Meanwhile, the pipeline?

Roadside sign in Linn County warns against digging here.

Roadside sign in Linn County warns against digging here.

Other news from Washington has dominated the channels lately, so you may not have kept up with the Keystone Pipeline issue. The pipeline was proposed to carry crude oil extracted from the Canadian tar sands to refineries in Texas. The southern leg of the line is being built, according to a May 16 report by Reuters, but the northern half requires the president's approval because it crosses an international border.

Canadian officials including the prime minister, Stephen Harper, have urged its approval. But President Obama has been stalling. In 2012 he postponed a decision so he would not have to anger anyone before the election. The election is long over, but there's still no decision on what would be an enormous boost for the American economy.

The Reuters report said the decision is not expected until late this year. It's hard to see how the president could kill the project on any grounds other than he does not like oil or does not want to help the economies of Canada or the U.S. Pipelines like this generally cause no problem. Just consider the "petroleum pipeline" -- actually it carries gasoline -- that runs down the middle of the Willamette Valley from Portland to Eugene, right past Albany. Most people don't know it's there. If it had caused leaks or other problems, they certainly would. (hh)

This murder needs solving

100_0629100_0630If you drive out Murder Creek Road northeast of Albany and turn right on Kamph Road, after a few yards you come to one of those roadside memorials. Unlike most of them, it  is not for the victim of a traffic crash. This one is for Jakhob Miles, who was 19 when he was shot dead and whose body was found at that isolated spot by the road on the morning of Sept. 11, 2008.

Young Jakhob had lived in Albany since he was 10. His obituary said he had won an achievement award at Calapooia Middle School and was an honor student who enjoyed rebuilding computers and liked his music. His killing remains unsolved in the sense that no one has been charged, let alone convicted. The case is still open.

At the Linn County Sheriff's Office, Detective Mike Harmon tells me the investigation is still being actively pursued. What he needs is someone to come forward and come clean. Relationships sometimes change over time, and the detective hopes this will happen in this case, causing someone with knowledge to step forward sooner rather than later.

It's been almost five years since Jakhob Miles was killed. But the case won't be over until it is solved. So if you happen to know someone who knows something about it, call the sheriff and get if off your chest. (hh)

Pain at the pump, again

100_0632The price of gas in Oregon has soared in recent weeks. And as always, the reason is hard to see, let alone understand.

For one thing, oil production in the United States has been going up. A few years ago, some conservatives urged more drilling as a way to tame the price of oil, while others pointed out that the price was the result of worldwide market forces and could not be affected by American production alone. Still, it was nice to read about a new report by the International Energy Agency that U.S. production is growing so fast, mostly in North Dakota and Texas, that the country is on course to become the world's biggest oil producer by 2017.

But meanwhile, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that on the West Coast, a gallon of regular averaged $3.94 on May 13, up 13 cents from the week before. On the West Coast outside of California, the average was $3.76, the government said. But around here in Oregon, the price was more like California's.

The usual factors seem to be at play: Rising demand as the economy and the weather improve, shutdowns at refineries, and turmoil -- always turmoil -- in major producing regions from Venezuela and Nigeria to the Middle East. About the best we can do is to drive as little as possible until once again the price comes down. (hh)

Ryan Murphy responded on May 15, via Facebook: I know they report it, but I really question how we will become the biggest producer by 2017 when we are not producing near what we did in the 70's. While it has been coming up some lately we are still more that a million barrels less. Right now we are at the production level of 1953.

Steven Zielke responded via Facebook: Or, do what you do, Hasso.  Ride a bike!

Hazel Siebrecht responded on May 18: Remember when Peter DeFazio was investigating this?  How long ago was that? Did he ever learn anything?  He is always investigating possible price fixing but we never hear of any results.

Congressman Peter DeFazio, D-4th District, asked an executive department working group and Attorney General Holder to look into high gas prices in 2012. His website mentions this but is silent on the result, if any.

Mileage tax clears another hurdle

The Oregon House Revenue Committee has passed the proposal for a road user tax on vehicles that use little or no motor fuel. But questions remain about this approach, and it's not obvious that it will become law.

The road user fee bill now goes to the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which sets budgets.

The road user fee bill now goes to the Joint Ways and Means Committee, which sets budgets.

House Bill 2453 cleared the tax committee this morning (Tuesday, May14) by a vote of 6-3. It now goes to the joint budget committee, which may object to the projected $3.1 million setup costs of the program during 2013-15. Then it would have to pass the House by a three-fifths majority because it's a new tax. Vicki Berger of Salem is one Republican who backs the bill. But it needs more.

Republicans who opposed it in committee were Cliff Bentz of Ontario, Jason Conger of Bend and John Davis of Wilsonville. One of them argued for a simple system of charging a flat annual fee on electric vehicles to make up for the fuel tax they don't pay (and which pays to maintain our road system). The bill has a flat-fee option, but it's far too high, based on driving 35,000 miles a year.

For vehicles not paying the annual fee, the bill calls for a tax of 1.55 cents per mile. It calls on ODOT to develop a system of recording and reporting mileage starting with 2015 model cars so owners can pay what they owe. But no such system would be needed if the state opted for a reasonable rather than excessive annual fee that would be simple and cheap to collect. (hh)

Chuck Leland responded on May 16: Don't know how many of these vehicles ply Oregon roads.  But for fun let's say there are 10,000.  And let's guess they drive average of 15,000 miles a year.  At 1.55 cents / mile that would produce tax income to Oregon of $2,323,500 annually.  Further it would seem a simple process to add a line to the license renewal form asking opening and closing mileage of the vehicle and have taxpayer calculate the 1.55 cents themselves.  It would be an auditable report and probably generate a few more state jobs.
A problem I see is trying to reconcile the gas vs electric use of the hybrids. Maybe a different rate for those cars vs the all electric cars.
Regardless it would be worth spending some money, maybe not 1.3 million, to setup and operate such a program.

When Millersburg was born


On a bike ride the other day, I headed out of Albany on Salem Avenue and could not help but notice a spiffy new roadside sign. Welcome to Millersburg, it said, letting me know I had crossed the city limits.

"Established 1873," the sign proudly proclaims. Wait a second, wasn't there a big controversy when Millersburg became a city, and wasn't that in the 1970s, not the 1870s? Did the sign people make a mistake?

No, they did not, explains Barbara Castillo, the city recorder for all of the town's history as a municipality. 1974 was the year Millersburg was incorporated (in order, by the way, to ward off annexation by Albany, which would have imposed Albany property taxes on the Wah Chang plant). But the community was established long before that. According to the history in the town's comprehensive plan, which Castillo kindly provided, it was in 1871 that the Southern Pacific built a station on the donation land claim of the pioneer Miller family and the area became known as Millersburg.

In the past few years, by the way, some very nice residential areas have been built, and the population, now 1,375, has nearly doubled since 1990.

A post office opened in 1873, and even though the post office is long gone, that's the year Millersburg now has taken as the year of its birth -- and rightly so. (hh)

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