County road map stirs discussion

Posted on June 11th in News

Efforts continue to document roads

by Samantha White
Burns Times-Herald

Discussion concerning the road inventory map continued during the regularly-scheduled meeting of the Harney County Court (held June 4).

During the May 7 meeting, Travis Williams provided an update concerning continued efforts to document existing roads within Harney County.

Williams explained that he’d been working with local agricultural producers to document roads that were historically and are currently being used for economic operation.

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

During the June 4 meeting, Grasty expressed frustration concerning some of the letters to the editor that were published in the Burns Times-Herald concerning the road inventory map.

For example, in a letter published May 21, Barbara Cannady wrote that, “Applied to private property, this map creates a record that would remove the ability of the landowners to change [road] use, and would have to be challenged/defended in future legal fights.” She added, “The effect is a tool whereby the county can callously seize lands for public use without compensation, or removal from tax levy.”

And, in a letter published June 4, William Neilson asserted that, “All those ranch and farm tracks you use on, across, or to your properties, currently just noted as dotted lines on BLM [Bureau of Land Management] maps, might soon become ‘Public Rights of Way,’ even if there isn’t, and never has been any public right of way over them.”

“Letters to the editor said this is an effort for the county to take roads,” Grasty said during the meeting. He added, “That was never the intention.”

Grasty emphasized that the intent of the map is not to address road ownership, but simply to identify that the roads exist.

“There are folks who think this becomes part of the county road system,” Grasty said. “It absolutely does not.”

Harney County Roads Supervisor Eric Drushella agreed, stating, “We are not adding roads to the roads department.”

Grasty said the road identification process could assist efforts to prevent road closures. He added that, recently, the court has been in the middle of a “serious debate” with the BLM and Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) in an effort to prevent road closures on Steens Mountain.

Grasty also stated that the map was completed at the request of Harney County citizens, adding that several local ranchers have encouraged him to continue with this effort.

Harney County Commissioner Dan Nichols suggested consulting with legal counsel to develop a new title for the map’s legend.

The court agreed that the legend should be carefully worded to address concerns that have been raised regarding personal property rights.

The court will schedule a hearing to further explain the purpose of the map, and Grasty said a copy of the map will be posted in the courthouse foyer.


The court also reviewed a request from Harney County Assessor Ted Tiller and District Attorney Tim Colahan concerning the cancellation of uncollectible personal property taxes in the amount of $1,348.19.

During the previous meeting (held May 21), Tiller explained that some of the uncollectible taxes are from mobile homes that were abandoned by their owners or the parties responsible for them.

And, in a letter written to the court, Tiller described the mobile homes as “unlivable.”

Uncollectible personal property taxes were also accrued by a commercial, portable coffee shop that was moved out of the county in 2011.

Harney County Commissioner Pete Runnels made a motion to sign a court order to cancel these uncollectible taxes. Nichols seconded the motion, and it carried unanimously.


The court also reviewed two applications for approaches from a county road.

Kenny Bentz applied for an approach two-and-a-half miles south of Buchanan on the west side of the Crane Buchanan Road.

Nichols moved to approve the approach. Runnels seconded the motion, and it carried unanimously.

The court also reviewed an application from DCR Hay Company LLC.

Drushella said the requested approach appears to be on an adjacent property, and he suggested that the court discuss the application with DCR Hay before approving it.


The court received an invitation to attend the Beatys Butte Working Group meeting and field trip June 5-6 in Lakeview.

According to the text of the invitation, the Beatys Butte Working Group was jointly sponsored by the Beatys Butte Grazing Association and ONDA to address various public land management issues on the 500,000-acre Beatys Butte Common Allotment (located between Hart Mountain and Sheldon National Wildlife Refuges).

“I think you need to be able to say more than, ‘It’s my opinion. I can’t speak for the court,” Grasty said to Runnels (who later attended the meeting on behalf of the court). “I think you [should] walk in and draw the line in the sand.”

Grasty suggested developing a position paper, expressing the court’s collective opinion concerning the issues that were to be discussed during the meeting.

The court reviewed a position paper that was drafted by Grasty and discussed talking points for the meeting.


In other business, the court:

• was addressed during the public comment period by Herb Vloedman who reported that the veterans’ recognition signs, which will be placed at the county line entries, are in the works.

Vloedman also posed a question concerning net job growth in relation to the economic development budget.

Grasty suggested that Vloedman bring that question up at the next Harney County Community Response Team meeting.

He said, “That’s a perfect place to ask that question;”

• was addressed by Susan Bush during the public comment period regarding water levels.

Bush expressed concern that water is becoming poisoned from being at lower levels.

Having no authority over wells, the court encouraged Bush to attend Harney County Watershed Council meetings, which are held the third Tuesday of every month at the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center;

• briefly discussed Meadowlands roads;

• was addressed during the public comment period by Barbara Kull concerning property rights;

• approved an Out-of-District Service Delivery Agreement contract with Treasure Valley Community College for 2013-2014;

• briefly discussed sage grouse.

Grasty said Harney County’s pushback convinced the state to start looking at sage grouse management county-by-county.

He added that Paul Henson, state supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, agreed with this strategy;

• reviewed an updated list of county-owned properties.

The court will set a date for public auction of some of these parcels;

• reviewed a purchase order from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality for rock hauled into the Frenchglen Landfill.

The court agreed to put the funds in the closure fund;

• reviewed the 2014-2015 Maintenance Assistance Program Allocation Certification Agreement with the State Marine Board.

The agreement provides for funding, which will be used to provide restrooms maintenance at several reservoirs in Harney County;

• agreed to write a letter of support for the Harney County Opportunity Team’s Arrowhead Plaza project;

• recessed at 11:44 a.m. and reconvened at 1:30 p.m. for a budget committee meeting.

There being no public comment on the proposed budget, budget committee member Terri Hellbusch moved to approve the 2014-2015 budget in the amount of $29,045,166.

Nichols seconded the motion, and it carried unanimously.

Runnels moved to levy the permanent tax rate of 4.5016.

Hellbusch seconded the motion, and it carried unanimously.

A hearing to adopt the 2014-2015 budget will be held June 18 at 1:30 p.m.

The next regularly-scheduled meeting of the county court will be held Wednesday, June 18, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the courthouse.

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