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DeFazio: Newly passed infrastructure bill will bring needed investment and jobs to Oregon, including rural areas like Douglas County


Oregon can begin planning now for an influx of federal transportation funds that will bring the state $3.4 billion for highway projects and $268 million for bridge repair and replacement, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, said Friday.

DeFazio spoke to reporters in a video conference about results Oregon will get from the $1 trillion infrastructure bill President Joe Biden is expected to sign Monday.

“The overall bill is the largest single investment in transportation infrastructure since the construction of the national highway program through the Eisenhower era and a few decades after that,” he said

Douglas and other rural counties will receive funding to repair or replace crumbling bridges, as well as to improve transit, DeFazio said.

About one third of Douglas County’s 300 bridges are structurally deficient, and half are past their average 50-year lifespan.

“This bill, both in the bridge program and in a dedicated rural program, will send money down to the local level to counties to deal with rural bridge and highway issues. That’s a new element in this bill,” he said.

“It’s not as ambitious or as big as in the bill I proposed, but it is new,” he said.

He also said the bill adds new provisions for investments in transit projects in small cities and rural areas.

“I think there’ll be a lot of benefit in that for Douglas County and other counties,” he said.

Rural residents will also benefit from investment in rural access to broadband internet, DeFazio said.

“It’s particularly critical for smaller communities and others in terms of being able to recruit business or grow. For their citizens and for small businesses and people who work independently that’s absolutely critical,” he said.

The transportation bill won some bipartisan support when it passed Congress Nov. 5, with 13 Republicans voting for it and six Democrats against. It had passed the Senate in August with substantial bipartisan support.

The bill partly pays for itself and does not increase the federal gas tax, which DeFazio said hasn’t been raised since 1993. A significant chunk of the funding comes through a combination of return on investment and redirecting monies for pandemic relief and unemployment benefits that went unclaimed.

DeFazio was frank about the fact that this bill wasn’t the one he put forward, and that it doesn’t do everything he asked for. Still, he said, it will bring needed investments in transportation and carbon reduction.

DeFazio said the bill includes $52 million over five years for electric vehicle charging stations across the state and $7.5 billion to create 500,000 charging stations across the country.

That’s needed to reduce “range anxiety” for electric vehicle owners to ensure they can charge their cars when they need to on longer trips, he said.

“The country’s going electric and we’ve got to accommodate that,” he said

DeFazio said he hopes to get some of the transportation and carbon reduction provisions that were left out of the bill into the Build Back Better bill, including $10 billion for transit and affordable housing and $4 billion in incentives for communities that follow through on greenhouse gas reduction plans.

Build Back Better includes many social spending programs and a price tag nearly double that of the transportation bill.

DeFazio said he is hopeful it will pass in the House, perhaps as early as next week. But it could run into serious difficulty in the Senate, hampered by “obsolete, arcane rules” like the filibuster, he said.

More than 200 gather to remember the life of late Douglas County corrections deputy

An avid hunter. A devoted friend. Prone to be ornery, and not a big fan of chicken.

Those were just a few of the ways Douglas County Sheriff’s Office corrections deputy Matthew “Matt” Harmon was remembered Saturday. More than 200 people gathered at the Douglas County Fairgrounds to remember Harmon, who died the evening of Oct. 26 as the result of a cardiac event.

Harmon’s death occurred on the same day as his father Robert’s birthday. Harmon was 53.

After earning a criminal justice degree through Rogue Community College and completing Oregon’s Basic Department of Public Safety Standards Training, he joined the Oakland Police Department as a reserve officer in 1996. Harmon served in a similar role with the sheriff’s office as a reserve deputy starting in 2003. He also worked at the Glenbrook Nickel Mine and as a welder at North River Boats in Wilbur.

In 2002, he married Lisa Smith, who told the gatherers Saturday through a letter that Harmon’s grumpiness “gave us quite a few giggles over the years.”

Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin recalled a minor “road rage” incident around 2009 in the Melrose area, the first time he unofficially met Harmon.

“I was driving off duty in my personal vehicle on my day off, and I came up to Cleveland Hill and turned my (turn) signal on,” Hanlin said. “There was another car coming, and I probably had room to go, but I waited anyway. Another rig was coming down the hill behind me and slammed on his brakes rather abruptly.

“I had time to make the turn, and he let me know about it, waving a particular part of his hand.”

Hanlin said about a year later, Harmon had applied for a job in the sheriff’s office. “It was the one time I saw Matt shrink,” Hanlin said to laughter.

After chaplain and officiant John Rideout had welcomed the gathering — which included more than 70 law enforcement officers — and delivered a eulogy, he opened the floor to those wishing to share their memories of Harmon. The first person to raise their hand was George Duncan, who has had his share of interactions with Harmon both in public and as an inmate at the Douglas County Jail.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Duncan said. “He’s an a--hole, but he’s a good man. He would always respect me if I would see him on the street.”

Many others spoke of his generosity, his love of his family, and his personality, which at times could come across as a little gruff.

One thing Harmon apparently was not a fan of was chicken dinners, according to his wife.

Rideout concluded the reading of Lisa Harmon’s letter with the following: “It’s going to be very hard without you. Please watch over us.

“I do have one last thing to say: the chicken dinners have been amazing.”

Tyrone Powell trial set for early next month

A man who authorities said is a con artist who stole 30 acres of land from an Elkton woman is scheduled to go to trial early next month.

Tyrone Powell is scheduled to go to trial on Dec. 7 in the Douglas County Courthouse, before Circuit Court Judge William Marshall. A hearing to determine the readiness of both sides to go to trial is scheduled for Monday.

Powell, 41, is charged with five felonies in connection with the purported land theft, including aggravated theft, identity theft and perjury. He also faces one misdemeanor charge of initiating a false report.

Authorities say Powell stole the land from Janet Grosz, 67.

Grosz said when she met Powell in 2019, he went by the name John Paul Hope. He told her about his plans to create a place where disabled veterans could live in dignity. Grosz, a widowed, retired nurse, agreed to give him 3 acres of her 55-acre ranch in Elkton for his plan to build housing for those veterans.

But authorities now say that nothing Powell said was truthful. The veterans housing project he proposed was fiction and instead of using 3 acres of Grosz’s ranch he forged documents and took possession of 30 acres, authorities said.

Authorities said when they began digging into Powell’s past they found a trail of fraud dating back a decade and spanning several states.

Investigators found that Powell, who claimed he was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands and left on the doorstep of a church, actually grew up in California, attended Yale University and lived mostly in Arizona.

Powell is believed to have spent some time in Alaska before landing in Bellingham, Washington. Once there he assumed the name John Paul Hope — a combination of the name of the former pope and a local program called Hope House — and with that alias got a Washington identification card and a Social Security card.

While in Bellingham, authorities said Powell started the Impossible Roads Foundation. While touting the organization, which Powell claimed built tiny homes for disabled veterans, Powell collected large donations from companies like Home Depot, Matson and others, authorities said.

Matson, which makes shipping containers, said it donated at least 20 to Powell in the belief he would convert them into housing for disabled veterans. Instead, he sold the containers, valued at about $1,000 each, authorities said.

They also said Powell has been swindling individuals and corporations for years, often through phony nonprofit organizations he claimed to run. He operated at least a half-dozen fraudulent nonprofit organizations under such names as “The Missing Piece Foundation,” “True Story World,” and “Love,” authorities said. Those fake nonprofits accepted donations from individuals and corporations, but Powell either kept, discarded or sold them, police said.

Powell was initially scheduled to stand trial in July, but his attorney said she needed more time to prepare for the case, including time to bring to the trial a key witness who lives in Alaska. Judge Marshall agreed with the request for a continuance and set a new trial date for Dec. 7.

In October 2020, Grosz filed a civil complaint against Powell to get her land back. That case was resolved in June when Douglas County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen E. Johnson approved a motion from Grosz’s attorney in which he argued that the civil complaint Grosz filed against Powell should be upheld because the facts overwhelmingly support it.

“It looks like we got it done,” Grosz said immediately after the judge’s ruling.

But Powell appears to be homeless and Grosz has not received any money from him despite the court ruling in her favor. Instead, she was stuck paying thousands of dollars in legal fees.

In court documents and in person, Powell purports to be disabled — at various times he said he suffered from a stroke, was nearly blind and had terminal cancer. In several court appearances he has appeared in a wheelchair and connected to an oxygen tank, often slumped over, and speaking in a whisper.

Grosz said that is all an act.

“He’s been dying for the last eight years,” she said. “He was even scamming the doctors and nurses to write a hospice note so he could get care.”