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Court appoints Bobbi Jo Heany to fill treasurer vacancy, discusses Blue Mountains Forest Plan

During its regular meeting on May 17, the Harney County Court appointed Bobbi Jo Heany as Harney County Treasurer, effective July 1.

She will fulfill the remainder of the term vacated by Nellie Franklin who is retiring.

Heany will be sworn in as deputy treasurer from her start date through June 30.

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Steve Beverlin, forest supervisor for the Malheur National Forest, and Christy Cheyne, Emigrant Creek district ranger, attended the meeting to provide an update on the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision.

The Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision is an ongoing effort to revise the land and resource management plans (forest plans) for the Malheur, Umatilla, and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests, which are collectively referred to as the Blue Mountains National Forests. The plans will guide how the Forest Service manages approximately five million acres of public lands in Eastern Oregon and Washington.

Beverlin said there will be one Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that analyzes activities for all three forests, but the Malheur National Forest will have its own forest plan and decision.

According to the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision March newsletter, two new alternatives are being analyzed in the final EIS, and these alternatives are the result of “substantive public input as well as updated information provided by resource specialists.”

Beverlin explained that, when the draft EIS came out in 2014, “There wasn’t necessarily a lot of favorable comment on the forest plan revision.”

Thus, in 2015, re-engagement meetings were held to elicit additional input from the public.

Beverlin said the re-engagement feedback and formal comments were used to analyze two new alternatives, which he thinks better reflect what local communities wanted to see.

Harney County is an official cooperating agency with the forest plan revision, and the court will participate in an upcoming meeting.

The court also has standing to object during the 60-day period following the release of the draft decision. This will occur before the EIS becomes final.

Harney County Commissioner Patty Dorroh expressed concern about the court’s inability to comment on the two new alternatives prior to the objection period. However, Beverlin replied that the new alternatives were meant to address comments that have already been received, adding that they’re within the bounds of the previously-analyzed alternatives.

Harney County Commissioner Mark Owens stated that range conditions may have changed in the two or three years since the draft EIS was released, and Beverlin replied that the court could make this point during the objection period.

A lengthy discussion ensued regarding the forest plan revision process, grazing management guidelines, stewardship contracts and receipts, and timber sale receipts.

Additional information regarding the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision can be found online at fs.usda.gov/goto/BlueMountainsPlanRevision

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The court, Harney County Planning Director Brandon McMullen, Burns City Manager Dauna Wensenk, and Hines City Administrator Judy Erwin held a teleconference with representatives from the Oregon Division of Financial Regulation to discuss flood insurance options for Harney County, including self-insurance.

Discussion regarding this matter will continue.

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John Reponen and Holly Orr attended the meeting to discuss the Burns Bureau of Land Management (BLM) stewardship program.

Reponen explained that legislation was passed in 2003, which gave the BLM and Forest Service a 10-year authority to use stewardship contracting as a tool for forest and rangeland restoration.

“The key phrase is that it encourages the agencies to achieve land management goals for the national forests and the public lands that meet local and rural community needs,” Reponen said.

He added that the BLM and Forest Service were given permanent authority to use stewardship contracts in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Reponen explained that, prior to stewardship contracting, contractors would pay agencies to harvest timber, and agencies would pay contractors to complete thinning projects.

“Stewardship is actually kind of a blending a ledger sort of system,” he said. “So if I’ve got $50,000 worth of timber and I also want 500 acres pre-commercially thinned, you would pay me $50,000 for the timber, I would pay you $200,000 to thin it, so the tax payers get all this work done and only pay $150,000.”

He added that the intent of the contracts is to create local jobs and “get rid of trees that we don’t want in the first place.”

From 2005-2017, the Burns BLM has awarded six stewardship contracts to four different local contractors. About 2 million board feet of saw logs have been harvested from 1,767 acres of commercial thinning, and 3,791 acres of juniper/noncommercial thinning was completed.

“Essentially, the tax payers, in general, paid $795,000 to get this work done, and all of that went to local contractors,” Reponen said.

He added that future stewardship contracts are planned.

Dorroh asked whether there is any opposition to the stewardship contracts, and Reponen replied that conservation groups are generally in favor of them.

Dorroh also asked about the complexity of the process for obtaining the contracts. Orr replied that the process is electronic, which can be problematic for contractors who aren’t comfortable with computers. However, she added that there’s a group that assists small businesses with government contracting, and said she’ll provide more information to the court.

Gerard LaBrecque of Joseph’s Juniper Inc. shared some of his experiences with stewardship contracting, as well.

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In other business, the court:

• resumed its discussion concerning flooding in Harney County.

Owens and Harney County Judge Pete Runnels recapped a recent meeting with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA);

• resumed its discussion regarding economic development in Harney County.

The court participated in a meeting with officials from the cities of Burns and Hines to discuss a job description for the Harney County Economic Development director position. Dorroh will summarize input from the cities, residents, and local business owners  and present a draft to the court at a later date;

• approved and signed a Cooperative Assistance Agreement with Baker, Gilliam, Grant, Hood River, Malheur, Sherman, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa, Wasco, and Wheeler counties for sharing equipment and personnel in emergency situations;

• appointed John Thelen to fill the Concerned Citizen — At Large position on the Harney County Watershed Council.

Harney County Watershed Council Coordinator Karen Moon informed the court that the council still needs to fill the Sportsman’s Representative and Guano Sub-basin Landowner positions;

• reviewed water use requests;

• received a copy of the letter that Acting FEMA Administrator Robert J. Fenton sent to Gov. Kate Brown, which stated that Brown’s request for a major disaster declaration for the state of Oregon was denied.

Brown requested the declaration in response to the severe winter storms, snowstorms, flooding, landslides and mudslides that occurred Jan. 7-20.

“Based on our review of all of the information available, it has been determined that the damage from this event was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments,” Fenton wrote. “Accordingly, we have determined that supplemental federal assistance is not necessary;”

• received correspondence from the Malheur National Forest regarding the Vance Decks timber sale;

• received an invitation for Runnels to meet with the regional forester and forest supervisors to discuss the final stages of the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision process;

• received correspondence from the Oregon Water Resources Department regarding the groundwater level measurements that were scheduled to take place in the Harney Basin May 22-27;

• received correspondence from the Vale BLM regarding proposed habitat restoration and fuels management treatments north of Beulah Reservoir and south of Highway 26;

• held a public hearing in Fields May 18;

• will hold a budget hearing Wednesday, May 31, from 1-4 p.m. at the courthouse;

• will hold a public hearing in Riley Wednesday, June 14, from 5:30-7 p.m.;

• will hold a public hearing in Diamond Tuesday, June 20, from 5:30-7 p.m.

The next regular meeting of the Harney County Court will be held Wednesday, June 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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