Several buildings considered in study

by Samantha White
Burns Times-Herald

During its regular meeting (held April 2), the Harney County Court discussed a feasibility study for biomass heat.

Prepared by Wisewood Inc., the study explores the possibility of using a single, large biomass boiler system to transmit heat to connected facilities via thermal distribution lines (steam or hot water). This concept is known as district heating. Because thermal energy can be metered at each facility, individual billing can be applied.

The Harney County Courthouse, Harney County Sheriff’s Office,  Harney County Jail, former Lincoln Jr. High School building, and Symmetry Care were all considered in the study.

Lori Cheek, a Harney County School District No. 3 board member, said Slater Elementary School is also exploring the possibility of heating its facility with  a biomass boiler, but because the school is located too far from the courthouse, it would require a separate system.

Cheek said Slater is seriously considering this option because its existing boiler system is outdated and broken, and the school has been paying thousands of dollars in repairs.

Instead of wood pellets, the biomass boilers would use juniper and/or forest residuals, sourced from local forests. These boilers are capable of processing fuels of varying moisture content.

In addition to being more affordable than wood pellets, biomass material could provide employment opportunities for local logging groups.

However, according to the feasibility study, “The upfront construction cost of building a biomass district energy system…is currently estimated at approximately $1,500,000.”

But Wisewood Inc. will be able to access the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) if the combined total of individual projects  (developed simultaneously) is approximately $4 million or greater.

Wisewood Inc. has already secured State of Oregon Energy Incentive Program Tax Credits, which are in addition to any NMTC financing.

Cheek said Slater doesn’t want to be the “guinea pig” and pay full price for its boiler system.

She added that Eastern Oregon Youth Correctional Facility may also be interested in participating.

Harney County Judge Steve Grasty stressed that this study is still in draft form, and nothing has been committed. He added that the next step will be to meet with Wisewood Inc. to discuss the study further.


Randy Fulton, Harney County Economic Development director, attended the meeting to discuss Resolution 2014-02 in the matter of sponsoring an application for the designation of an enterprise zone within the cities of Burns and Hines.

According to the text of the resolution, the 6.84-square-mile-zone would “encourage new business investment, job creation, higher incomes for local residents and greater diversity of economic activity” by granting property tax exemptions to eligible businesses firms.

Fulton explained that these tax abatements would be granted on a case-by-case basis.

After some discussion, the court agreed to approve the resolution, which was signed by Grasty and became effective April 9.


Harney County Roads Supervisor Eric Drushella reported that he submitted a Federal Lands Access Program application for maintenance funding. If received, the funding will  be used to chip seal Rattlesnake Road.


The court also discussed ongoing efforts to prevent the proposed sage grouse listing, agreeing that the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Resource Management Plan Amendment/Draft Environmental Impact Statement (RMPA/DEIS) failed to adequately analyze the social and economic impacts of the proposed listing.

Harney County Commissioner Dan Nichols said, “They analyzed the bird and its habitat to the ‘nth degree,’ but they didn’t analyze the impact on humans.”

“We’ve just got to stay at the table until we get done,” Grasty said, regarding the court’s ongoing efforts.


In other business, the court:

• scheduled its budget board meeting for May 14. The budget hearing is scheduled for June 4;

• discussed Early Learning Council Hubs. Nichols said he is interested to see how counties that have yet to receive a Hub designations will be included;

• received a letter from Stacy Davies announcing his resignation from the Harney County Planning Commission. In his letter, Davies stated that, over the past few years, he has been lax in filling out the Oregon Government Ethics form. As a result, he was fined $3,300. He added that he recently received the new form in the mail, and rather than fill it out, he decided to resign.

Grasty said that, although he understands the need to be ethical in government, there needs to be a better form. He added that he feels for Davies, and is sad to lose him from the commission;

• briefly discussed the Ochoco Summit Trail System Project;

• briefly discussed Taylor Grazing Proceeds distribution;

• held a work session after the meeting to discuss the BLM’s Steens Mountain Comprehensive Recreation Plan. No decisions were made.

Due to scheduling conflicts, the next county court meeting will be held Wednesday, April 23, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the courthouse.

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