Court addresses fire protection

Posted on January 16th in News

80,000 acres classified by committee

By Samantha White
Burns Times-Herald

Tom Andrade of the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) attended the Harney County Court meeting held Jan. 2 to provide an Oregon Forestland–Urban Interface Fire Protection Act briefing.

According to ODF’s website, the act “enlists the aid of property owners toward the goal of turning fire-vulnerable urban and suburban properties into less-volatile zones where firefighters may more safely and effectively defend homes from wildfires.”

The act, which applies to all Oregon counties, but has not yet been implemented statewide, requires owners of structures in identified areas to reduce excess vegetation, which may fuel a fire. These fuel breaks may be required around structures and along driveways, roadside and property lines.

Andrade said a committee of seven people worked to classify 80,000 acres of ODF–protected land in Harney County. However, he said only about 40 of the 80,000 acres are located near structures, and there about 30 interface structures located throughout the county.

Andrade said most of the interface areas are well-established, and all are privately owned.

Andrade said Harney County is a “fire-dominated area,” but the owners of interface structures have done a good job of limiting fire hazards.

“There has been a lot of fire in the neighborhood, so people are doing the right things,” he said.

He added that the committee held a public meeting that was attended by about 20 landowners.
“People were very positive,” he said, regarding those in attendance.

Andrade commended the committee for its efficiency and for the accuracy of the maps that were created.

Harney County Judge Steve Grasty said there is a “huge heating problem” in the Harney County Courthouse.

“One quarter of the building has no heat in it, from the clerk’s office all the way around the stairwell,” he said.

He said he believes the problem stems from staff removing too many registers over the years.

“It’s an antique,” he said regarding the system. “It’s been modified every year by whoever was the maintenance person. I think it has gotten worse every year. We may be at a point this summer that we have to replace the whole system. I don’t know.”

Harney County Commissioner Dan Nichols commented that it may be very expensive to replace the whole system, stating that it may be necessary to remove everything and start over.

Grasty and Nichols agreed it would be best to consult with an expert before making a decision about replacing the system.

However, Grasty said, “The one guy in town who was an expert on the old system is no longer with us.” He added that the system would have to be shut off before it could be worked on, and due to recent sub-zero temperatures, it would be “inadvisable” to shut it off during the workday. Grasty said maintenance workers may have to work at night.

The court resumed its discussion regarding county-owned lands.

“This came about mostly because we had a request to purchase land,” Grasty explained.

During the meeting held Dec. 5, the court reviewed an application from Bill Burstow to purchase a one-acre parcel of county-owned land.

Discussion regarding the parcel prompted the court to locate and review a list of land that it owns and is probably not going to sell.

Grasty said he thought it would be beneficial for anyone who works at the courthouse to be able to look at the list and say, “We are not going to sell that.” He clarified that anyone can apply to purchase any piece of county-owned land, but “odds are the county is not going to sell [land on the list.]” He added that he did not think the county should refund application fees if prospective buyers are told in advance that the sale would be unlikely.

“It is a simple list. There is only one [piece of land] that is controversial,” Grasty said. He explained that the “controversial” piece is the parcel that Burstow applied for.

Grasty said the parcel is surrounded by privately-owned land, and he received a phone call from the surrounding landowner.

“[The landowner] believed he had acquired everything in that block,” Grasty said. Grasty added that the landowner expressed concern that the county would “create issues with his operation” if it sold the land to Burstow. Grasty said that he believes these issues may have to do with water rights.

Road Supervisor Eric Drushella asked whether the county had to make land sales public when the land in question is a small piece of county-owned land boarding a large tract of privately-owned land.

Grasty replied that, in the past, the county has gone “above and beyond” by notifying landowners about these small pieces. However, he said the sale of county-owned land has to be public, adding that the county uses a specific process that “mirrors state statutes.”

“My hunch is that most landowners know their property,” Grasty said, but he explained that some landowners receive lengthy and complicated tax statements and that it can be difficult to determine where property lines fall when land is passed through multiple generations of ownership.

Regarding the one-acre parcel, it was decided that Grasty would review its deed records. The court plans to decide whether to sell the land during its next meeting, and Grasty asked Drushella to review the parcels listed and make a recommendation to the court.

During the public comment period, Barbara Cannady presented a list of projects that she “would like the court to take on.” She requested that the court provide training on public meeting laws and asked the court to consider obtaining grants to install a high-speed telephone system in rural areas. She also requested that the court develop a plan for removing abandoned mobile homes and suggested that the court develop a back-up system for recording its meetings. She said she would also like the court to acquire a grant to “bring the assessor’s office data to digital format.”

“We’re close,” Grasty replied regarding the suggested digitization.

Cannady concluded by addressing Nichols about a comment he made during the county court meeting held Dec. 5. During this meeting, the court discussed newly proposed legislative language regarding transmission lines, and Nichols stated he did not have a conflict of interest with this issue.

Cannady presented Nichols with a map, which she said showed that the transmission lines would run through his property.

Pointing to the map, Cannady asked, “Do you own this property?”

“I do not,” Nichols replied. “I have never been approached by Colombia Energy.”

He then used the map to show Cannady where his property is located.

County Treasurer Nellie Franklin requested that the court sign new bank signature cards for all of the banks that the county has accounts with. The court also decided to remove retired County Clerk Maria Iturriaga from the signing authority and add newly-elected County Clerk Derrin Robinson to the signature cards. Franklin, Nichols, Grasty and Harney County Commissioner Pete Runnels will also have signing authority and be included on the cards.

Grasty said efforts will be made within the next few weeks to locate someone to coordinate the various approaches to sage grouse conservation.

“I hope it will be someone in our part of the state,” he said.

In other business, the court:

• approved Resolution 2013–01, establishing Valic as a deferred compensation plan provider for county employees;

• designated the Burns Times-Herald as the official county newspaper for 2013;

• decided to hold a hearing Jan. 16, at 2 p.m. regarding the assignment of an ambulance service area;

• heard a report from Grasty regarding the flashing, red light that was recently installed on a tower on Burns Butte. Grasty said he spoke with the tower owner and is waiting for documentation stating that the light is not required;

• was invited to attend a meeting with the Air National Guard regarding an “air space expansion concept;”

• discussed a commitment to Bob Alverts for a $5,000 donation for a cheat grass study;

• learned that a meeting will be held Jan. 11, from 6 to 8 p.m. in John Day regarding stewardship contracting with the Forest Service. Grasty said he “will definitely be at that meeting;”

• discussed Commission on Children and Families funding and the Hub proposal;

• held a work session to discuss and work through a number of items, noting that no decisions would be made.

The next meeting of the county court will be held Wednesday, Jan. 16, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the courthouse.

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