The Philomath streetscapes project — which promises to bring a new and improved look to our downtown — has come with typical nuisances that we have to put up with for several months until we can enjoy the finished product.
Construction noise, dust and debris. Lane closures. Impacts to pedestrian routes and on-street parking. And although businesses remain open, some are more challenging to access than others depending on the project’s focus in a given week.
A local motorist reached out to me a few days ago and said he had noticed that while driving down Main Street, the stoplights at the Ninth Street and 13th Street intersections were now on timers. Previously, the lights had been triggered to change when a vehicle approached from the less-traveled side street.
Reaching out to Ken Rueben, Philomath’s police chief, he confirmed that the lights were now on timers but I wanted to also hear from the Oregon Department of Transportation for more details. Mindy McCartt, the project’s public information officer, said the timers on the stoplights are a temporary situation.
“The timing on the light was triggered by loops in the roadway,” McCartt said. “However, as a part of installing a new drainage system, the loops had to be cut. This causes the light to have to be on a timer for the time being.”
But in the future, modernized traffic signals will be in place.
“This temporary situation will be remedied when a new signal is installed in this intersection,” McCartt said. “The new signal will have radar detection.”
So, there you go.
By the way, ODOT’s McCartt and Christine Hilderbrant are scheduled to be the guest speakers for a Philomath Rotary Club program this coming Tuesday. It’s my understanding that at least one city official will also be in attendance. The Rotary program begins at noon and it’s not limited to members — anyone from the community is invited to attend. They take place at Peace Lutheran Church.
McCartt and Hilderbrant will apparently provide updates not only on Philomath streetscapes, but also the Van Buren bridge project over in Corvallis and safety upgrades planned for Highway 20.
2. Patrick Lumber’s new sawmill
Patrick Lumber Manufacturing has started work to add a sawmill at its Philomath manufacturing facility, the company announced this week. The mill is being funded in part by a $1 million Community Wood Grant provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.
The new mill will be tooled to cut hardwood lumber — which is an unusual move in Oregon where the vast majority of mills process softwoods such as Douglas fir and ponderosa pine. While softwoods dominate, the forests of Oregon and Northern California also contain large volumes of Oregon white oak, Pacific maple, tan oak, madrone, chinquapin, myrtle and Oregon ash.
Attempts by others to develop markets for those species have mostly failed, other than a few mills that primarily cut alder. With no commercial outlets for the fiber, hardwoods have become a nuisance for land managers working to improve forest health and are an increasing component of wildfire-threatened overstocked stands.
“We saw a real opportunity here,” Patrick Lumber CEO David Halsey said. “We can produce and market products that are in demand while also making it possible for forest managers to more economically perform activities that further the health of our forests.”
In addition to milling underutilized hardwoods, Patrick will produce long-length alder lumber that other manufacturers are unable to supply to the market. Patrick also expects to mill juniper, an invasive softwood species that is threatening the natural ecosystems on millions of acres of arid land in eastern Oregon and Washington.
Planning and site prep for the mill has been underway since 2022. Within days of finalizing the award paperwork, Patrick purchased a complete head rig equipment package which will serve as the mill’s primary processing center.
“The head rig for a sawmill is like the CPU for a computer, it’s the most critical component,” said Dennis Sanders, project lead for Patrick Lumber Manufacturing. “The reality is really starting to sink in now.”
When complete, the mill is expected to produce about 150,000 board feet of hardwood lumber per month, a four times increase over the smaller mill Patrick had been contemplating before the federal grant opportunity was announced.
“The chance for federal support for the project was a game-changer,” Halsey said. “It allowed us to think bigger and consider how we could make a much more significant impact for the community and the forests.”
Patrick Lumber Manufacturing expects to add at least four new full-time positions to the 28 already employed at the Philomath location.
“Those jobs are great, but just as importantly, the investment further solidifies our commitment to the community of Philomath and the surrounding area,” Halsey said. “We couldn’t be more pleased that the forest service recognized the importance of supporting industry infrastructure in our rural areas.”
Patrick Lumber recently moved its headquarters to Philomath from Portland, where the company had been based since it was founded in 1915.
The mill is expected to be operating at full capacity by June 2025.
3. Avoid vehicle vs. deer or elk
During my working life, newspaper jobs and family priorities have taken me to places like the Grand Canyon and northwestern Montana. In both of those locations, it was common to find deer, elk and other animals on the roads.
One dark night on Highway 180 between Flagstaff and Grand Canyon Village, I came upon a huge elk in the middle of the road. I had looked away a few moments before coming up on this majestic animal but saw it time to safely swerve and miss. A collision almost certainly would’ve killed me and my 5-year-old son — this animal was huge and the incident sent shivers up my spine for years.
When we lived in Montana, you would see all kinds of wildlife on the roads and I’d often receive press releases with news of the latest collision — some of those taking human lives. In many of those crashes, the meat from the animal could be preserved and donated to a food bank.
Anyway, the sightings might not be as common as those places here in Oregon but they still happen. And they’re extra common this time of the year when migration and breeding makes deer and elk more likely to cross roads. Throw in reduced visibility because of fewer daylight hours and rainy weather and chances of an accident increase.
ODOT reports that each year, about 6,000 carcasses of deer are struck and killed by vehicles near Oregon’s public roadways. That’s not counting the many others that are killed on county, city or private roads.
The agency has the following recommendations:
- Animal crossing signs are placed in known hotspots. Be on the lookout when you see one.
- Be alert in areas with dense vegetation along the road or while going around curves. Wildlife near the road may be hard to see.
- If you see one animal, stay alert because others are likely nearby.
- If you see an animal on or near the road, slow down and stay in your lane. Many serious crashes are the result of drivers losing control when they swerve.
- Always wear your seat belt. Even a minor collision could result in serious injuries.
Here in Oregon, meat from deer and elk can be salvaged but after the collision, you’ll need to fill out a free permit within 24 hours and surrender the antlers and head to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife within five days.
In an effort to reduce vehicle-animal collisions, several areas in Oregon now have wildlife undercrossings designed to keep them off highways.
(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at News@PhilomathNews.com).