Dec. 31—UNION COUNTY — Coming off another difficult year in which COVID-19 impacted the way we go about everyday life, many are ready to turn the page to 2022. While the omicron variant presents yet another unknown, local public officials are optimistic about the coming year.
"My hopes are definitely for less COVID and that we can get past this pandemic that we're in right now," Union County Commissioner Donna Beverage said. "Hopefully a lot of our businesses that have been struggling can get back on their feet."
Beverage is not the only one ready for the pandemic to ease in the coming year, as 2021 saw an array of mandates that came and went. Union Mayor Leonard Flint said he is eager for COVID-19 to disappear from the scene.
"I would like to see life get back to normal again after two years," he said. "It has been a long haul."
Cove School District Superintendent Earl Pettit hopes that COVID-19 will not be the disruptive force it has been.
"I hope that we are able to focus on school and education. We have spent the past two years focusing just on operating. I would like to see us move forward again," he said.
While 2021 saw varying opinions on mandates and other matters throughout the county, Beverage believes local government can be united in serving the constituents to the best of their ability.
"Hopefully we can have less partisan politics and more talking about what issues are important to us as Americans," she said.
La Grande School District Superintendent George Mendoza said he would like people to continue to treat each other with dignity, respect and compassion. The educator also hopes that COVID-19 will have less of an impact on our lives.
"We're in a historically difficult time. Hopefully, 2022 will bring back opportunities for normalcy," he said.
Projects in 2022
Elgin Mayor Risa Hallgarth is looking forward to the city of Elgin boosting its infrastructure in 2022.
"I hope that we can get to a lot of the projects we have grants for. I also hope that 2022 is a better year for everyone," she said.
Hallgarth referred to projects such as road paving work and the replacement of a bridge.
Island City Mayor Dave Comfort said he is eager for upgrades to be made in the Island City Area Sanitation District's collection system, which pumps wastewater to La Grande for treatment. The sanitation district has received a loan from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for this work.
The past year in Union saw the opening of the Catherine Creek Community Center, a local venue that preserved the historic former Union Methodist Church. Beverage, a board member of the community center, stated that the building will continue to host more events and be utilized by the local community. For instance, the Elgin Opera House plans to host several of its traveling shows at the Catherine Creek Community Center in 2022.
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"Seeing that move forward and being used more and more every day is exciting," Beverage said.
Draws for the community
Another renovation on the horizon in Union County is the Liberty Theatre, which is approaching a potential opening in 2022. Ashley O'Toole, board chair of the Liberty Theatre Foundation, noted that the progress on the historic venue is nearing the finish line.
"The overall progress of the theater is reaching that point where we're making the decision about finish work — floor covering, light fixtures," O'Toole said.
The downtown La Grande theater has faced several roadblocks related to the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain issues. However, the Liberty Theatre Board has remained meticulous in getting every small detail of the theater renovation correct.
"So much thought goes into the design, to not just have an absolutely beautiful theater that we can all be proud of, but also one that is historically accurate," O'Toole said. "We want patrons to walk in the theater and really feel like they're stepping back into the 1930s and 1940s."
Also trending up in Union County is the Buffalo Peak Golf Course, which was named facility of the year by the Oregon Golf Association this past October. The course experienced financial difficulties early on after its construction in 2000 but has seen a major resurgence in the past year under general manager Dana Londin and the staff.
Beverage stated that Buffalo Peak will be part of the brochure to promote businesses in Union County in March of 2022.
"That's exciting, working together to promote businesses in Union County, especially our golf course, which is a huge draw to the region," she said.
A similar attraction in the sports world will be a large draw for La Grande in 2022. The newly renovated turf field at Pioneer Park will provide a premier baseball and softball facility in La Grande and improve local teams' ability to practice and compete in the years to come.
The project involved the efforts of the city, La Grande High School and Eastern Oregon University, while numerous local businesses and contractors made major contributions. The new facility opens the door for tournaments and local tourism as the fields will serve as one of the top facilities on the east side of Oregon.
"I'm just excited to see the kids on the field and for the grass to fully grow in the outfield," La Grande Parks and Recreation Director Stu Spence said. "I'm excited to have fields that will be durable for a number of teams to play on."
According to Spence, the parks and recreation department is planning to bring back the Moonlight Tournament, an all-night adult softball tournament. And, with the improved fields, the department plans to host similar tournaments.
While many things have changed in the past year and local facilities are looking to keep improving in the future, the La Grande Police Department is aiming to maintain a similar standard.
"For 2022, the La Grande Police Department is looking forward to serving our community in the coming year and we are hopeful that all of our community members will have a safe and healthy new year," La Grande Police Chief Gary Bell said.
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