Court reviews Steens rescue

Posted on January 2nd in News
H.C. Sheriff Dave Glerup thanks those involved in the effort
 
by Samantha White
Burns Times-Herald
 
During the public comment portion of the Harney County Court meeting held Dec. 19, Harney County Sheriff Dave Glerup thanked everyone who was involved in efforts to rescue four construction workers who became stuck in their snow cat at the Steens Mountain summit during a severe storm. The workers were installing a new cell tower for AT&T Inc.
 
Glerup reported that Harney County 9-1-1 received a call from the cell tower workers on Saturday, Dec. 15. The workers were instructed to stay in their vehicle, which had enough fuel to keep them warm for several hours.
 
The Harney County Search and Rescue Team and the Harney County Snowmobile Club attempted to reach the workers Sunday and Monday, Dec. 16-17, but severe weather conditions, including 70 mile-per-hour winds and zero visibility, prevented them from doing so.
 
The workers were able to walk to a radio building, located near the summit, for protection. The building had a generator and heat, and the workers were able to communicate via cell phone. 
 
Clearer weather on Tuesday, Dec. 18, allowed rescuers to reach the workers via snowmobile. The workers were reached just a few minutes before a Black Hawk helicopter, sent by the Oregon National Guard, landed at the Burns airport to assist with the rescue. 
 
Glerup thanked Search and Rescue (SAR) President Matt Fine and SAR member Ron Copeland who handled all of the administrative duties.
 
He also thanked the members of the Harney County Snowmobile Club who spent many hours and used their own resources to help rescue the workers.
 
Glerup said the winds were so powerful that club member Nick Dunn was blown over while he was riding his snowmobile. 
 
Glerup also thanked Bureau of Land Management (BLM) District Manager Brendan Cain who opened the BLM compound in Frenchglen as a staging area, allowing rescuers to stay warm and shortening the trip to the mountain. He also thanked George Orr, John Petty and Ken Brinkley of the BLM for their help with logistics, and County Road Supervisor Eric Drushella who loaned a pickup and provided fuel for the snow groomer that was used to help get the workers off of the mountain. Glerup also thanked the Oregon National Guard for bringing the helicopter.
 
Members of the court discussed the expense of the operation, stating that 204 gallons of jet fuel were used to get the helicopter to Burns. However, the court commented that AT&T Inc. has been “pretty receptive” to requests for funding assistance. 
 
County Commissioner Dan Nichols said that the workers were able to finish their work while they were on the mountain.
 
Harney County Judge Steve Grasty said that Harney County Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Tom Sharp will be able to use the rescue as an emergency exercise.
 
“The four gentlemen learned a valuable lesson about Steens Mountain,” Glerup added. He explained that, in the past, crews have had to rescue people from the area as early as October, but this December, conditions were even worse. “Halfway up the mountain, 26 inches of snow fell,” he said.
•••
 Fred Flippence also attended the meeting to provide an update regarding the Harney County Library Foundation. 
 
According to the Harney County Library’s website, “the purpose of the foundation exists to support the Harney County Library by providing a vehicle for tax-deductible charitable donations, gifts and bequests.”
 
Flippence presented the library’s statement for the quarter ending Sept. 30.
 
“It was a pretty good quarter. It kind of made up for the previous quarter that wasn’t that great,” he said regarding the statement.
 
He added that funds were disbursed out of the library’s fund and given back to the county for support of the library.
 
“It’s not too shabby to be able to give to the county and still have principal,” he said.
 
Flippence added that he thinks there will be enough money to make another disbursement in May or June.
 
Flippence also reported that the library has recovered $11,000 out of $30,000, from the embezzlement case from a few years ago. 
 
He reported that the library held a block party, raising $1,150, and a “Stay Home and Read” fund raiser, garnering $850. He said a “mystery dinner” fund raiser is also being planned. He explained that those in attendance will be entertained by actors presenting a mystery case. He added that, “a gentleman will be coming in August to present a Mark Twain kind of show.”
 
Flippence also reported that the Harney County Library Foundation added new board members.
 
County Commissioner Pete Runnels said the library received 10 new computers.
 
“I think we ought to have our librarian come over and brag on that,” Grasty said.
•••
Flippence also updated the court regarding the 
Oregon Community Foundation (OCF).
 
According to its website, OCF awards more than $60 million annually in grants and scholarships, and it is “the leader in Oregon philanthropy.” Established in 1973, OCF is the sixth largest community foundation in the United States in assets. Its assets total $1.2 billion, comprising 1,700 permanent funds.
 
Flippence reported that the OCF received $150 million from the estate of Fred Fields to support arts and education in Oregon.
 
Flippence said he expects to see “a lot of scholarships coming out” as a result of this contribution. 
 
 Flippence stated that the OCF helped with the expansion of the Harney County Senior and Community Services Center and awarded a three-year grant to the High Desert Partnership.
 
According to its website, the High Desert Partnership is “a grass roots organization focused on bringing together landowners, conservationists, social advocates, agencies and other interested people to address the important challenges of today and tomorrow.” The goal of the partnership is to protect “the rural lifestyle and associated natural resources of Southeast Oregon for present and future generations through open communication and cooperation.”
 
Flippence said the three-year grant will allow the High Desert Partnership to hire a director for its board, which is made up of volunteers.
 
Through the grant, the partnership will receive $40,000 the first year, $35,000 the second year, and $25,000 the third year, he said. 
 
“Well done. That’s a home run, guys,” Grasty said regarding the partnership’s efforts in securing the grant. 
Flippence said the partnership has been working with the OCF to bring jobs to Oregon.
“We have at least sustained or created about 100 jobs through timber sales,” Flippence said. He added that this has been the first time that a timber sale has gone through without an appeal in 10 years.
Flippence said he used the Internet to research and compare the percentage of people receiving unemployment benefits in Harney and Multnomah counties. He then used this information to explain the economic impact on rural communities.
“It is important to recognize this stuff,” Grasty said. “Key workforce challenges are more severe in rural Oregon.”
“The High Desert Partnership is cutting edge,” Nichols said. “It has been very successful. They need to do more bragging on themselves. More people need to know about it.”
Grasty asked Flippence what the next step would be. “We’ve got this established, and it’s a home run, but what do we do with it? What is really economic for our community?”
“We have to interact with government agencies because of the makeup of our county,” Flippence answered. He added that more public input is needed before plans are developed.
Grasty agreed, stating that the partnership and the court “need to have a conversation.” 
•••
The court signed the Collaborative County Sage Grouse Memorandum of Agreement. 
According to Planning Director Brandon McMullen, the memorandum is, “a pretty simple agreement of the importance to collaborate.”
The memorandum was presented to seven Central and Eastern Oregon counties that have sage grouse populations. These counties include Baker, Crook, Deschutes, Lake, Malheur, Union and Harney. By signing the memorandum, the counties agree that developing an approach to sage grouse protection should be a collaborative effort. 
“We may be the last county to sign onto it, and we made it up,” Grasty said regarding the memorandum.
McMullen said, “We are close to getting all of the counties [to sign the memorandum].”
Nichols asked whether any changes to sage grouse protection have been suggested.
McMullen answered that the counties have a pretty close tie to SageCon. 
SageCon is an Oregon Solutions Project working to address the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision regarding the sage grouse’s status under the federal Endangered Species Act. 
However, McMullen said, “we are in a better position to document, rather than regulate.”
Grasty explained that the counties are not far enough along in the process to have any outcomes yet. He said McMullen will probably hire a graduate student to collect information, which will help the counties develop the tools needed to approach the issue.
McMullen said he hopes to “front-load” the counties with information, providing a “county-by-county breakdown of the sage grouse impact.”
Nichols replied, “I am frustrated because nobody comes up with anything concrete that can be done. Nobody has said, ‘this is good for the birds.’ We are seeking something, but we don’t have a clue what we are seeking.”
He added that over-regulating and overprotecting sage grouse is “the worst thing you can do for the species.”
Grasty responded, “You say these points well.” 
He added that, at least while representatives from Harney County are in the room, some members of SageCon have said that community sustainability needs to come first. “[They] have said they will not write a plan that locks up areas. They are hearing us, but they are not using the same words, but they are getting there,” Grasty said.
Nichols commented that Harney Electric still cannot get its power lines in.
Flippence explained that Harney Electric has experienced difficulty in attempting to install power lines without interfering with sage grouse habitat. 
“Everyone is saying ‘sage grouse,’ but no one is saying how to protect sage grouse. They stop everything because of sage grouse. Everyone has a different plan and way to approach it. With all of these plans in place, you can still hunt sage grouse.” Flippence said.
Grasty likened the various approaches to “an octopus with eight legs going in different directions.” However, he said, “We have an agreement that might help make things better.”
He said that a project manager needs to be in place by January. He added that this person would need to have great communication and organization skills.
“We should all be thinking about who this might be,” he said. “If I had my way, it would be someone local.”
•••
In the Harney County Court meeting held Dec. 5, the court discussed selling a one-acre parcel to Bill Burstow. The county acquired the parcel in 2006 due to tax foreclosure. 
Grasty said that, a few years ago, the county made a list of the land that it owns and is probably not going to sell. Grasty asked McMullen to locate the list, and the court planned to review it during the Dec. 19 meeting. 
However, after viewing the list, Grasty said he was surprised by the number of lots listed on it. “I really thought we were going to be talking about half a dozen lots,” he said.
Runnels said he counted 34, and Grasty added that he believes the county may have acquired addition property since the list was made.
“I hate to string Burstow out for another couple of weeks,” Grasty said. “But, I would like to put this off for one more meeting.”
•••
The court heard an update from Nichols regarding the Western Juniper Utilization Group, an Oregon Solutions Project. 
“Western Juniper Utilization has developed into a statewide emphasis, which is okay, but it is kind of losing focus from where it started from,” he said. He added that only four of the group’s 30 members actually work with juniper.
Nichols said there has been some frustration with the process because someone will come up with an idea to do something, but it is stopped. 
“We keep going around and around,” he said. “It works, but it is a very slow process.”
•••
In other business, the court:
• discussed the flashing, red light on top of Burns Butte. “If it’s not regulatory, I want it turned off,” Grasty said;
• discussed Eastern Oregon Coordinated Care Organization Community Advisory Councils.
The next Harney County Court meeting will be held Wednesday, Jan. 2, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the Harney County Courthouse.


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