County court revisits biomass heating proposal

by Samantha White
Burns Times-Herald

Symmetry Care Inc. Director Chris Siegner and Harney County Treatment Court (HCTC) provider Isobel Van Tassel attended the regular meeting of the Harney County Court (held April 23) to give an overview of the HCTC program.

HCTC helps participants rid their lives of alcohol and/or illegal, controlled substance use and abuse. To be eligible, program participants must have been arrested and charged with a crime. The program focuses on repeat offenders who have been arrested for one or more non-violent drug or alcohol offenses, and most HCTC participants are facing substantial jail or prison sentences.

Van Tassel described HCTC as an “intensive outpatient program,” explaining that participants get to stay in their homes while learning skills to stay clean and sober. Additionally, participants receive assistance with obtaining education, driver’s licenses, and employment. Van Tassel added that, as a result of the program, babies have been born drug free, and families have been reunited.

Treatment court participants are supported by a team made up of attorneys, addiction treatment counselors, probation officers, district attorneys, treatment court coordinators and circuit court judges. Locally, Symmetry Care provides participants with mental-health services.

Siegner said the team stresses accountability. He added that participants are rewarded for success and sanctioned for noncompliance.

Treatment court also tracks participants’ recidivism (repeat offenses), and Van Tassel said recidivism for HCTC participants is low. In fact, she said even participants who didn’t graduate from the program have not committed new crimes.

Harney County Commissioner Dan Nichols said there are different levels of success involved.

He added, “To hear that the people who didn’t go ahead and graduate did not reoffend — that’s a major win for them, as well as this community. That, in and of itself, seems to be worthwhile for the program.”

Four of the HCTC participants who did graduate attended the meeting to provide testimony regarding how the program changed their lives.

All of the graduates stressed that the program is extremely intensive and difficult to complete. One graduate even compared HCTC to boot camp.

Another graduate said, “You can’t fake it through this program…They are not going to graduate you unless you make a life change.”

Since successfully completing HCTC, the graduates said they have: improved their relationships, gained access to new career opportunities, begun taking pride in themselves and their homes, learned accountability and structure, gotten involved in other treatment programs, taken on mentoring roles, and learned how to live healthy lives.

Harney County Judge Steve Grasty congratulated each of the graduates.

Nichols added, “You ought to be proud of yourselves for having the guts to do what you did. Congratulations to you for what you have done within and for yourselves.”

Siegner said he appreciated the support that the Harney County Court has provided HCTC, and he wants to continue working with the court to keep the program going.

Nichols said it is nice to hear that “the dollars going in [to HCTC] have been very worthwhile.”

Grasty said he has been “a huge advocate” for the program since it started, but said funding for the program is “just flat gone.”

Van Tassel said she has been applying for grants, and she is waiting to hear whether grant funding will be received.

•••

Siegner also attended the meeting to request the court’s consideration for returning developmental disabilities programming back to the county.

In a letter written to the court, Siegner explained that, “This program was returned to the state in 2002 due to lack of adequate funding, insufficient programming, and a large potential liability to the county.” However, he continued that, “The budget for this program is four times what it was in 2002, and we could now staff it well enough to ensure quality services for people with developmental disabilities.”

He added that, “People with developmental disabilities have been underserved in this state for years. Their issues are often intertwined with mental health difficulties, which make treatment planning complex and difficult. Bringing the program back would improve this greatly, as one agency would be responsible for their care.”

Siegner said he will collect more information concerning this option.

•••

Andrew Haden and Aaron Berg of Wisewood Inc. attended the meeting to continue discussion concerning the preliminary feasibility analysis for biomass energy.

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). The biomass boiler would use juniper and/or forest residuals, sourced from local forests.

Haden, Berg and the court engaged in a lengthy discussion concerning which buildings may be included in the proposed project, as well as options for funding assistance.

Grasty said he felt the Harney County Jail heating system needs to be replaced by this fall, and the Harney County Courthouse “ought to be included with the jail.” However, he also acknowledged that the jail will have to be replaced in the “foreseeable future,” so he suggested that the proposed project include an opportunity for expansion.

Haden and Berg said they felt these immediate needs could be met, but said they would need a letter of intent from the court in order to move forward.

Grasty said he will try to find out more information, and they will meet again to continue the discussion.

•••

The court and Harney County Roads Supervisor Eric Drushella discussed the bridge that was recently burned on Old Experiment Road.

An engineer inspected the remains of the bridge and determined that it needs to be replaced.

Grasty said the bridge disaster is an emergency, and the court has been advised by county counsel that, due to the circumstances, the replacement process is allowed to be outside of Oregon bidding law.

It is economically necessary to replace the bridge as soon as possible.

The bridge is not insured, as it is cost-prohibitive to insure bridges. And cost recovery options are still being researched.

•••

In other business, the court:

• was addressed by Barbara Cannady during the public comment period regarding alleged criminal mischief on her property;

• received an update from Grasty concerning a meeting that he attended in Bend to address ongoing issues concerning sage grouse;

• reviewed information about the National Flood Insurance Program’s compliance with the Endangered Species Act;

• discussed the possible implications of a dam that was recently constructed in the slough off of Newton Road. Drushella and the court will monitor the situation;

• discussed the Department of Environmental Quality annual recertification of financial assurance for permitted Harney County landfills. Grasty said the county is meeting current funding requirements;

• reviewed the Malheur National Forest Schedule of Proposed Actions for Spring 2014. Melissa Ward attended the meeting to answer questions;

• discussed the Warm Springs Hydroelectric Project. A public hearing will be held at the Harney County Community Center May 1 at 9 a.m.;

• will ask the planning department to put together an updated list of surplus tax foreclosed properties, so the court can review which parcels to put up for public auction;

• received an email from Gordon Foster, Oregon Department of Forestry rangeland fire protection coordinator, regarding the Rangeland Fire Protection Summit to be held May 28-29 in Burns.

The next regularly-scheduled meeting of the county court will be held Wednesday, May 7, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the courthouse.



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