Court to continue accepting public comments
by Samantha White
The Harney County Court held its regularly-scheduled meeting July 16. During the meeting, the court held a public hearing to discuss a map of roads within the county.
Harney County Judge Steve Grasty explained that the map project was started at the request of the Harney County Stockgrowers Association.
The association’s president, Travis Williams, said the Stockgrowers brought the idea to the court more than two years ago.
Williams added that input was sought from as many of the county’s landowners as possible. The landowners were asked to add their roads to the map and explain how they are being used.
However, because of the size of the county, Williams admitted that some landowners were missed.
“We still have a lot of work to do with the south west part of the county,” he said. But he added that, “We’ve got to get this moving,” explaining that additions can be made to the map after it’s recognized.
Grasty said the purpose of the map is to affirm what roads exist within the county.
Harney County Commissioner Dan Nichols explained that identifying roads can help prevent wilderness designations, as these designations require 5,000-acre blocks of roadless areas.
Williams said groups like the Oregon Natural Desert Association are trying to lump together 5,000-acre areas, and putting roads on the map could curtail these efforts.
However, Barbara Kull said she recently attended a meeting regarding forest roads, during which some asserted that identifying roads could lead to their closure.
But Stacy Davies asserted that unmapped roads cannot be defended in the future.
Randell Drake, Oregon executive director of Pacific Northwest Four Wheel Drive Association, wrote a letter that advocated for motorized access to public lands and against wilderness designations.
Mike Weil, Gary Marshall, Scott Franklin and Paul Bradley said they support efforts to maintain access to public ground.
Marshall added that landowners should communicate with each other and be good neighbors. He said motorists are welcome to use his roads as long as they respect his property.
Franklin said private land owners need to “ante up” and prove they have the right to deny access to roads on their property. He added that practices, such as creating illegal fences that have to be removed at the expense of the taxpayers, need to stop “right here and now.”
Bradley suggested calling the map an inventory. He also suggested that a transportation plan be developed to coordinate access to public lands.
Amy Woodruff and Javier Goirigolzarri submitted letters in support of the map project.
But Susan Bush said the map is not very “friendly,” explaining that it doesn’t distinguish between public and private roads.
She said the map is also incomplete, and Meadowlands roads should be added to it.
However, Grasty said the court was advised by its legal counsel that ongoing issues concerning Meadowlands roads would have to be resolved by area landowners.
Bush also said that she thinks the court should take more time on the map project.
“I don’t think you guys should vote on this map right now,” she said, adding that more input is needed from taxpayers.
Eddie Brown agreed that more time should be taken. He added that some roads have been identified on other maps that have yet to be recognized on this one. He said those roads should be added, and work on the map should continue until it is complete.
Patrick and Rose Marie McPurdy requested in writing that their road be added to the map.
Martin Davies said he is OK with motorists finding a legal access to public land, but expressed concern regarding trespassing on his property.
Grasty provided copies of a draft disclaimer that could be included with the map to explain its purpose. He emphasized that the county is not claiming ownership of roads listed on the map, allowing access to or across any private ground, or taking responsibility for the maintenance of non-county roads.
But Barbara Cannady disagreed.
In a letter written to the court, Cannady stated that the map is “inherently flawed.”
She wrote, “There is no distinction between private and public lands. Such a blurring of the lines can lead to common regulation at the expense of landowners. I believe that this tactic is to create confusion…The effect is a tool whereby the county can callously seize lands for public use without compensation.”
Cannady added that:
• applied to private property, this map creates a record that would remove the ability of the landowner to change [road] use;
• the legal process for establishing roads is being ignored;
• the map shows utility easements that are not roads and never have been roads;
• the map shows roads that have already been vacated;
• members of the Stockgrowers Association identified roads on others’ property, while exempting their own;
• all landowners should have the right to opt out;
• the map should include Meadowlands residents who want their roads identified;
• lines [on the map] that are incorrectly identified need to be removed;
• right-of-ways granted by federal agencies should be considered;
• road identification should have a legal foundation; and
• roads should be labeled in order to identify who is responsible for maintaining them.
In her verbal testimony, Cannady added that the thought of a neighbor having more control over her property than she does makes her angry.
Grasty replied, in part, that, “This court’s effort is a result of a request from our community members, and for you to attempt to turn it into some personal agenda on my part, or any other member of this court, is simply wrong. I have strongly encouraged you to tell us what it is you want, and we would attempt to address it. I still have no idea what it is you would like, short of not completing the request of our residents.”
Nichols said members of the court thought they were doing the will of the people, and the court does not have a hidden agenda.
He added, “Quite frankly, all the concern and paranoia blows me away.”
Grasty reiterated that the purpose of the map was to take an inventory of county roads — not open, close, change access to, remove, gain, or take over any road.
He added that the court intentionally omitted road designations (state, county, forest, private, etc.) because it didn’t want to enter into a debate regarding their proper designations. However, he said the lack of labeling may have been a mistake.
Stacy Davies said, “This is a huge issue. “I applaud the effort on one hand, and I am concerned on the other.”
He said there are laws in place to protect access to private property, and he does not think it is the court’s agenda to change those laws.
He added, “We need these public land roads inventoried so we can fight to keep them open.”
However, he expressed concern regarding the map’s lack of clarification concerning road designations, and suggested developing a color-coding system.
He explained that, without this clarification, someone might assume that all of the map’s roads are paved or improved, which could impact the development cap that was proposed for sage grouse management.
Davies also suggested that the court take its time and explore all of the angles and implications.
Harney County Commissioner Pete Runnels said he liked the color-coding suggestion and doesn’t have a problem with taking more time.
Grasty said he likes the idea of keeping the map flexible, and the court doesn’t need to hurry the process. However, he said he’d regret the delay if access to public roads is lost.
After some additional discussion, the court agreed to continue accepting public comments concerning the map’s disclaimer, as well as requests to add or remove roads.
Discussion concerning the map will resume during the next regularly-scheduled meeting of the Harney County Court (to be held Aug. 6).
Harney County Economic Development (HCED) Director Randy Fulton attended the meeting to provide an update concerning economic development within the county.
Fulton reported that HCED assisted a variety of individuals and businesses with business development, as well as loan and grant applications.
He thanked the court, especially Nichols, for assisting with the establishment of a thriving juniper processing business. Fulton explained that the business grew from two to 10 employees in three years. And thanks to the Western Juniper Utilization Act, the number of employees is expected to more than double in the next five to seven years.
Fulton also reported that the Economic Development Strategic Plan was recently updated, adopted by the Community Response Team (CRT), and approved by various governing agencies in Harney County.
He added that the Harney County Enterprise Zone was recently re-designated, explaining that the designation is important for recruiting new businesses.
A destination resort is currently under construction in the Silvies Valley, located just 35 miles north of Burns. The project is scheduled for a “soft” opening in 2017 or 2018, and it is expected to create between 50 and 75 new jobs in the hospitality field for residents of Harney and Grant counties.
Fulton said HCED has been working with Pacific Natural Foods to open a meat-processing facility in the area for four years, and these efforts are ongoing.
He added that, with help from HCED, a local machine shop was able to hire three new employees in the past six months. This company could be an asset to the Pacific Natural Foods project.
Grasty and Fulton also discussed possible uses for the Eugene D. Timms and Jeannette K. Hamby Computer Archive Center.
Fulton invited anyone who is interested in the county’s economic development to attend CRT meetings, which are held the first Wednesday of every month from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Harney County Community Center.
In other business, the court:
• received an update from Grasty concerning sage grouse;
• discussed the Buzzard Complex fire with Bureau of Land Management Public Information Officer Tara Martinak, Sgt. Brian Needham of the Harney County Sheriff’s Office, and Harney County Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Tom Sharp;
• was addressed during the public comment period by Herb Vloedman concerning veterans’ recognition signs;
• reviewed Resolution 2014-08 in the matter of supporting the designation of a new Local Workforce Investment Area to include Harney, Malheur, Grant, Wallowa, Union, Baker, Umatilla and Morrow counties.
Nichols moved to adopt the motion, and Grasty seconded it. Runnels stated that, since there is really no other option, the court would agree to the concept under duress.
The motion carried unanimously;
• reviewed the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department County Parks Assistance Program Application, which allows the county to receive $10,008 toward the county park fund;
• recognized the Harney County 2014 Assessor’s Certified Ratio Study Acceptance and Recommendations;
• discussed the Blue Mountains Coalition of Collaboratives mid-year meeting, which will be held July 29-31 in John Day.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the county court will be held Wednesday, Aug. 6, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the courthouse.