Court discusses sage grouse issues

by Samantha White 
Burns Times-Herald

Gretchen Jones, a volunteer with Harney County Save A Stray (HCSAS), attended the regular meeting of the Harney County Court (held May 7) to discuss the possibility of developing a sanctuary for  feral cats.

According to its website, HCSAS is a nonprofit organization that is “dedicated to re-homing pets in need and reducing pet overpopulation through the promotion of humane spay/neuter practices.”

Jones said HCSAS spayed/neutered about 70 cats two years ago and would like to hold a similar clinic again. Additionally, HCSAS would like to trap feral cats and relocate them to a sanctuary.  From there, the organization would work with a variety of shelters to get the cats adopted out.

Jones requested that the county lease a foreclosed property that HCSAS could fix up and convert into a sanctuary.

Harney County Judge Steve Grasty said he was “very much in support of doing this.” However, he added that the lease agreement would have to ensure that the sanctuary is well-maintained and that HCSAS would never turn responsibility over to the county.

“We better work through this so it’s a well-understood agreement and it comes with some assurances,” Grasty said.

Harney County Commissioner Pete Runnels said he believed the cats would be taken to other shelters if HCSAS were ever disbanded. He added that the organization has done a lot with little funding and has saved the sheriff and police departments a lot of time.

“It’s worth looking at,” Runnels said. “I think they [HCSAS] are willing to go through the steps.”

“There isn’t anything that would restrict us from coming up with a number that’s affordable,” Grasty said. “But we better come up with a way to keep the neighbors happy.”

Jones said the property that is currently being considered has vacant lots on both sides of it and one behind it.

Both Grasty and Harney County Commissioner Dan Nichols expressed concern that the feral cat problem will be ongoing.

Jones acknowledged that this is an ongoing problem and emphasized the importance of educating the public about the issue.

Grasty suggested that Jones work with the cities of Burns and Hines to identify areas where animals are being dumped and attempt to cite the people who are responsible.

Runnels agreed to work with HCSAS to develop a lease agreement.

•••

The court also resumed its discussion concerning sage grouse.

County Planning Director Brandon McMullen was present to discuss the Sage Grouse Conservation Partnership (SageCon) “framework model.”

According to its website, SageCon “coordinates federal, state and local efforts (current and projected) to address the multiple threats to sage grouse across the Eastern Oregon sagebrush landscape in anticipation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review of the bird’s ‘Warranted But Precluded’ status under the federal Endangered Species Act.”

McMullen explained that SageCon’s framework allows for a 3 percent cap of human-caused disturbance in proposed sage grouse habitat areas (polygons).

“I got so frustrated in that SageCon meeting that I had to walk out of the room,” Grasty said, explaining that he was previously told that this type of framework would not be used.

“This is just another regulation that doesn’t need to occur,” Nichols said, adding that, “Enough is enough!”

Nichols suggested that the counties take a stand, collectively agreeing not to take further action regarding any regulation with land use.

The court agreed to draft a resolution and present it to the Association of Oregon Counties.

•••

The court discussed an idea to implement a county-wide transient room tax (TRT).

A TRT is a tax imposed by a unit of local government on the sale, service or furnishing of transient (temporary) lodging.

The cities of Burns and Hines currently collect a TRT, and a percentage of the revenue is given to the  Harney County Chamber of Commerce for tourism promotion.

Grasty suggested appointing a committee to explore the possibility of a county-wide TRT, explaining that the idea was discussed at a recent Hines Common Council meeting.

Nichols said he opposed the idea of implementing the tax.

And, upon recommendation from Runnels, the court agreed to contact neighboring counties to determine whether they implement a county-wide TRT, before continuing to consider forming a committee.

•••

Travis Williams was present to discuss continued efforts to document existing roads in Harney County.

Williams has been working with local agricultural producers to document roads that have been used historically and that are currently being used for economic operation.

Grasty explained, “The purpose of this is just to say, ‘This is a road system within Harney County that we know about today.’ And maybe we can protect it.”

•••

Harney County Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Tom Sharp was present to provide an update.

Sharp reported that an Emergency Management Performance Grant was received, and it will be used toward the purchase of flame-retardant shirts for more than 100 Rangeland Fire Protection Association volunteers in Harney County.

This is a 50/50 matching grant, and the shirts must be purchased by June 30.

Sharp also reported that  the 50-kilowatt, automatic emergency generator has been successfully installed at the Harney County Public Health Department.

•••

The court reviewed a letter from the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) to Sally Jewell, secretary of the Department of the Interior, requesting that the department “take action to protect Steens Mountain.”

Specifically, ONDA requested that the department revokes its Dec. 28, 2011 Record of Decision and the associated Right-of-Way grants issued by the Bureau of Land Management for the Echanis Wind Energy Project that Columbia Energy Partners proposed for Steens Mountain.

The court also reviewed  the draft rebuttal letter from the court to Jewell.

The draft letter states that, “ONDA chose to not participate in the (required by Oregon law) local land use plan decision process…Given that this is a local land use issue, you should reject ONDA’s invitation to intervene in issues properly before the local comprehensive planning process.”

•••

In other business, the court:

• appointed Junior Hurd, Jon Reponen, Bill Wilber, Brendan Cain, Gary Knudsen, and Grasty to the Harney County Park Advisory Committee;

• adopted Resolution 2013-12, as amended. Under the amended resolution, the worker compensation insurance rate will be computed at an hourly rate for home health volunteers;

• discussed the administrative changes that were suggested in the Audit Management Letter from Oster Professional Group dated March 28. Grasty explained that the audit was from the 2012-2013 fiscal year. Since then, software has been updated, and entirely different systems are in place. Thus, most of the business processes have changed, and the suggestions have been incorporated. Grasty stressed that there were no findings in the audit, just administrative issues;

• met with Lisa Moody and other representatives from Treasure Valley Community College (TVCC) to discuss the out-of-district contract and billing for out-of-district services;

• approved an Intergovernmental Agreement between Harney and Grant counties. Grant County will continue to assume responsibility for Oregon Health Division licensing, inspection and enforcement programs relating to food service, tourist facility, swimming facility and drinking water;

• discussed Regional Economic Development Projects. Projects need to be submitted to the legislature by June 15;

• received a letter from a neighboring landowner concerning a dam that was recently constructed on the slough off of Newton Road. The court will continue to monitor the situation;

• learned from Williams that the 4-H / FFA Livestock Committee is preparing to reconstruct the bleachers near the show ring at the Harney County Fairgrounds.

Williams asked for funding assistance for permit fees.

Grasty said he will see what can be done.

The next regularly-scheduled meeting of the county court will be held Wednesday, May 21, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the courthouse.



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