Public notices issued weekly
By Jennifer Jenks
Watermaster Tony Rutherford explained the Oregon Water Resources Department’s (OWRD) weekly water rights reports and the process one goes through when applying for, protesting or commenting on water rights at the Harney County Court meeting Sept. 19.
Water rights public notices are issued weekly and show all rights being applied for in the state. When someone applies for a new water right use, Rutherford said, the application first goes to Salem where a groundwater employee who only reviews applications in Eastern Oregon examines it. An Initial Review is then presented with approximately a one-month comment period. During this time, anyone can comment at no charge.
The next step in the process is a Proposed Final Order draft and conditions, if any. At this point, a person may protest the application at a cost of $600. Alternatively, one can send comments in favor of the applicant at about half that cost. When asked about the discrepancy in fees, Rutherford explained that a protestor automatically receives copies of all correspondence involved in the process, whereas someone filing in favor would have to request these documents at an additional charge, so he thought it probably balanced out.
If someone does go through with a protest, the department tries to mitigate the issues the protestor has. Otherwise, the issue has to go to court. Rutherford said he had never seen a protest go that far in this area, but there is one that may in the future. The final step in the process is the issuance of a Final Order.
The fees assessed to the applicants are based on the number of wells they are applying for as well as how much water will be used.
When someone applies for a new permit, they have to list the number of acres involved. “The permit is more for the water amount,” Rutherford said, “wells don’t matter as much.”
Rutherford noted that, although water studies are the first thing to be cut any time there are budget woes, there are some wells that have been monitored since the 1950s and 1960s, so there is some long-term data. That data shows the water level has stayed fairly steady, with no noticeably decline, except seasonally.
Rutherford said if OWRD is concerned about the number of wells in a certain area (for example, if someone was drilling a dozen or more 16-inch diameter wells in one area) they could require the applicant to drill an extra well for OWRD to monitor the water level, or allow OWRD to use an existing well for that purpose, depending on the quality of construction.
Commissioner Dan Nichols expressed concern with what is happening regarding the “hubs” the state is requiring the counties to form and urged the court to consider hiring someone to start the process of trying to understand what it all means for the county and get started on a prototype for how the process should be done.
These hubs, a code for “regionalization,” Nichols said, started with the Early Learning Centers and Coordinated Care Organizations and are the state’s way of trying to create effiicencies with services within the state. Nichols stated he was concerned with what was happening with adult and family services, which is supposed to be converting to a hub now. “But we still don’t know how a hub is supposed to work,” Nichols said. “We’re trying to get it done, but we’re having difficulty getting information from the state on how it should be done.”
Nichols noted the legislature won’t approve what is or is not a hub until January, so if the court hired someone soon, they would have time to get it figured out and come up with something in writing before then. “I think we can absolutely make an argument to be our own hub,” Nichols stated, noting that fuel and vehicles alone between counties on this side of the state, were they to form a hub together, would eliminate any efficiencies.
As of Friday, Sept. 21, the Education Service Districts in the state were supposed to be reduced from a little under 20 in the state, down to six, Nichols said, “so, they’re on the chopping block.”
Judge Steve Grasty stated they would need to look at the budget to figure out a way to fund the position and agreed that Harney County should be its own hub. “This community can do it,” Nichols responded. “We don’t need any partners.”
In other business, the court:
• adopted the Economic Development Strategic Plan presented by Kate Marsh and Economic Developer Randy Fulton. The plan was previously approved by the Community Revitilization Team (CRT) after much public input. “I hope the community feels part and parcel to this plan,” Marsh said. She explained the plan was to be used as a guide for community revitilization. Judge Grasty noted the CRT had worked with an incredible amount of people to involve the community in this project over the last three years, and he applauded them for their work. Fulton said the plan will help organizations in the community get grants for community revitilization. Fulton added that a prefabricated home-building business, Pure Wood Solutions, is looking into siting a facility in Harney County and is shipping juniper to their plant in Austria to see if the wood will work in their applications. The old mill building here is within inches of the space they require for a new facility;
• received an update by Weed Control Coordinator Jesse Barnes on the Harney County Weed Board and medusahead spraying. At their meeting this month, the weed board decided they would like to appoint Jeff Dorroh to the board as an at-large member, and the court concurred with a unanimous vote. Barnes said about 6,500 private acres and approximately 8,500 Bureau of Land Management acres were being sprayed aerially for medusahead eradication. The areas being flown are around Drewsey, Crane and Happy Valley, mainly. Seventeen landowners are participating in the spraying this year. She hopes there will be a follow-up spraying next year if funding allows;
• was addressed by Herb Vloedman during the public comment period regarding the process involved in the recent pay increases for Harney County employees and elected officials. Vloedman noted he was not objecting to the pay increases, but did not like how quickly it was handled. His main concerns were the timing involved (having been taken on so shortly after the budget process was already complete) as well as the rapidity of the decision, occuring at just one meeting after a short discussion. Judge Grasty explained that the elected officials compensation committee had not met at the time of the budget process, and then when they had completed their review, they indicated that there was a problem with the wages and that it needed to be taken care of immediately, noting there were some employees who were 28 percent behind in comparison to other counties. Former county judge Dale White, who was in attendance, defended the decision of the court, noting, “When you’re that far behind other counties, I think that’s an emergency situation and requires immediate action. I think they had the duty to act and they did it and they acted responsibly.” Grasty added that the county responded quickly so they wouldn’t fall even further behind;
• agreed the Barbara Cannady road issue needed to come to a resolution. By the next meeting, either one of two agreements presented by attorneys representing the county and Cannady will be signed by all parties or the court will move forward with the county road issue, meaning the road in question would be opened to the public, the fence that runs down the middle of the road would be removed and an approach would be built. Cannady expressed concern that she had been left out of a lot of the conversation and would appreciate the opportunity to explain different parts of the agreement submitted by her attorney;
• signed an order appointing a pool of members for the Harney County Board of Property Tax Appeals;
• tentatively approved the Harney County Senior & Community Services Center’s Area Plan presented to the court by Executive Director Angie Iturbide, dependent on any concerns they may have after reading the document. The state requires the plan by Oct. 1, which is why there was a tentative approval. The plan; based on public meetings, surveys and Harney County’s population breakdown; is required by the state to show what services the senior center will provide for seniors for the next three years and why;
• signed a grant award fro the Department of Land Conservation and Development for $60,000;
• passed a recommendation by the juvenile department to terminate an employee for reasons stated in executive session. Commissioner Pete Runnels expressed a possible conflict of interest, but participated in the vote. Commissioner Nichols noted the termination was “very regrettable;”
• discussed emergency management options and concerns in Harney County. Judge Grasty noted he had to call a conflagration during the Egley fire because there are only two fire chiefs in the county, and one was out of town, and the other was having health issues. He noted that it made the state really nervous, and the county needed to figure out how to change things so that doesn’t happen again in the future. He suggested a wildland fire protection agency based out of Burns. He additionally noted the old fire line needs to be taken care of, possibly by blading the road. Commissioner Nichols noted a landowner offered to plant a fire-resistant line of plants for a natural firebreak, as well;
• discussed a possible Harney County application for Smart Phones, and also discussed the possibility of applying for a follow-up grant fro the Ford Family Foundation for the Rural Development Initiative and using that money to possibly set up a revolving loan fund for downtown businesses addressed in the original grant for development if the owners should choose to do so;
• discussed the repaving of the senior center parking lot, which the county agreed to do since the new addition is not costing the county anything. They noted the paving can’t get done until after initial construction of the addition is complete and might have to wait until next year;
• discussed the hazard mitigation plan that needs to be updated, which was completed by Harney Electric several years ago. Otherwise, the county might lose their flood insurance. It was suggested that this be put together with the emergency management plan and then use that to try to get funding to maintain the levy by the Silvies River where it flooded last year. Since no one will claim responsibility for the levy, this would be a way to get it maintained. Part of the levy is in the city of Burns, and part of it is in the county.
The next Harney County Court meeting will be held Wednesday, Oct. 3, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the Harney County Courthouse, 420 N. Buena Vista Ave. in Burns.