea.

“Sanctuary cities” are places where local authorities do not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, denying information or resources that would help ICE round up for deportation people living in the country illegally.

They include New York City and San Francisco, home city of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who on Friday called the idea “unworthy of the presidency of the United States and disrespectful of the challenges that we face as a country, as a people, to address who we are — a nation of immigrants.”

The idea of pressing immigration authorities to embrace the plan was discussed in November and then again in February as the Trump administration struggled with a surge of migrants at the border, according to three people who spoke on condition of anonymity to outline private conversations. Homeland Security and ICE lawyers quickly rejected the proposal, according to the people, and it was dropped on the grounds that it was complicated, too expensive and a misuse of funds, two of the people said.

The plan, which was first reported by the Washington Post, is one of many ideas considered by an increasingly frustrated White House in recent months as Trump has railed against the growing number of Central American migrant families crossing the southern border and looked for new ways to increase leverage on congressional Democrats to change laws that Trump insists are making the problem worse.

Officials say they are running out of options, and have proposed and recycled numerous ideas that have never come to fruition. Trump in recent weeks has discussed the idea of renewing his administration’s controversial family separation policy.

There were at least two versions of the sanctuary city plan that were considered, according to one of the people familiar with the effort. One would have moved people who had already been detained and were being held elsewhere to places with Democratic opponents of the president, while the other would have transported migrants apprehended at the border directly to San Francisco, New York City, Chicago and other spots.

ICE arrests people in the U.S. illegally and also manages migrants who present themselves at border crossings and ask for asylum. The surge of migrant families arriving at the southern border has been taxing the system, forcing ICE to set free more than 125,000 people as they await court hearings — a practice Trump has derided as “catch and release.” With immigrant processing and holding centers overwhelmed, the administration has also been busing people hundreds of miles inland and releasing them at Greyhound stations and churches in cities such as Albuquerque, San Antonio and Phoenix because towns close to the border already have more than they can handle.

Federal court rules prohibit the detention of children longer than 20 days.

Revelation of the “sanctuary cities” plan drew immediate condemnation from Pelosi and other Democrats.

Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, who chairs the House Homeland Security committee, said: “The fact that this idea was even considered — not once but twice — serves as a reminder that the Trump Administration’s reckless immigration agenda is not about keeping the country safe, but about partisan politics and wantonly inflicting cruelty. “

Transporting large groups of immigrants to distant cities would be expensive and burdensome for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is already strapped for cash. The agency has said it doesn’t have the resources for immigrants processed by the Border Patrol and Border Patrol in most southern border sectors and is now instead releasing families after a health screening and criminal background check, leaving local nonprofits to help them make travel arrangements.

Flights chartered by ICE cost about $7,785 per flight hour, according to the agency. They require multiple staffers, including an officer who coordinates, several others who fly and monitor passengers and an in-flight medical professional. The agency also uses commercial flights but requires that migrants to pay for those. It’s unclear if that would be the case for families, who usually arrive with no money and rely on relatives already in the U.S. to pay for transportation.

Still, many “sanctuary” communities would likely welcome the immigrants in question and have nonprofit legal groups that could help them strengthen their legal cases to stay in the country.

Matt Albence, ICE’s new acting director, denied the White House pressured immigration officials to implement the idea when he was serving as deputy.

“I was asked my opinion and provided it, and my advice was heeded,” he said in a statement.

The Department of Health and Human Services said this week that it had started scouting vacant properties that could be turned into facilities for holding migrant children in several cities, including Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, and San Antonio.

Those facilities would be licensed by each state and likely take several months to be approved and opened, separating them from the rapidly expanding emergency shelter at Homestead, Florida, and the now-closed tent facility at Tornillo, Texas.

The Defense Department has also been reviewing a number of military bases to find a location that can house up to 5,000 unaccompanied migrant children as the U.S. braces for a surge of people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border this spring. Health and Human Services submitted the request for space last month, as Homeland Security leaders warned that tens of thousands of families were crossing the border each month. HHS has traditionally been responsible for providing temporary shelter to unaccompanied migrant.

ICE is tasked with arresting people living in the country illegally — including some who have been here for decades. Under the Trump administration, ICE has significantly stepped up arrests, including of people who have no U.S. criminal records.

In response, some cities have banished ICE from jails where agents could easily pick up immigration violators. Police in New York, Baltimore and Seattle rarely, if ever, disclose information about when suspected criminals in the U.S. illegally will be released from custody.

Democrats have said they will tackle immigration bills, possibly as soon as they return from their spring recess, and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has indicated an interest in working on the issue.

Tax preparers sprinting to file before deadline on Monday

Despite having greater consequences than a letter grade in school, people all over the country still procrastinate on project deadlines — especially Tax Day.

The deadline for individuals and most businesses to file their taxes; either sending it electronically or getting it postmarked and sent by mail is Monday.

The Roseburg post office will postmark anything brought to the counter and handed to an employee until the office closes at 5 p.m. or dropped in the collection boxes before 3 p.m.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, 90% of people will file their taxes online, but the remaining 10% will mail it in themselves or take it to a Certified Public Accountant like Liz Fryer at Watters & Fryer CPAs.

“This is absolutely crunch time because people can file an extension, but that doesn’t extend your time to pay,” Fryer said. “It’s kind of like we’ve been doing a two and a half month marathon and now we have had to sprint straight uphill for the last week. It’s just the nature of the business.”

With a federal government shutdown, a power outage that lasted for weeks for some in Douglas County and a new tax bill, Fryer and her team are working 13-hour days and seven days a week to wrap up the tax season.

“The biggest problem this year was, we lost power in our office for two and a half days which equates to 30 work hours,” Fryer said. “When you’re already working 12-hour days, that’s pretty hard to make up.”

As a way to simplifying tax filing in 2018, President Donald Trump proposed remaking the current tax form into a large postcard — a change that turned out to be not as simple as people thought.

“When they announced that most people going to be able to file on a postcard, it’s pretty humorous because all that means now is page one is a large postcard size, but that doesn’t change the fact you have page two, page three, page four,” Fryer said. “We’re not to the postcard stage by any means and I honestly don’t think we’ll ever get there.”

Fryer estimated she works on about 1,100 returns every year for individuals and businesses.

“It’s been an interesting year,” Fryer said. “May it go down in infamy.”