Council asks for cost of additional tank
by Randy Parks
Should the city of Burns expand the fuel storage capability at Burns Municipal Airport? That’s the question facing the Burns City council after hearing about the challenges that arose during the Buzzard Complex wildfire.
At the council meeting Wednesday, July 23, City Manager (CM) Kraig Cutsforth said the airport went through a “huge amount of fuel” during the days of the fire, and had fuel coming from as far away as Idaho Falls, Idaho, to keep up with the demand. The airport has a 9,000-gallon tank, and they were going through 4,000 to 4,500 gallons a day. Cutsforth pointed out that they need 24 hours to order fuel and that lead time helped to create a fuel shortage at the airport.
Airport Manager Jeff Cotton told the council that since July 7, the airport had gone through about 34,000 gallons of fuel and had run out four times. He added that if a state of emergency hadn’t been declared, they would have run out even more often. Cotton also said that a full truckload of fuel is 10,000 gallons, and because the airport can’t handle a full load, the cost of a partial load is sold at a higher rate and a load fee is tacked on. He said installing an additional tank at the airport would cost about $63,000, but it would pay for itself in about two years with the savings from paying a lower cost for the fuel and not having to pay the load fee.
“If we don’t have the fuel, they have to divert the planes to other airports and that takes time — time that could have been spent fighting fire,” Cotton said.
Councilor Terri Presley noted the airport has a deficit now, and asked how much money was brought in from the fires?
Cutsforth answered the airport took in about $24,000 from the fire suppression efforts and another $9,000 on a lease agreement with the BLM. He added that the airport deficit in the budget is from the fire suppression system being installed and not from the operation of the airport.
Presley said she sees the need for more fuel storage at the airport, but has reservations about purchasing an additional tank. “My concern is fire season doesn’t happen very often. There’s the cost of the tank, and how do we recoup the cost?” she asked. “Right now, we have a deficit and we don’t know if we’ll have another fire.”
Cotton stated that the airport ran out of fuel three times last year, and was close to running out at the time of the Shooting Range fire, which was burning close to town.
The council asked Cotton to provide figures of fuel sales from the past five years or so, as well as an up-to-date estimated cost of installing a new tank, and they would revisit the issue at a later meeting.
CM Cutsforth reported he had met with Perrilyn Wells, safety officer for Harney District Hospital (HDH), regarding placing flashing lights on North Egan to warn individuals when a medical helicopter was landing at the helipad across from the hospital.
Because the city doesn’t have funds available to install flashing lights, it was suggested that portable detour signs could be put out, and the council could give their consent to allow the hospital to place the signs.
Cutsforth provided the council with a map of the proposed detours and the affected streets.
Mayor Craig LaFollette said the plan looked problematic, partly because of the area it would include, and asked who would be responsible for putting the signs out and bringing them back in?
It was suggested that the council meet with representatives of HDH to see if they come up with a solution, and the council agreed.
Newt Skunkcap of the Burns Police Department told the council he had spoken with the individual that has been riding an unlicensed scooter around town. He said the scooter is an electric-powered toy, and the operator was advised that it was not supposed to be used as a vehicle on city streets.
Skunkcap said the Burns and Hines police departments spoke with the parents of the individual using a golf cart to sell ice cream in the community and explained the hazards of doing so. “That will pretty much be going away,” Skunkcap said.
During the citizens concerns portion of the meeting, Steve Ruzicka, who drives for the Dial-A-Ride program, stated he was encouraged by the police department’s efforts, and the steps taken to make the streets safer.
He then addressed the mayor and city manager, and said that the council had previously denied a request to operate ATVs on city streets. Then recently, a report came in that someone was operating an ATV on Broadway Avenue, and it turned out to be a city employee spraying weeds. He suggested that there are other methods that can be used to spray for weeds.
Ruzicka told the council bicycles were a hazard in the city because of the way they’re being operated. “Is it because they’re careless? A lack of knowledge? Or just disregard for the law?” Ruzicka asked.
He then listed the bicycle accidents, one of which resulted in a fatality, in the past year. He noted that a number of youth are not wearing helmets, even though they are required to do so if under the age of 16. Ruzicka said it is the parent’s responsibility to make sure their children are wearing helmets, and he suggested putting public service announcements on the radio and an ad in the newspaper to raise awareness.
In other business:
• Fire Chief Scott Williamson said the city was fortunate to not have any big fires nearby when the extra resources were out of town on the Buzzard Complex. He also reported that work on the fire line above Burns and Hines had been completed;
• Veterans Service Officer Guy McKay told the council he was planning to hold a Veterans Stand Down during the fair in September and asked the council for a donation to help bring a mobile dental unit to the event. The council approved a $50 donation;
• the council passed Resolution 14-586, regarding making the final payment on the city’s street sweeper.
The next council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 13, at city hall.