Commissioner says wolves damage more than just livestock industry

By Jennifer Jenks
Burns Times-Herald

Wolves were at the top of the agenda again at the meeting of the Harney County Court last week. Commissioner Dan Nichols told the court he was checking with Wallowa County, Representative Cliff Bentz and the state regarding the Wolf Compensation Policy. He is working on gathering background information, with the Feb. 15 deadline no longer being a concern.

“Everyone’s concerned about the cattle industry,” Nichols said, “so that’s good.” Wolves, he said, have been decimating the wildlife population in Idaho. In one bull elk herd in Idaho, he reported, the numbers had dropped from several thousand to less than 500, while the wolf population has climbed to about 1,800. “The wolf issue is much bigger and more damaging to every person in this state than just the livestock industry,” he argued.

The wolf advocate position on the local wolf compensation committee was also filled, he reported, which was a requirement of the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA).

The next priority is to have a meeting with some individuals who have expressed concern about having a compensation plan to see which direction might be in the best interests of the county.

“Charlie Otley was appealed again,” Harney County Judge Steve Grasty announced at last week’s meeting. The appeal was filed by the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) Feb. 9 in the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA). He stated it would most likely be two to three months before the case would be heard, and the decision would come later still.  The decision regarding the non-farm dwelling on Steens Mountain was originally approved by the planning commission and was previously upheld by the county court.

Brandon McMullen, Harney County planning director, explained the appeal process and noted there were currently two appeals to the commission’s decisions, the other being a cell phone tower that was approved on Burns Butte. The project was approved one year ago, was appealed to and upheld by the county court and LUBA, and was then appealed to the Oregon Court of Appeals. A decision was made in December to uphold both decisions and was filed Jan. 24. There is a 30-day period in which an appeal can be filed to the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court can choose which cases it wants to hear, unlike the county court and LUBA.
“We’ve gone 10 years without an appeal and now we’ve got two going at the same time,” Grasty commented. “I hope this isn’t a sign of the times.”

The county received a reply this month from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) regarding the county’s request for DEQ to reconsider the permit requirement for landfill gas monitoring in Harney County. The request was sent to the DEQ April 2, 2010, almost two years ago. “I can’t believe it took them two years to review this request,” Judge Grasty stated.

The DEQ stated they would not require monitoring at most landfills, but would require it at Fields. This will require installing three 10-foot deep landfill gas monitoring probes at that landfill, as well as a shallow gas probe between the landfill and the school, which is less than 1,000 feet away from the landfill. The landfill must be monitored for gas annually. Judge Grasty stated he was going to file a petition requesting this site be exempt from the requirements as well. The sites that have been exempted are at Diamond, Drewsey, Fenchglen, Riley and Sodhouse.

Quite a few concerns were brought up during the public comment session of the meeting. Herb Vloedman said he noticed Oregon highway signs reading “Welcome to … County” on a recent trip out of town and wanted to know why our signs coming in to Harney County weren’t phrased that way. Judge Grasty  advised the signs were the responsibility of the state, but that he would look into the matter. “If the state’s providing it, we’re getting short changed,” Vloedman responded.

Vloedman then inquired what the official Harney County population was, as he had heard there had been a noticeable decrease in the school population. Grasty advised the numbers were just estimates. He said he usually looks at the the grade school population, how many moving vans are being rented and leaving the area and how many electrical hookups there have been and this usually gives a pretty good idea of whether the population is increasing or decreasing. “None of these have shown signs of a downward trend,” he said.

Additionally, the employment department numbers don’t show much change, he said, and that was also a good indicator.

Mary Ausmus wondered how the county was saving money by having two directors at the health department and home health/hospice, since there would be two wage and benefit packages. Grasty explained that the staff number hasn’t increased, since one of the directors was already employed by home health/hospice. In addition, both positions are part time, with the directors working part time as administrators and part time in direct service to the public.

Ausmus also asked why the county medical examiner was not a doctor. Harney County doesn’t have a coroner, Grasty explained, and the county could never afford to send every deceased person out of town to be examined.

Dr. Tom Fitzpatrick is the chief medical examiner and the medical examiner, Julie Burri, performs the examination, which the chief medical examiner then reviews and signs. Officers are also trained to investigate deaths in car accidents. Grasty stated occasionally a body has to be sent out when there are suspicious circumstances, and it is very expensive.

Barbara Cannady inquired about the work Grasty and Tony Svejcar have been doing in regard to bio-mass/bio-fuel. Grasty said there was an investor interested, and he would be meeting with the investor this week.

In other business:

• the court reviewed two bids for fuel, one from Ebar Oil and the other from Ed Staub and Sons Petroleum and Propane. This year, card locks were not included in the bids. Employees will carry card locks for both carriers in their vehicles instead and can go to whichever is more convenient or in a safer neighborhood. The bid was awarded unanimously to Ed Staub and Sons for furnace oil and to Ebar for kerosene and rural deliveries;

• the court reviewed a Right of Way Location Narrative from Kenny Delano, Harney County Surveyor, which was performed at the request of Judge Grasty to locate the existing right of way of a roadway located on Highway 78 and determine the area of the right of way. The area was found to be 3.38 acres, and the assessor will be advised of this finding;

• the court acknowledged the appointment of Commissioner Pete Runnels to the Bureau of Land Management’s Southeast Oregon Resource Advisory Council as the elected representative position;

• the court discussed what to do with the money that would be coming back to them from Joseph’s Juniper Inc., as 25 percent of the money awarded to them is a loan. A revolving economic development fund is thought to be an option. They also discussed the revolving loan account for Harney, Grant and Malheur counties. The court would like the money in that account to be loaned out equally between the counties. Commissioner Runnels advised he would find out what  the parameters for use are and report back to the court;

• the General Principles and Standards for Evaluating Impact and Mitigation in Sage Grouse Habitat in Harney County (the sage grouse mitigation plan) was accepted unanimously. The plan is not specifically about sage grouse, but about all wildlife in sage grouse habitat;

• Judge Grasty said he had been advised by Tony Rutherford, local watermaster, to start thinking about a drought declaration, in case one is needed. He  stated residents may be able to use groundwater for a water right for a one-year time period. Old wells can also be used for a period of time during a drought in an emergency situation.

The next Harney County Court meeting will be held Wednesday, March 7, in Judge Grasty’s office at the Harney County Courthouse, 420 N. Buena Vista in Burns.

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