Will ask FEMA to return to 1978 mapping

by Samantha White
Burns Times-Herald

The ongoing Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood plain issue was again a topic of discussion during the regular meeting of the Harney County Court (held Sept. 18).

During the meeting, the court discussed drafting a letter to FEMA, requesting that Harney County’s flood plain immediately be returned to the one that was designated in 1978 until new work can be done.

Harney County Judge Steve Grasty said  changes to the 1978 flood plain designations were not based in science, adding that a Base Flood Elevation needs to be established, and  a hydrology study is also needed. Grasty added that he will encourage the cities of Burns and Hines to draft similar letters for areas inside city limits, and the county will endorse those letters.

“They [FEMA] openly acknowledge that there was no science applied to change from the 1970s map to the 1984 map,” Grasty said.

Grasty expressed a sense of urgency, as flood insurance rates are set to increase at the beginning of October.

He also briefly discussed an article published in the National Association of Counties (NACo) newsletter called “Flood insurance policy changes could increase premiums dramatically.”

The article explains that FEMA flood insurance issues are affecting residents throughout the United States, as the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 brought changes to FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to help bring the program out of debt. These changes could dramatically alter insurance premiums for homeowners in various locations throughout the U.S.

According to the NACo article, “NFIP policies are active in every state, so eventually all counties, parishes and boroughs will be remapped, and residents will see how they will be impacted.”

The article also mentions the Coalition for Sustainable Flood Insurance. According to its website, “The coalition was created in support of a sustainable, fiscally responsible National Flood Insurance Program that protects the businesses and homeowners who built according to code and have followed all applicable laws.”

Grasty suggested that the court learn more about the coalition and participate in it “if it suits us.”

He added that he is committed to obtaining an accurate flood plain map.

Harney County Commissioner Dan Nichols said he will continue to argue the historical perspective. He said the community agrees with the accuracy of the 1978 flood plain map, and he questions science’s ability to disprove it.

The court also discussed ongoing issues regarding sage grouse.

Grasty said a draft of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will be available to the public soon, adding that it is a “gigantic” document.

Grasty said he would like for the county to be a cooperating agency in the effort to prevent sage grouse from being listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, and he stressed the importance of continuing these prevention efforts.

“We don’t want the process to stop,” he said. “I don’t think we dare let it stop, or we are going to get listed.”

Grasty said he plans to focus on the cumulative impact that listing sage grouse would have on the community.

“This isn’t just about dollars,” Grasty said. “There’s a value all the way around. There’s a social aspect.”

Nichols agreed stating, “It’s an extremely important component, but it’s difficult to measure.”

Nichols suggested that the cost to the county of being a cooperating agency be considered among the cumulative impacts on the community.

The court also discussed U.S. District Court Judge Michael W. Mosman’s Opinion and Order regarding the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) decision to grant a right-of-way for the North Steens Transmission Line, which was associated with the Echanis Wind Energy Project.

The plaintiffs, the Oregon Natural Desert Association and Audubon Society of Portland, alleged that the defendants, the BLM and Secretary of the Interior, violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when issuing a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Record of Decision (ROD) approving the right-of-way.

Because Harney County and Columbia Energy Partners intervened on behalf of the BLM, these two entities were also involved in the case.

“This is a huge endorsement of what we’ve  done, and the BLM’s decision,” Grasty said, regarding Mosman’s Opinion and Order. Grasty said he thinks it’s “beneficial for the community to see this win.”

However, he said he thinks it will be very difficult for the wind energy project to move ahead, stating that there are “so many variables” to the project’s success.

However, Nichols said, “It’s a huge win in my book,” explaining that the Opinion and Order established case law to point back to in the future.

Kate Marsh attended the meeting to discuss the revitalization of the Harney County Cultural Coalition (HCCC).

“I really like what you’ve done,” Grasty said regarding the revitalization of the coalition.

Marsh said the Oregon Cultural Trust requires the local coalition to be sanctioned by the court, and the court agreed to recognize the reformation of the HCCC.

The coalition will provide the court with annual updates.

Drug Free Communities (DFC) Coordinator Alicia Goodson attended the meeting to discuss the DFC grant application.

Goodson said the grant renewal was unsuccessful, explaining that the grant is “very competitive.”

Goodson said the fiscal year for the DFC grant ends Sept. 30, and, “There are a lot of things that need to be tied up.”

Goodson and Grasty discussed how the grant will be closed out. There is a 90-day window to close the grant.

Goodson will provide a list of fixed assets, and the court will review and reallocate them accordingly.

Goodson requested that Harney Partners for Kids and Families be allowed to use one of the laptops, which contains data needed to continue certain programs and re-apply for funding. The court agreed by consensus to allow Harney Partners to use the laptop for those purposes.

Goodson said she plans to volunteer and seek community support to continue some of the programs that have been put in place.

Becky Shull, secretary for Harney Partners for Kids and Families, said Harney Partners plans to continue the Youth Action Committee, and the Burns Elks Lodge plans to help with Red Ribbon Week. She did not have information regarding the cost of these programs with her, but said it can be provided to the court.

“My concern is that we don’t have someone to keep it all going,” Shull said. “There are a lot of programs that have started that we’d like to continue.”

Goodson said DFC grant programs have been about mentoring and “helping kids make good decisions.” She said the programs add “an extra layer of support for kids.”

There will be an opportunity to re-apply for the DFC grant next year.

In other business, the court:

• was addressed by Barbara Cannady during the public comment period regarding the Taylor Grazing Committee. Grasty said a meeting is planned for early October. Cannady also expressed concern about Centurylink’s connectivity in rural areas;

• discussed the Harney County Fair, Rodeo and Racemeet, Cycle Oregon, and the Oregon Association of County Treasurers and Finance Officers Conference. Harney County Commissioner Pete Runnels said the community should be commended for the success of these back-to-back events;

• discussed the Harney County logo contest. Harney County Clerk Derrin (Dag) Robinson reported that members of the public were given the opportunity to vote during the fair. He said they could also submit ballots to the Burns Times-Herald or Harney County Clerk’s office by Sept. 20.

Robinson said he was impressed with the voter turnout;

• appointed Tom Wallis to the Library Advisory Board, upon recommendation from Harney County Library Director Cheryl Hancock;

• asked Harney County Roads Supervisor Eric Drushella to start the process to request a speed limit area on South Egan Road (near the fairgrounds) as a transition from a rural road into a residential area;

• adopted Resolution 2013-24 in the matter of supporting HR 1526 (Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act).

Grasty said the act would “put the common sense back into forest management;”

• recognized the retirement of Chief Appraiser John Clemens;

• after review by the Harney County Sheriff’s Department, and under the recommendation of Harney County Sheriff Dave Glerup, awarded a bid to Burns Ford Inc. in the amount of $36,829.60 for a 2014 Ford pickup for the sheriff’s department;

• agreed to authorize Grasty to sign the Department of Education Youth Development Division 2013-2014 County Intergovernmental Agreement;

• held a work session in which a variety of topics were discussed.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the county court will be held Wednesday, Oct. 2, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the courthouse.

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