Court continues biomass cooperative discussion
by Samantha White
A public hearing was held during the regularly-scheduled meeting of the Harney County Court (held April 15) to review Nick Schott’s request for a flood plain development variance to construct an aircraft hangar at the Burns Municipal Airport.
Schott said he operates a crop dusting business and needs a place to store his airplane. He’s been renting an existing hangar at the airport, but the person who he rented from is expanding his business and no longer has room.
James and Wanda Goggin, who live next-door to the proposed site, attended the hearing to express their support for the hangar.
“I’ve got three words: Go for it,” J. Goggin said.
Harney County Judge Steve Grasty said a variance would be required to build the hangar because the proposed site is in the flood plain.
Current flood plain designations were established in the 1980s to give people the opportunity to obtain flood insurance. However, the court has been working to convince the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to change the designations, as they were not based in science and no base flood elevation (BFE) was established. Schott’s proposed building site is considered one foot below the BFE, even though this elevation has not been determined.
Grasty said a lidar flight was conducted to identify the location of the true flood plain.
He then warned Schott that he’ll have trouble selling the hangar if it remains in the flood plain after the re-mapping. Schott said he understood.
Next, Schott and the court engaged in a conversation concerning some of the flood proofing that will be required for the hangar.
Grasty then stated that the conditions for granting the variance were easily met.
“To me this is a no-brainer,” Grasty said. “But I want you protected.”
He added that the court would be granting something that FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program said it should rarely do.
But Airport Manager Jeff Cotton said others have expressed interest in building hangars at the airport.
This includes Keaton Molt, who attended the hearing to learn more about the process.
Grasty reiterated that the court is trying to get the flood plain re-mapped.
Harney County Commissioner Dan Nichols added, “We hope to alleviate the problems so we can make the airport serve the public and be an economic benefit.”
The court agreed to approve the variance for Schott.
During the public comment period, Mary Ausmus addressed the court concerning the High Desert Biomass Cooperative
(HDBC), which will supply thermal heat energy to the Harney County Courthouse and Slater Elementary School.
Ausmus expressed concern about taxation, but Grasty assured her that the cooperative will only consist of voluntary participants. He added that, as of now, the cooperative is only made up of the court and Harney County School District (HCSD) No. 3, but others can choose to join later on.
Grasty explained that the courthouse needs to pay for a new heating system, and the school system needs to fund some necessary upgrades.
“This model is about finding a different way to finance it,” he said.
Ausmus also expressed concern regarding the job description for the HDBC project manager and asked whether the project manager would be picking his/her own board.
Grasty said he/she will not. He explained that the board will be formed to give direction to the project manager, and it will likely consist of a member from the court, school district, and possibly Symmetry Care (which has expressed interest in joining the cooperative), as well as members of the public.
“We want to have people who are a little bit cynical to ask the right questions,” he said.
Grasty added that an intensive amount of time will need to be put into the cooperative in the next 60 to 90 days in order to move ahead.
Later in the meeting, Grasty announced that the court would meet with HCSD No. 3 Board Chair Lori Cheek the following day (April 16) to continue the discussion.
At that time, Cheek announced that interviews for the project manager would be held April 17, and she and the court discussed how the position will be paid.
The court and Cheek then engaged in a lengthy conversation concerning the cooperative’s finances.
An additional meeting to discuss, and possibly take action on, the HDBC will be held Wednesday, April 22 at 9:30 a.m. in Grasty’s office at the courthouse.
AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer Charlie Ewing attended the meeting to announce that his last day will be April 24.
Grasty said Ewing was instrumental in assisting with projects at the Harney County Health Department, including preparing for the triennial review, continuing and coordinating well water sampling, and updating the department’s technology.
“Those things wouldn’t have happened without you,” Grasty said. “Charlie, thanks so much.”
Candace Carpenter attended to discuss her application to purchase county-owned land.
During the previous county court meeting (held April 1), Grasty expressed concerns regarding the property’s location, relationship to low-density sage grouse habitat, and other land use implications, and he recommended that the court elect not to sell it. The court agreed to deny Carpenter’s application and refund the fee.
During the April 15 meeting, Carpenter explained that she planned to use the parcel to host a cattle drive for young adults who have disabilities.
Grasty said he saw some conflicts with this particular piece of property, but other parcels may be available.
Carpenter said she’d keep looking.
Nichols said Carpenter’s idea is admirable and suggested that she talk to ranchers regarding jobs that could be completed on their property.
Carpenter said that was a good idea.
In other business, the court:
• received an update from Grasty concerning sage grouse. Grasty said efforts to define “disturbance” are underway;
• agreed to sign an Order of Sale of County Owned Land for parcels identified as Assessors Account numbers 23559, 42587 and 59089.
The order directs the sheriff to sell the properties, which have already been approved for sale by the court;
• agreed to authorize Harney County Commissioner Pete Runnels to sign a personal services contract with Evelyn Neasham for clerical assistance with the Local Community Advisory Council (LCAC) on behalf of the court.
Runnels explained that LCAC funds come from the Eastern Oregon Coordinated Care Organization (EOCCO) and Greater Oregon Behavioral Health Inc. (GOBHI);
• acknowledged Gov. Kate Brown’s executive order determining a state of drought emergency in Harney County;
• received a letter from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concerning the lack of water that’s already being experienced in the 2015 irrigation season;
• received a copy of the timber sales that are being offered between April 1 and Sept. 30;
• briefly discussed the Rangeland Fire Protection Summit that will be held May 19-20 in Burns;
• reviewed the Schedule of Proposed Actions on the Malheur National Forest.
The next regularly-scheduled meeting of the county court will be held Wednesday, May 6, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the courthouse.