The Winter of this Content

The text from my former Columbian colleague and fellow University of Montana alum came as I was driving to Ashland, Wis., on Wednesday.

Oil Town took top prize in SPJ’s comprehensive coverage category.”

It came as quite a pleasant surprise, given the fierce competition among similar-sized outlets in the Pacific Northwest, that Dameon Pesanti and I would top the category. I’m grateful, honored and humbled. Thank you, and here’s to everyone else who placed and continues to fight the good fight.

Back on this side of the Cascades (and the Rockies (and the Mississippi)), there’s plenty of fights to cover, whether it’s the multimillion-dollar (and shrinking) Paulucci estate or the next new pipeline proposed by Enbridge that will cross Minnesota. And then there’s the fight that finally fizzled out: Sunday liquor sales.

Of course there’s the sunnier stuff, like this new solar farm or the cutting-edge work of a biotech company in Two Harbors.

Some of my favorite — and most-lauded — pieces of late were analyses on NAFTA’s impact on Minnesota and the health care economy in Duluth, a short series I worked on with health care reporter John Lundy. I also enjoyed writing this profile on Duluth’s homegrown, billion-dollar company, Allete.

And though I was fighting a cold, who could pass up the opportunity to cover the biggest dogsled race in the Lower 48?

Looking back on the Oil Town series, it’s crazy to think where I was not even a year ago. But I”m still sitting through long port meetings, so not everything has changed.

Context clues

There’s a common storytelling trick called starting in the middle. But for The Columbian’s recently launched Oil Town series, I started before the beginning.

In March I took a look back at the state energy panel overseeing the permitting for the nation’s largest oil terminal, that controversial lil’ proposal at the the Port of Vancouver. Next, my colleague (and former Montana classmate) Dameon Pesanti looked at a little-known assistant attorney general known as the Counsel for the Environment. Most recently, I delved into the economics of the oil-by-rail terminal to see if the three-year-old proposal is still viable.

I suppose none of that sounds incredibly enticing, but one reader called me after the latest story and said “it was like reading The New York Times.” A tear slid down my cheek.

Some tears were shed over port CEO Todd Coleman’s sudden and oddly timed departure recently. I took a look back at his four-year, 19-day tenure for Sunday’s business cover.

The week before I learned Vancouver’s Great Western Malting Co. has had a big role in the craft beer boom, and the microbrew industry is in turn helping the massive waterfront malthouse grow.

A Trap Door Brewing IPA, made with Great Western Malting Co. malts, sits in an old Great Western glass. The father and grandfather of the uptown Vancouver brewery worked at the malthouse, which supplies many Northwest breweries with grain.
A Trap Door Brewing IPA, made with Great Western Malting Co. malts, sits in an old Great Western glass. The father and grandfather of the uptown Vancouver brewery worked at the malthouse, which supplies many Northwest breweries with grain. Photo by Ariane Kunze.

It’s been a busy spring all over, with stories about a food truck putting down roots, a huge new development in an old rock quarry and a nascent co-working space opening in downtown Vancouver.

And back at the port, I chased them on not releasing the publicly approved lease amendment for the oil terminal, chastised them on a potential open meetings violation and celebrated with them on news of a boutique hotel coming to the waterfront. Always something with these guys.