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Court revisits conversation about Juntura Cutoff project

During its regular meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 17, the Harney County Court resumed its discussion regarding contracts for the Juntura Cutoff Road construction project.

Harney County Judge Steve Grasty reported that a draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) is being prepared for EP Minerals, Harney County and Malheur County.

Grasty said the MOU, which was mostly prepared by Malheur County’s legal counsel, states that Malheur County will reimburse Harney County 50 percent of any repayment that would have to be made.

The court has expressed concern regarding a stipulation that would require Harney County to ensure that EP Minerals of Vale creates and maintains jobs.

“Again, why we are responsible in any way, shape, form or degree for job recruitment in another county is still beyond me,” Harney County Commissioner Dan Nichols said.

Scott Fairley of the governor’s office explained that Harney County was required to apply for the funding because the road is located within its boundaries.

Fairley said the original goal was to pay for the entire project through the Federal Lands Access Program. Unfortunately, however, only a third of the requested funding was awarded. Thus, other funding sources were sought to fill the gap, and all of the available state resources were tied to job creation.

Nichols said he appreciated all the effort that went into obtaining the funding, but he was unaware of the job creation requirement.

“Three meetings ago, learning that this county, and the residents of this county, were going to be responsible for job creation over there, it just rubbed me totally the wrong way,” he said.

“This is a story I want to tell to the legislature,” Grasty added. “I want to go over there and say, ‘Look, this worked, but it created an issue for our community and the government, and nobody thought through it.’”

Additionally, Grasty explained that there is a time crunch, as a pool of contractors is currently available to do the work, and it won’t be available in the coming months.

“That pool is not going to be available, and it’s going to drive costs up,” he said. “And so that’s the time frame we’re in.”

He added that the court will need to receive feedback from EP Minerals regarding the MOU, and he urged the commissioners to review it and provide comments.

A special meeting may be called to address the MOU.

•••

The court revisited an ongoing discussion regarding Eastern Oregon’s representation on the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC).

The LCDC is the seven-member volunteer citizen board that guides the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development.

In addition to adopting state land-use goals and implementing rules, LCDC assures local plan compliance with the goals, coordinates state and local planning, and manages the coastal zone program.

Melodi Molt composed a draft letter containing a list of recommendations for improving participation in LCDC land use decisions to Eastern Oregon counties. Molt is part of a local committee that’s advocating for more representation for Eastern Oregon on the LCDC.

The court discussed the letter with Barbara Cannady, Cheryl Smith, Louis Smith, and Joan Armstead.

It was determined that more time is needed to review the draft and garner input from other counties.

Harney County Commissioner Pete Runnels provided tips for improving some of the letter’s language, while Grasty and Nichols emphasized the importance of being prepared, keeping everyone informed, making sure the message is consistent, and gaining the necessary support. Grasty also suggested conferring with the Association of Oregon Counties.

The letter will be revised and reviewed with the court at a later date.

•••

Travis Williams attended the meeting to discuss a sign posted by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) near the middle fork of the Malheur River, just north of the Warm Springs Reservoir.

He explained that, among other things, the sign states that off-road use and overnight camping are prohibited, and visitors are being asked to respect private property and record what they’ve harvested. He said there is also a mailbox full of brochures, and an unspecified fee is being requested.

“There was no amount of fee, but they do have a raffle that you can win a rifle,” Williams said.

“What bothers me is, it seems to me they never come to the local authorities or local government about this,” Williams added, expressing concern that access to hunters is being limited.

Grasty said he spoke with Chip Dale of ODFW and learned that the goal is to determine the amount of recreational use in the area.

Grasty and Fairley expressed a need for better communication from ODFW when changes like this occur.

•••

The court held a work session to discuss:

• Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s recent visit to the courthouse;

• the Echanis wind energy project;

• Goal 5 meetings;

• the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) environmental assessment regarding the proposed withdrawal of approximately 10 million acres of public and National Forest System lands from location and entry under the United States mining laws; and

• the removal of Oregon Youth Authority youth from Eastern Oregon Academy.

•••

In other business, the court:

• received correspondence from the Vale District of the BLM regarding the removal of excess wild horses and the need to maintain the population within an appropriate management level in order to achieve a thriving natural ecological balance within the Cold Springs Herd Management Area;

• agreed to appoint Rob Frank and reappoint Vern Brown Sr. to full, four-year terms on the Harney County Planning Commission;

• received an update from Grasty regarding the boiler project, including trenching and installation of heating and cooling units;

• approved Resolution 2016-12 in the matter of appropriating funds due to unexpected occurrence or condition — Community Partner Program.

The county received a $100,000 grant to conduct community outreach activities to inform the local community about health coverage options.

“This is about getting people signed up on Oregon Health Plan,” Grasty said, adding that individuals who are required to receive mental health treatments upon release from jail will be included in this effort. “If they sign up on this, it’s partially paid for,” he explained.

The grant will be used to pay wages, materials, supplies, travel, training and administration costs for a temporary public health position.

“When the funding goes away, the job goes away,” Grasty explained;

• approved Resolution 2016-13 in the matter of appropriating funds due to unexpected occurrence or condition — Oregon Department of Transportation Biomass Street Program.

The county received a $171,000 grant to work with the city of Burns and the new High Desert Biomass Cooperative to repair city streets impacted by the installation of a district heating system;

• approved Resolution 2016-14 in the matter of appropriating funds due to unexpected occurrence or condition — historic cemetery grant.

The county received a $1,500 grant for fencing and restoration work at Suntex Cemetery near Riley;

• discussed Amendment No. 1 to Intergovernmental Agreement No. 544-15 Harney County Weed Control for Annual Grass Control;

• approved Resolution 2016-16 in the matter of appropriating funds due to unexpected occurrence or condition — weed control.

Due to 2015 and 2016 fires, ODFW increased funding to Harney County for annual grass control;

• approved the Road Naming Request Notification and associated Resolution 2016-15 for Meadow Acres Lane;

• reviewed water use requests;

• discussed 2016 general election ballot measures;

• received an update from Grasty on the county’s employee handbook;

• discussed funding for Harney County Search and Rescue.

Grasty explained that Search and Rescue recently participated in an “incredibly expensive search” and may need additional funding to get through the year.

Mitzi Defenbaugh noted that organizations such as the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) have been promoting recreation in the area, which could create a liability for Search and Rescue, the county, the cities, and private landowners;

• discussed ONDA’s Oregon Desert Trail proposal;

• discussed Lake County’s 2015 Oregon Payments in Lieu of Taxes report, the 911 dispatch budget, and U.S. Forest Service funding for noxious weed treatment;

• held an executive session Thursday, Aug. 18, at 1:30 p.m. to consult with legal counsel.

The next regular meeting of the Harney County Court will be held Wednesday, Sept. 7, at 10 a.m. at the courthouse.

Samantha White

Samantha White was born and raised in Harney County, and she graduated from Burns High School in 2005. After high school, she attended the University of Oregon where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in magazine journalism. White was hired as a reporter for the Burns Times-Herald in September 2012.

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