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Judge Grasty, Commissioner Nichols reflect on accomplishments of court, community


The Harney County Court met for its regular meeting Dec. 21.

This being their final county court meeting, Harney County Judge Steve Grasty and Harney County Commissioner Dan Nichols reflected on the accomplishments of the court and Harney County community during their tenure.

Grasty, who has been county judge for the past 18 years, acknowledged the following accomplishments:

• county court meetings now start with the Pledge of Allegiance;

• the county reserves have more than doubled, and the county has never had a budget out of balance;

• the county obtained a new public health building;

• there have been constant updates to the courthouse;

• the Claire McGill Luce Western History Room was created at the Harney County Library;

• the grandstands at the Harney County Fairgrounds have been repaired, and the Memorial Building was upgraded;

• the court responded to a flooding incident;

• the Emergency Management Services program was restarted;

• support increased to the Harney County Library, public health, and Harney County Home Health & Hospice;

• mental health services were privatized;

• the Harney County Senior and Community Services Center was expanded;

• the cemetery at Suntex was upgraded;

• numerous road improvement projects were completed;

• a rock crusher was purchased;

• the Harney County Watershed Council was established;

• efforts concerning Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances got underway;

• the court maintained engagement with federal agencies;

• Grasty was involved throughout the entire Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision process; and

• sage grouse were not listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Nichols noted the following accomplishments:

• the passage of the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act of 2000;

• retainment of rural landfills;

• the resurfacing of ten miles of highway near Gap Ranch;

• the development of a process for landowners to regain mineral rights held by the county; and

• the development of the Frontier Early Learning Hub, which serves Grant and Harney counties.

Grasty and Nichols also highlighted the community’s success with collaborative efforts.

“I think we took collaboration further than any county,” Grasty said.

“We have made tremendous headway in the last 20 years,” Nichols added. “Those organizations and individuals that used to come to this county wanting to stop or prohibit some activity are now coming — they’re bringing their ideas, they’re bringing dollars, they’re providing staff in some situations — to help overcome the natural resource and landscape issues that we all encounter. It’s been a huge, huge asset developed from this community, and it has gained national attention.”

Referring to Nichols and Harney County Commissioner Pete Runnels, Grasty said, “I want to say how proud I am to have served with both you guys.”

Nichols said, “It’s been a privilege and an honor to represent this county.”

Grasty agreed, and Runnels called for a round of applause for Grasty and Nichols.


During the public comment period, Keith Baltzor addressed the court regarding reforming the Antiquities Act, Equal Access to Justice Act, and Endangered Species Act.

“With the way the election has gone, it looks to me like there is probably no better time to maybe get started on that,” he said. “I think we need to strike while the iron is hot and try to get some of these things changed [to] where they are common sense and a lot more livable. And that’s what I would ask the court to help with.”

Baltzor said he believes the acts were originally “meant to do the right thing,” but they have “morphed into something that is just ridiculous” over time. He explained that they’re being misused to the disadvantage of ranchers, farmers and agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service.

“I think that’s very astute,” Grasty said, adding that the court has made multiple requests to have those acts reviewed.

“Is it politically possible to do it now? Perhaps more so than it’s been,” Grasty said.

He suggested that the incoming court write three separate resolutions (one for each act), advocating for reform.


Harney County Treatment Court Judge Christie Timko attended the meeting to provide an update and discuss grant funding.

Harney County Treatment Court is a best-practice, evidence-based criminal court for felons who are convicted of crimes and have an addiction to drugs and alcohol that leads to criminal activity. Timko said the program essentially intervenes in every aspect of participants’ lives, offering extremely intensive treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.

“The end is that, when they graduate, they are in recovery, they are not living a life and crime, and [they] are actually contributing back to the community,” she said.

Timko also discussed Criminal Justice Commission and Bureau of Justice Assistance grants and asked for the court’s permission to move forward with submitting applications.

The court agreed to authorize Timko to pursue the grants.


The court continued its conversation concerning the boiler project.

Grasty presented and discussed a detailed checklist of tasks that have yet to be completed.

He also presented a $16,000 change order that would take the hot water to the jail and eliminate the boiler, which quit twice last year. Grasty asserted that the boiler will fail, and it will cost at least $16,000 to fix it.

After some additional discussion, the court agreed to authorize signing the change order.


In other business, the court:

• reviewed and discussed a list of matters that the incoming county court may want to address;

• was addressed by Paul Hyland during the public comment period.

Hyland reported that he met with Harney County Roads Supervisor Eric Drushella to discuss the location of an upcoming bridge project, stated that the turnout for John Barry Rose’s funeral was impressive, and thanked Grasty for his service;

• was addressed by Barbara Kull regarding the Harney Soil and Water Conservation District’s (SWCD’s) lawsuit concerning the sage grouse plan. Grasty suggested that Kull attend the upcoming SWCD board meeting;

• after a detailed discussion, agreed to accept the Harney County Employee Handbook, effective Jan. 1. Implementation meetings with department heads will occur shortly thereafter;

• reviewed an application made by Paul Davis of Tom J. Davis Livestock Inc. to document existing approaches off of East Steens Road.

After a great deal of discussion, the court asked Drushella to obtain additional information. The matter will be revisited during the next county court meeting;

• agreed to accept the public health fees, as presented;

• designated Runnels as the authorized board delegated signatory on eXPRS, which is the payment and recording system for the Frontier Early Learning Hub;

• discussed the need to complete a supplemental budget;

• will need to appoint someone to fill a vacancy on the Training and Employment Consortium (TEC) Board of Directors.

Grasty also reported that the TEC charter is being updated, and he suggested that the incoming county court invite the TEC director to come to a meeting to explain the changes;

• reviewed water use requests;

• was selected by the U.S. Census Bureau to participate in the 2016 Annual Survey of Local Government Finances;

• received correspondence from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) regarding the heating oil underground storage tank assessment and/or cleanup that was conducted at the courthouse. Eastern Oregon Environmental Recovery LLC was licensed to provide heating oil tank services and has certified that the cleanup met DEQ requirements. DEQ registered the report and certification and closed the file on the project;

• received the 2015 DEQ Material Recovery and Waste Generation Summary for the county’s watershed;

• received a Notice of Proposed Decision from the Burns District of the BLM to implement the Upton Mountain Allotment Management Plan.

The next regular meeting of the Harney County Court will be held Wednesday, Jan. 4, 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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