County road map hearing comes to a close
by Samantha White
During the regularly-scheduled meeting of the Harney County Court (held Oct. 15), Harney County Commissioner Pete Runnels provided an update concerning the Beatys Butte Working Group, which is an Oregon Consensus project.
“We’ve lost our whole focus,” Runnels said regarding the group.
According to the Oregon Consensus website, the group was created to explore “collaborative approaches to public land management and ecological preservation on the 500,000-acre Beatys Butte Common Allotment, located between Hart Mountain and Sheldon national wildlife refuges…”
The website states that the group was formed to address five key issues:
• the potential listing of the greater sage grouse as an endangered species;
• livestock grazing;
• wild horse habitat;
• energy development; and
• wilderness study areas.
However, Runnels said he received an email Friday, Oct. 10, which introduced a proposal to combine the refuges into a National Conservation Area (NCA).
Runnels said the NCA proposal steers away from the group’s purpose, which is to address the wild horses that are taking over the range.
Harney County Judge Steve Grasty said conservation groups have mentioned the goal of combining Hart Mountain, Sheldon and Malheur national wildlife refuges together.
“This is absolutely where this is trying to go,” Grasty said concerning the proposal.
“This is totally out of line,” Harney County Commissioner Dan Nichols said, adding that the suggestion is a “total realignment of the objectives that the process was called for in the first place.”
Nichols added that this consensus project, which is supported by the governor and funded with state dollars, was set up with a specific project in mind.
“This has nothing to do with the initial project,” Nichols said. “This is a runaway freight train here. I would go so far as to say we are not in favor of this, and it will cease and desist or we will push to have the whole thing disbanded.”
Runnels said he had a three-page list of private landowners who would be impacted by the proposal.
Ron Yockim, county counsel, joined the conversation via telephone. Yockim discussed the legal process for forming an NCA and said it’s up to the group to state that this proposal is not part of its agenda.
“I think we really need to take a hard line,” Grasty said. “This [proposal] is not an option.”
“I know we [the Harney County Court] don’t support it, and I will carry that message,” Runnels said, explaining that he planned to attend the Beatys Butte Working Group meeting that was held Oct. 16-17.
Grasty suggested that the court also contact the Oregon Consensus to discuss its concerns.
The court continued its conversation concerning a map of roads within Harney County.
Barbara Cannady presented a letter stating,“I am here today to oppose any resolution to adopt the present map of private and public roads in Harney County on the grounds that it is inherently flawed…”
She then listed 11 ways in which she found the map flawed.
In addition to her written comments, Cannady stated, “I support the idea of the map. I just wish that the flaws that I have discussed and presented, and solutions that I have suggested, would be discussed and possibly implemented.”
Additionally, Cannady advocated for the ability of landowners to control their own property, asserting that landowners added roads to other peoples’ property, but not their own.
“Landowners should be able to say, ‘I do or do not want my property on the map,’ ” Cannady said.
However, Geographical Information Systems Coordinator Bryce Mertz said landowners have added roads to their own property. He also explained that, in addition to information gathered from landowners, the map was generated from U.S. Geological Survey maps and information from the Commissioners Journal.
Barbara Kull said she concurred with Cannady regarding private property rights.
Nichols asked, “What about this changes private property?”
“There is a degree of paranoia here that is totally unfounded,” Nichols said. “[The map] does nothing to change the legality of access.”
Grasty agreed, stating “This in no way, shape or form ensures or shows access to or through private ground.”
He added that the community will use the map to defend access in future litigation.
“Folks are going to come after us to close roads in this county,” Grasty said, explaining that conservation groups want to close what they refer to as “obscure routes.”
He added that, as a public document, the map would be available upon request, but it will not be handed out as the map of Harney County.
Ron Whiting requested that two roads be removed from the map, and he provided information to Mertz regarding them.
However, Whiting said, “I think in the ultimate scheme of things, this [map] should prove to be good.”
Cannady asked whether changes to the map would be progressive or if the there would be a deadline.
Nichols said a deadline needed to be established or the process “could go on forever.”
However, he suggested that any discrepancies made by landowners be noted in the Commissioners Journal.
Mertz will generate a form for members of the public to fill out if they wish to make any changes or additions to the map. The map will not be changed, but the forms will be recorded and associated with the map.
The hearing was closed at 2:25 p.m.
The commissioners will review the map disclaimer and propose changes. All information concerning the map will be assembled into a package, and the court will consider formally accepting it during the next meeting.
Grasty reviewed a memo from Katherine Daniels of the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development regarding siting a medical marijuana dispensary on Harney County land (outside the city limits).
Grasty explained that, because of the comprehensive land use plan, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to site one in the county.
He also expressed some concern about a possible crossover from medical marijuana dispensaries to recreational dispensaries if Measure 91 passes.
“I really don’t think you’ll see the medical go to recreational,” Burns City Manager Kraig Cutsforth said, explaining that two separate agencies would regulate them.
Cutsforth added that the city of Burns is currently considering the possibility of marijuana taxation.
Grasty said the rules are “dramatically different” between the city and the county because of the comprehensive land use plan.
“We just don’t have the area,” he explained.
The court resumed its discussion concerning a lot that George Glerup of Geo Investments LLC offered to donate to the county.
A title search has been completed on the property, which is located on Fairview Avenue in Burns, and it is clear.
After viewing the property, Runnels made a motion to accept the donation. Nichols seconded the motion, and it carried unanimously.
The court will decide what to do with the lot at a later date.
Executive Director Jeni Stevens and board chair Alicia Goodson attended the meeting to discuss the Kids Club of Harney County and present the court with a personalized thank you card.
“Your support has really helped the kids,” Stevens said, explaining that the club now offers six out-of-school, full-time programs.
The club, which employs three full-time and 10 part-time employees, has programs at Slater Elementary, Hines Middle School and Burns High School. It also offers college scholarships.
Grasty asked the Kids Club staff to attend a budget board meeting in the spring to provide information about its programs and payroll costs.
Dick Day and Jim and Elia Shepherd attended the meeting to discuss the need for a new egress/regress point at the cemetery through the tree project, which was recently completed in memory of Joshua Shepherd. They explained that access in and out of the cemetery can be difficult when there is a lot of traffic.
The Cemetery Committee requested rock from Harney County to help build a road, which would be located immediately west of the cemetery’s north/south boundary. Day explained that the road, which would not be paved, would primarily be used in emergency situations.
Harney County Roads Supervisor Eric Drushella said this would be a good time to bring rock.
Cutsforth said the egress/regress is on city property, and he fully supports the road.
The court agreed to direct Drushella to deliver rock to the cemetery to help with the road.
In other business, the court:
• was addressed by Cannady who said she has photographs of the flood that occurred in the 1980s.
Grasty said the county is really hoping to find photographs from the 1952 event, as they might help convince the Federal Emergency Management Agency to shrink its boundaries;
• was addressed by Harney County Extension Agent Shana Withee regarding the Oregon State University (OSU) Extension Agency’s participation in The Great Oregon ShakeOut earthquake preparedness drill.
Withee also provided copies of the OSU Extension Service Certificate of Appropriation of Funds for the court to sign.
• discussed Section 8 housing vouchers.
Grasty said he was told that someone recommended that a family move to Harney County on the premise that vouchers are available here and this is an easy place to find a location.
“It’s fine to tell people to move here, but I find that inappropriate,” Grasty said.
Runnels said there has been a hold on vouchers up until the last 30 days. He said he will follow up on the issue during the next housing meeting;
• agreed to table discussion concerning Resolution 2014-12 in the matter of establishing coordination between Harney County and federal agencies and state agencies involved with federal agencies;
• learned from Grasty that a representative from the state of Oregon will attend the next county court meeting to discuss workforce district realignment;
• will hold a supplemental budget meeting Nov. 5;
• discussed the fire recovery efforts of the Burns and Vale districts of the Bureau of Land Management;
• upon recommendation from Drushella, accepted a $57,605 bid from Palmer Excavation Inc. for construction of the Emergency Bridge Replacement #25A57. Grasty abstained from voting due to a potential conflict of interest;
• discussed recent protests of water right applications with Yockim via teleconference. Yockim suggested that the court contact the five applicants whose applications are under protest from WaterWatch of Oregon to determine what their plans and thoughts are regarding these protests;
• reviewed a schedule of proposed actions for the Malheur National Forest;
• reviewed a Decision Notice for the Aquatic Restoration Project on the Malheur National Forest;
• was thanked by Whiting for donating funds for personal protective equipment for the Rangeland Fire Protection associations.
The next regularly-scheduled meeting of the county court will be held Wednesday, Nov. 5, at 10 a.m. in Judge Grasty’s office at the courthouse.