Update given on progress of biomass heating project
by Steve Howe
At its regular meeting Thursday, March 19, the Harney County Court passed Resolution #2015-03, declaring a drought in the county.
The resolution states that the “agricultural and livestock industries, and related economy are suffering widespread and severe economic damage, potential injuries and loss of property resulting from extreme weather conditions within the county…”
It also cites statistics from the State Water Availability Committee and the State Drought Council, stating:
• As of March 10, there is a “record historic low” of snowpack;
• As of March 11, there is “less than 50 percent of normal” snow water equivalent;
• As of March 1, spring and summer forecasted streamflows are “significantly below normal”;
The resolution declares a local disaster within the county, implements the drought emergency plan, and requests that Governor Kate Brown declare a drought emergency for all of Harney County, and that she direct the Oregon Department of Water Resources to make available in the county: temporary transfers of water rights, emergency water use permits, use of existing right options/agreements, and other federal and state drought assistance and programs as needed.
Harney County School District No. 3 Board Chair Lori Cheek was present to update the court on the biomass heating project. She said the district is awaiting response on its application for a $400,000 grant from the “Cool Schools” program through the Oregon Department of Energy. The funds would be split between Slater School and Burns High School, and applied toward a biomass boiler system – part of the larger biomass heating project that includes the county.
Cheek also reported that a job description had been created for a project manager to coordinate wood chip allocation and contracts, among other things. It will be a contract position limited by funds received from the school district and the county ($10,000 from each entity.)
Cheek said she has been looking into what is entailed in forming a cooperative to serve as the managing entity for the biomass heating district.
“We need to do that, because that is the vehicle that will be managing several things. The co-op is the county and the school, – that is all it is right now,” said Cheek.
She added that she thinks others will join the co-op in the future as users of the biomass heating, and said a board of five members would probably be needed. After establishing the co-op, Cheek said the next step would be working toward sourcing funding to “buy out” a loan being obtained by Wisewood, Inc. (the project developer and consultant.) She mentioned the Rural Economic Development Loan & Grant program (REDL&G) as an opportunity, and said she would bring more information to the next court meeting.
Harney County Judge Steve Grasty reported on a recent meeting of the Harney County Parks Committee. He said Theimer Park’s “Boy Scout Cabin” is in need of improvements. Several windows are broken, and woodpeckers have been destroying the siding, Grasty explained. He said the committee would like to put out for bids on the projects. Commissioners Pete Runnels and Dan Nichols agreed.
Grasty said a letter had been received from the Harney County Fair Board requesting the re-appointment of Jim Kelly and Kevin Pryse to the board. The court voted unanimously to approve them.
Grasty also reported that he had met with fair board members March 18 to discuss various budget-related issues. They also reminded Grasty that the court had promised the construction of a 150-foot by 150-foot gravel pad in the southwest corner of the fairgrounds for equipment storage. Grasty asked them what their time frame was, and they told him it would make the most sense to do it after fair this year. He recommended that they first get written permission from the city of Burns because of the proposed pad’s proximity to the lagoon.
Grasty reported that the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development’s administrative rulemaking committee was meeting March 19 and 20 to draft a document for sage grouse habitat conservation policy. He said the same process will happen soon within the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.
The court voted unanimously to make a revenue line budget correction for Fund 252, Harney County Fair, for the 2014-15 fiscal year. The line was changed from a $26,500 debit to a credit line of $26,500.
The court also passed Resolution #2015-02, adopting and appropriating the supplemental budget for Fund 227, Early Learning Council Hub, as presented at the supplemental budget hearing on Nov. 5, 2014 in the total sum of $428,310.00 for fiscal year 2014-15.
The court reviewed correspondence from:
• The Northeast Oregon Forests Resource Advisory Committee (RAC) Coordinator Jeff Tomac, thanking Grasty for his service as a RAC member. Tomac said his contribution helped the committee accomplish 39 Title II projects in 2014;
• Bill Rosholt, requesting potential names for Local Workforce Investment Board members from Harney County;
• Shane Theall of the Burns Interagency Fire Zone and Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, announcing a spring meeting for “county-wide fire cooperators” April 13 to discuss current fire outlook, radio communications, and equipment and personnel status checks, among other subjects;
• The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Burns District office, announcing a Determination of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Adequacy (DNA) for the Kiger and Riddle Mountain Herd Management Areas (HMA) wild horse gather. The letter stated that the proposed action of the DNA is a wild horse helicopter drive gather to re-establish the wild horse populations of the Riddle Mountain and Kiger HMAs to the low end of their respective Appropriate Management Levels (AML). Comments may be submitted to the Burns District office, and must be postmarked by April 10;
• Karen Moon, coordinator for the Harney County Watershed Council, recommending Diane Rapaport for appointment to the “Concerned Citizen-General” position on the council. The court voted unanimously to approve the appointment.
In other business, the court:
• reviewed applications by Duane Grant (4-D Farms/Whitehorse Ranch) and Jerry Miller (Bell A Grazing Co-op) to purchase county-owned Tax Lot No. 1000 and Tax Lot No. 7100, respectively. The court voted unanimously to bring both properties to auction;
• received notice of the Southeast Oregon Symposium on The Arts and Economic Development, to be held in Burns May 19 and 20;
The next regularly-scheduled meeting of the county court will be held Wednesday, April 1, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the courthouse.