Question on wind energy status

Posted on January 23rd in News

Court resumes land parcel discussion

By Samantha White
Burns Times-Herald

During the public comment period of the regularly scheduled meeting of the Harney County Court (held Jan. 16) Herb Vloedman said he encountered “an abundance of windmills” when he traveled throughout various states. He said the windmills were “graceful,” and he questioned the court regarding the status of wind energy projects near Steens Mountain.

Harney County Judge Steve Grasty said the projects are “in litigation.” He explained that Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a conservation organization based in Bend, has filed numerous lawsuits regarding natural resource management.

“They sue on nearly every natural resource issue,” he said.

“There has been an effort for seven years,” Harney County Commissioner Dan Nichols said regarding wind project development.

“I personally have hundreds of hours into it,” Grasty added. He said he is not the only person who has invested that amount of time.

Vloedman also addressed the court regarding an Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) grant that the county and the cities of Burns and Hines applied for. If awarded, the grant would fund the paving of an eight-foot width of the nature trail, among other proposed projects.

Vloedman said he supports trail maintenance, but he is against the proposed paving.

“It would be better if it is left gravel and maintained,” he said.

Discussion resumed regarding Bill Burstow’s application to purchase a one-acre parcel of county-owned land, which is completely surrounded by privately owned land.

Grasty said he received a phone call from the adjacent landowner’s legal council requesting that the county “put off” the sale for another two weeks.

“I was prepared to come this morning and put it up for auction until I got the call,” Grasty said.

Grasty explained that the adjacent landowner had already hired a lawyer to determine his property lines. He added that the lawyer informed the landowner that he did not own the parcel at almost exactly the time that the court received Burstow’s application to purchase it.

Further complicating the issue, Grasty said the adjacent landowner owns the parcel’s water rights.

“The adjacent landowner owns water rights on what today is county property,” he said.

Grasty said the court has only two options: keep the parcel and not allow it to come up for sale or auction it.

Nichols suggested that the court delay the decision, as requested by the adjacent landowner’s legal council.

“If legal council is going to get on it and do some research … I say we grant that extension. Another two weeks never hurt anybody,” he said.

The court agreed to grant the extension.

Angie Iturbide, executive director of the Harney County Senior and Community Services Center, discussed the ODOT Federal Transit Administration’s Section 5310 grant application for fiscal year 2013-15 with the court.

Iturbide explained that Harney County Dial-A-Ride “runs off of several state and county grants.”

She said the county must apply for the Transportation 5310 grant every two years, explaining that the county applies for the grant, but the center receives the the funds and provides the transportation services.

Iturbide added that Dial-A-Ride’s ridership has increased, stating that the service has provided up to 215 rides in one day. She said the service charges $1 per stop, which “about pays for a part-time driver position.”

Grasty asked whether there has been a noticeable decline in Dial-A-Ride’s use of fuel since the service acquired more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Iturbide said Dial-A-Ride started using the vehicles in late December, and it was too soon to tell.

Weed Control Supervisor Jesse Barnes and Harney County Weed Management Area (CWMA) Coordinator Jim Campbell presented the 2012 CWMA seasonal report.

Campbell said the CWMA provided a lot of education awareness and participated in several “on-the-ground projects.”

For example, the CWMA provided a Harney County hay grower’s workshop regarding the spread of noxious weeds through hay production. The CWMA also hosted a “Free Spray Day,” handing out gallons of pre-mixed herbicide to residents of Burns and Hines.

“People really appreciated that,” Grasty said.

“It does draw a crowd,” Barnes said. “The amount of people coming in to pick up chemical was significant.”

The CWMA also hosted its annual “City Wide Weed Wipe Out,” a program designed to help people in the Burns-Hines area control weed problems on larger city lots.

Barnes said the CWMA treats weeds along the nature trail annually, adding that pedestrians need to stay off of the trail for 48 to 72 hours after chemical is applied. However, she said people are disregarding posted signs and walking through the chemical. Grasty joked about placing stuffed cougars at the trailhead to keep people off of the trail, and Vloedman suggested putting a ribbon around the trail.

The CWMA also held workshops to educate teachers regarding evasive weed management. Barnes said one of the teachers who attended is a member of ONDA.

“We had a good opportunity to educate in that area,” Barnes said, explaining that the teachers planned a weed management project and reviewed the practicality of managing noxious weeds on a large scale.

“There was a perception change,” she said, explaining that there is a major difference between managing one plant and managing 550 plants. She said, after completing and reviewing the project, many of the teachers determined that chemical sprays may be the most effective method for treating large-scale noxious weed infestations.

Teachers who participated in the workshop were encouraged to incorporate noxious weed education into their curriculum.

Campbell said the CWMA also provided educational outreach to the Crane Future Farmers of America and students at the Silvies River Charter School.

On-the-ground efforts included a “Riley Area Noxious Weed Inventory.” The CWMA inventoried over 20,000 acres of state and private lands bordering U.S. Forest Service lands in the Riley Area and found that 2,842 acres are infested with Medusahead rye.

Now that the area has been inventoried, Campbell said the CWMA will seek Natural Resources Conservation Service contracts to help pay for treatment.

A major on-the-ground project for the CWMA was “The Massive 2012 Medusahead Rye Treatment Project.” The CWMA and its partners treated 15,646 acres of Medusahead-infested land, which equates to over 1,300 square miles of private land and public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The land was treated aerially, using three helicopters.

Campbell said the project was a “big win for our county,” explaining that it was even supported by ONDA.
“It was phenomenal,” Barnes added. She said almost half of the private land treatment was funded by private landowners.

Grasty suggested that the CWMA comment in writing on the benefit that treating Medusahead rye has had on preserving sage grouse habitat.

“It is helpful to have this in writing for committees, especially those that are out of the area,” he said.

“Removal of Medusahead is huge for sage grouse,” Barnes said. She added that the aerial treatment occurred in “key sage grouse habitat.”

Trial Court Administrator Tammy Wheeler and Treatment Court Coordinator Cheryl Foster discussed the success of the Treatment Court program and requested approval to extend the Byrne / JAG Drug Court grant, which would be used to sustain the program.

Formed in February 2008, the Harney County Treatment Court program helps participants rid their lives of drugs and alcohol. To be considered for the intensive program, participants must be 18 years or older, live in Harney County, be addicted to a controlled substance, have been arrested and charged with a crime and have had the district attorney offer participation as an alternative to normal prosecution.

The court agreed to approve the extension, which will provide funding through Sept. 30. The court also permitted Foster to apply for an additional grant. This grant application is due in February.

Harney County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jen Hoke updated the court regarding the Community Enhancement Team’s participation in the Oregon Main Street program.

She also informed the court that Travel Oregon would be visiting the area Jan. 17 to discuss tourism promotion in Harney County.

In other business, the court:

• adopted Resolution 2013-02 in the matter of setting new fees for public health services. Harney County Health Department Director Barbara Rothgeb was in attendance to discuss the resolution;

• discussed meeting minutes. Grasty said the minutes have been kept “exactly right,” adding that the court has done “more than necessary;”

• reviewed the Budget Schedule for fiscal year 2013-14;

• will appoint budget board members Feb.6;

• appointed Grasty as budget officer for the coming year;

• appointed Sandra Richards, Vicky J. Clemens and Matt Fine as Justices of the Peace Pro-tempore for 2013 at the request of Justice of the Peace Donna Thomas;

• recognized Grasty as the county’s representative on the Oregon Consortium Board of Directors;

• recognized Harney County Commissioner Pete Runnels as the county’s representative on the Greater Eastern Oregon Development Commission Board of Directors;

• discussed installing a culvert under a county road, as requested by a private landowner;

• reviewed the Malheur National Forest Schedule of Proposed Actions for winter 2013 and decided to attend a meeting being held Jan. 17 at the Harney County Senior and Community Services Center to discuss the possibility of a 10-year stewardship contract in the Malheur National Forest;

• announced that, under the supervision of Darrell Williams, community service work crews completed 10,652 hours of community service in 2012;

• decided to waive the electrical permit fees for the Harney County Senior and Community Services Center and pay $17.04 to the state;

• was updated by Runnels regarding his involvement with the Coordinated Care Organization and the Harney-Malheur Housing Authority;

• was briefed by Nichols regarding his discussions with the BLM about the Miller Canyon and Homestead fires. Nichols also updated the court regarding his involvement in Wolf Committee meetings;

• thanked Doug Jones, Malheur National Forest Emigrant District ranger, for his cooperation during the time he spent as district ranger and wished him well in his retirement. Jones is retiring March 1;

• learned that the Harney County Sheriff’s Department is replacing three of its vehicles. Grasty said the county needs to replace two motor-pool vehicles in the next fiscal year, as well;

• discussed the Commission on Children and Families, which will cease June 31, and the Early Learning Council “Hub,” which begins July 1.

The next meeting of the county court will be held Wednesday, Feb. 6, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the courthouse.

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