1. Pot and more pot
For the second year in a row, marijuana reigned supreme in top local stories. Notable developments this year: Recreational sales became legal Oct. 1; the state began issuing licenses to commercial producers and processors; voters in Medford banned outdoor grows but allowed recreational sales; recreational pot producers, processors, wholesalers and retailers were banned in Shady Cove, Jacksonville, Central Point and Eagle Point; medical pot producers and dispensaries were banned in Jacksonville and Central Point; and Ashland, Phoenix, Rogue River, Gold Hill and Jackson County passed 3 percent taxes on recreational sales. At last count, Jackson County had 75 licensed recreational marijuana grow sites, or about 29 percent of the state total, not to mention more than 3,000 medical pot grow sites. You can't hardly throw a rock anymore without hitting an 8-foot-tall fence and some Visqueen.
2. Lead pipes
The Medford Water Commission long has touted its water as some of the purest in the country, and from its source, Big Butte Springs, that's true. But last spring, lead pigtails were unearthed in the system — and they weren't the first. What's worse, Manager Larry Rains initially denied their presence, prompting his ouster by the board in October. Crews have looked at 4,770 meters in older Medford neighborhoods, identified 305 suspect locations that predate 1946, dug 281 test holes and unearthed 24 lead pigtails, which were replaced with copper connectors. How many more pigtails could there be? "Unfortunately we do not have Superman X-ray vision," notes interim Manager Eric Johnson. Schools began testing their water after high levels of lead were found in Portland, leading to replacement of fixtures at Jackson, Roosevelt and McLoughlin in Medford and the Education-Psychology Building at Southern Oregon University, among others.
3. Pipeline to nowhere
Last March, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied a Canadian company's proposal to build a pipeline through Oregon to export natural gas to Asian markets, saying negative impacts to landowners outweighed the benefits. The 232-mile Pacific Connector pipeline would've traversed 56 miles of Jackson County, including underneath the Rogue River, and drew strong opposition from local landowners. The company asked for a rehearing, which FERC denied in early December. Pipeline backers vow to reapply for the project.
4. Death of a senator
Southern Oregon mourned the death of Democratic state Sen. Alan Bates Aug. 5 from an apparent heart attack while on a fishing trip with his son. The Medford physician was a tireless leader of health care reform and instrumental in shaping the Oregon Health Plan. Democrats chose Kevin Talbert, a retired Southern Oregon University administrator, to serve the rest of the year, and Tonia Moro, a Medford lawyer, to run for Bates' seat in November. But after a campaign that included attack ads against her opponent, Moro lost to Republican Alan DeBoer, former Ashland mayor.
5. Medford mayor's first veto
Gary Wheeler threw down his first veto in 12 years in office to block the hiring of Rob Patridge, Klamath County district attorney and a former Medford councilman and state legislator, as city manager. A divided council was unable to overturn the veto. After a $24,500, yearlong-plus search, the council ended up choosing from within for the city's top spot: Parks Director Brian Sjothun. One of Sjothun's first acts in the job was to fire Deputy City Manager Bill Hoke, who received a nearly $75,000 severance package. Hoke got a call from Sjothun that he'd been placed on administrative leave the day after he turned 66, an approach Sjothun later admitted "was probably a mistake."
6. Commissioner under investigation
Outgoing Commissioner Doug Breidenthal remains under investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice and the Oregon Government Ethics Commission for activities related to a campaign account set up under the Association of Oregon Counties that Breidenthal used to seek office with the Western Interstate Region. The Ethics Commission suspended its inquiries in March pending the outcome of the Department of Justice's criminal investigation. The investigation likely contributed to Breidenthal's trouncing in the Republican primary by Bob Strosser, who takes office this week.
7. Sheriff's resignation
Jackson County Sheriff Corey Falls stunned supporters when he announced last month he was taking a job with the city of Gresham after serving only two years of his term. Falls has been praised for changing the department's culture from a "warrior" to a "guardian" mentality, working well with the union and reaching out to the Hispanic community. But Falls had a parting shot for the county: He held a press conference Tuesday saying he was treated in a demeaning way by county administrators and felt his voice wasn't being heard. The county responded by releasing a report of an investigation into claims of discrimination and harassment Falls made against the county in December 2015 that concluded Falls wasn't subjected to a hostile work environment and should have welcomed the advice and mentoring of county officials.
8. Horseback hero
Robert Borba, 28, an Eagle Point rancher, claimed hearts across America when word spread that he'd lassoed a would-be bicycle thief in the Walmart parking lot June 10. Borba had been loading supplies in his truck as he prepared to head out to brand cattle when he heard a woman calling out that a bicycle had been stolen. Borba quickly brought out his trusty steed Long John, which he'd brought to help him with the cattle, from the back of his trailer. The cowboy and his horse then chased after the thief as he struggled with the gears, ditched the bike and started running on foot. Borba grabbed his rope and let it fly, lassoing the man around his legs and dragging him like a roped cow to the end of the parking lot where he was held until police arrived. Borba's heroism landed him a trip to Chicago, where he demonstrated his lassoing skills on "The Steve Harvey Show" Aug. 31.
9. Runner's death
The death of ultramarathon runner Todd Ragsdale last January sent shock waves through the running community. Ragsdale was 46 when he went missing the morning of Jan. 28, after driving from his Talent home to the Ashland watershed for a run. Ragsdale, who was nursing a hamstring injury at the time, was dressed in a light jacket and running shorts. After a search involving dozens of personnel from eight counties and volunteers with Southern Oregon Runners, Ragsdale's body was found Jan. 30 along the edge of Ashland Creek upstream from the Granite Street reservoir. Authorities were unable to determine the cause of death, though there was no trauma to his body, and toxicology reports returned negative.
10. Missing doctor
Seven months after Ragsdale's death, another ultra-distance runner went missing: Ashley Laird, a Jacksonville physician. Laird did not return after a morning run Aug. 26, prompting a search-and-rescue effort involving hundreds of volunteers. But this story ended happily: Laird was found by searchers — including her father — on a trail in Forest Park two days later. She was lost, dehydrated, disoriented, scraped up and with a bump on her head, rescuers said. Laird's medical license was placed in inactive status the following Monday pending the outcome of an investigation by the Oregon Medical Board, which is ongoing; Laird's husband, Dan Arnold, said the investigation was not related to Laird being lost in the woods.