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Harney County Court discusses Rainbow Gathering

During its regular meeting on June 21, the Harney County Court discussed The Rainbow Family of Living Light’s decision to hold its 2017 annual Rainbow Gathering on the Malheur National Forest near John Day and Seneca.

According to a press release issued by the U.S. Forest Service, the gathering could draw anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 people from across the country.

The press release explains that the Rainbow Family is “a loose-knit group of people without leadership or organization who participate in a national gathering once a year.”

The event, which is held during the two-week period surrounding the Fourth of July holiday, has been taking place on different national forests since 1972.

“Any event of this size can have significant impacts on local communities, natural resources, traffic, and visitors,” the press release states.

Harney County Judge Pete Runnels advised community members to remain vigilant and keep their vehicles and belongings locked up. He added that panhandlers can be expected, and he asked for the community’s help in watching for suspicious activity.

“They’re known to like poke at packages of meat then hope for it to be thrown out so they can dumpster dive for it,” Runnels said.

He added that this year’s gathering could be larger than previous gatherings due to the solar eclipse that’s occurring in August.

“Quite a good amount of them are expected to hang around until the eclipse,” he said, adding that, “The main gathering is July 1-7.”

Runnels explained that The Rainbow Family holds both national and regional gatherings. He added that Harney County Emergency Manager H. Paul Gray recently attended a meeting where he learned that national gathering attendees are better at policing themselves and following rules and regulations.

“It remains to be seen just what the effect is on the county,” Runnels said. “Grant County is going to get hit harder than we are, for sure, but we’ll have a good share of them coming up.”

Harney County Commissioner Patty Dorroh recommended that community members secure their belongings and stock up on fuel and groceries.

Harney County Commissioner Mark Owens said, “Lock your vehicles. Don’t leave stuff in the back of your pickup. I’m not saying it’s the Rainbow people — just a certain amount of 30,000 people are going to want to take advantage of those who aren’t used to being taken advantage of. So just have some common sense when you come to town.”

Runnels noted that the Forest Service deploys an incident management team for the event.

“It’s something they know how to deal with and have dealt with,” he said.

Runnels also stated that the event location includes sites that are special to the Burns Paiute Tribe and said he hopes that will be addressed.

Regarding The Rainbow Family, Runnels concluded, “We have to welcome them and just hope for the best.”


The court continued its conversation concerning economic development.

Runnels reported that the Harney County Request for Proposal (RFP) for Economic Development Services 2017-2019 has been posted in multiple locations, including the county’s website at The RFP includes the scope of work for the Harney County Economic Development director position and is intended to recruit an individual or entity that can direct the county’s economic development.

Proposals are due July 7 at 5 p.m. Initial proposal review and screening will  take place July 12, and interviews will be scheduled for July 26. The court hopes to award the contract Aug. 2, with a start date of Aug. 14.

Dorroh is the point of contact for any questions regarding the RFP. She can be reached via phone at (541) 589-1898 or email at

Dorroh has been hosting focus groups to gather information. The previous meetings focused on agriculture and industry; main street business and tourism; and housing and infrastructure. The final meeting, which will explore small business and workforce issues, will be held June 29 at 5:30 p.m. in the courthouse meeting room.

Runnels said some of the information that’s gathered during the meetings could be incorporated into the strategic plan.


During the public comment period, Herb Vloedman commended and thanked the Harney County Road Department for its work on the nature trail.

Vloedman and the court also discussed placing bag dispensers and garbage cans at the beginning and end of the trail, which the public could use to clean up dog waste.

Runnels said the county would consider purchasing the dispensers, and the cities might be willing to assist with disposal.

Vloedman said he’ll research the dispensers and provide information to the county.


Vloedman also asked about the property that the county is considering donating to the Harney County Senior and Community Services Center. He expressed concern about the property being removed from the tax roll.

Runnels replied that the Senior Center’s limited liability company would pay taxes on the property.

The goal is to turn the house, which was foreclosed upon, into habitable rental property.

The court plans to consider Resolution 2017-09 in the matter of donating property to the Senior Center during its next meeting.


In other business, the court:

• resumed its discussion concerning flooding in Harney County.

A meeting is scheduled for June 28, and topics of discussion will include self-insurance, change in the flood zone, and conducting a feasibility study on levee certification;

• reviewed Tyler Kaady’s mineral rights application and the mineral evaluation that was completed by Tim K. Smith of TKS Consulting & Contract Geologic Services.

The court agreed to set a public hearing for transferring the mineral rights from the county to Kaady;

• reviewed water use requests;

• received correspondence from the Burns District of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regarding preparation of the Programmatic Aquatic Restoration Environmental Assessment, which will analyze the effects of implementing aquatic habitat restoration activities.

BLM Public Affairs Specialist Tara Thissell said there will be multiple opportunities to provide input, and Runnels said county counsel will comment so that the court has standing;

• completed its first round of public hearings in rural communities and will begin the second round this fall;

• learned from Marjorie Thelen that the Democratic Party of Oregon held its quarterly meeting in Harney County June 24-25.

Dorroh thanked Thelen for her role in bringing the meeting to Harney County.

“I just like to have people from other parts of the state come here, see what it takes to get here, [and] enjoy it,” Dorroh said;

• discussed the Skull 120 and Skull 60 Gravel Grinder Bike Races, which were held June 24 in Harney County.

Thissell explained that gravel grinding is an extreme sport that combines road and mountain biking. She added that the 120-mile and 60-mile races were intended to showcase cycling opportunities on public lands in Harney County and garner repeat visitors. She also noted that the races have attracted interest from corporate sponsors, and organizers hope to add an exposition/trade show next year;

• stated it’d be willing to write a letter to the state BLM director in support of increasing authority for local range conservationists;

• held a public hearing in the matter of adopting the budget for 2017-2018 and levying and categorizing taxes;

• approved Resolution 2017-07 in the matter of adopting the budget and making appropriation for 2017-2018;

• approved Resolution 2017-08 in the matter of imposing and categorizing 2017-2018 taxes in Harney County.

Due to the Fourth of July holiday, the next meeting of the Harney County Court has been rescheduled for Thursday, July 6, 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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