ONDA lawsuit sparks strategy

Posted on April 18th in News

County Judge states ‘I’m of the opinion that we be as aggressive as we can’

By Jennifer Jenks
Burns Times-Herald

The public hearing process, exaggerations and private property were some of the topics that came up when the Harney County Court discussed the litigation filed by the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) and the Audubon Society against the Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on the North Steens Transmission Line Project.

Judge Steve Grasty told the court he had had considerable conversation with legal counsel of all parties involved on the defendants’ side of the suit and suggested they meet to discuss legal strategy. “I’m of the opinion that we be as aggressive as we can,” he said.

Commissioner Dan Nichols expressed concern for the rights of the landowners, stating they should be able to continue in their business enterprises, according to the Cooperative Management Plan Agreement (CMPA). “That’s more important than anything else,” he commented.

The lawsuit is full of exaggerations at a minimum, Grasty said, and maybe even worse. “Not one of these folks were with these organizations when the CMPA was written,” he stated.

One of the landowners involved in the wind project, Charlie Otley, was in attendance and expressed frustration over the different treatment of projects on public lands versus private property. He noted that no public hearings were held about the island that was put in on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and that gravel pits were put in up on the Steens with no hearings, as well.

Grasty concurred, noting the refuge was able to put an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) together in less than 30 days for their island project, yet it took the county two and a half years and many studies to get their EIS done for the Steens project.

Nichols noted he had looked into the issue and, from what he understood, the project was compatible within that agency’s guidelines, and that was why there were no public meetings or comment periods.

The court decided to wait to sign the 2012 Silvies Watershed Risk MAP Partnership Agreement with FEMA to see if both cities are on board first.

Commissioner Nichols urged any residents who have had any work done on their homes that includes a survey and elevation data, to get that information to the planning department so they can, in turn, get it to DOGAMI, the company FEMA hired to update the flood maps.

After lengthy discussion, the court adopted the final Wildlife and Habitat Mitigation Plan for the Echanis Wind Project and will prepare a resolution for the next county court meeting.

The plan states specific mitigation sites must be identified within six months, and Columbia Energy Partners (CEP) needs to clearly identify what they are doing and where they are doing it and provide that information to the court.

“This is a voluntary action by CEP,” Judge Grasty stated, “to let Harney County impose additional mitigation practices on them.”

The court recognized the comments from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and thanked them for their participation.

In other business:

• Larry Hammond was in attendance and expressed concern that the court was trying to limit public comments. Judge Grasty explained the court was concerned about being able to get through all their business during the meetings when they were constantly being interrupted by the public. He noted they were going to have to schedule one or two work sessions this month as it was just to go over everything they haven’t had time to cover in their regular meetings. This was the reason the court reminded the public to limit their comments to the specified public comment period on the meeting agenda. “We are certainly not trying to shut down public comment or opinion,” Commissioner Nichols added;

• Harney County Weed Coordinator Jesse Barnes explained the ordinance regarding transporting hay with noxious weeds and cleaning haying equipment. Machinery must be cleaned thoroughly before being moved to another pasture if it has been in an area infected with noxious weeds. All hay, straw, etc., coming from a noxious-weed-infested area may not be moved unless reasonable efforts have been made to contain it, such as tarping. Anyone with questions about the ordinance can contact Barnes at 541-573-8385;

• the court awarded the bid for the purchase of new general ledger software to Tyler Technology Inc. for $30,823. Judge Grasty explained the current system is 30 years old and badly in need of an update. They are hoping to get the system set up sometime in January and be completely converted to the new system by June 2013;

• bids for a new telephone system were opened. The court received six bids. Judge Grasty will review the bids and come back to the court with a recommendation;

• The court signed and adopted Resolution #2012-04 In the Matter of Supporting Proposed Federal Forests County Revenue, Schools and Jobs Act of 2012.

The next Harney County Court meeting will be held today, April 18, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the Harney County Courthouse, 420 N. Buena Vista Ave. in Burns.

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