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Forest Service staff briefs court about Flat Vegetation Management Project

Due to the Fourth of July holiday, the regular meeting of the Harney County Court was rescheduled for Thursday, July 6.

Lori Bailey, Melissa Ward, and Travis Swaim of the U.S. Forest Service attended the meeting to brief the court about the Flat Vegetation Management Project.

The 47,635-acre project is located in Harney and Grant counties on the Emigrant Creek and Blue Mountain ranger districts of the Malheur National Forest. Project proposals were developed by the Emigrant Creek Ranger District, in cooperation with the Harney County Restoration Collaborative.

The purposes of the project are to:

• improve vegetation resilience and resistance to insects, disease, and wildfire;

• increase the diversity and structure of forest vegetation communities;

• improve meadow, aspen, riparian habitats, and overall watershed condition;

• enhance sagebrush steppe habitats and upland shrubs;

• promote low-severity fire on the landscape as a natural disturbance regime;

• reduce road-related impacts to the watershed (terrestrial and aquatic habitat as well as water quality); and

• capture the economic value of harvested timber.

The Preliminary Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Flat Vegetation Management Project can be viewed online at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=47364

The project is currently in the second comment period, which began on June 21 and will end July 21. Once comments are received, the Forest Service will address them and come out with a final EA and draft decision for objection.

Bailey said, “Only those people that have commented have the opportunity to object.”

Written comments concerning the project must be submitted to: Christy Cheyne, Emigrant Creek District Ranger, 265 Hwy. 20 South, Hines, OR 97738. Comments can also be hand delivered during business hours, faxed to 541-573-4398, or emailed to comments-pacificnorthwest-malheur-emigrantcreek@fs.fed.us.

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The court resumed its conversation concerning economic development in Harney County.

Harney County Judge Pete Runnels reported that the request for proposal for economic development services was due Friday, July 7. Screening will take place July 12.

Harney County Commissioner Patty Dorroh provided an overview of the focus groups that she hosted to gather knowledge, ideas, opinions, and thoughts regarding economic development within the community. Topics included agriculture, industry, main street business, tourism, housing, infrastructure, small business, and workforce issues.

She said, “All of this is to help us work toward a competitive assessment of ourselves, which will lead to a sound comprehensive strategy for economic development.”

Goals include working toward additional capacity in agriculture; capitalizing on the county’s natural resources and natural setting; and attracting appropriate industry and business to diversify the local economy and provide primary jobs.

Ideas for expanding agriculture included attracting a packing house and/or hay press and establishing a rangeland research and development hub in Harney County.

Regarding industry, the focus group discussed the need for businesses and services (such as plumbers, laundromats, appraisers, commercial inspectors, pest controllers, and landscapers) that would complement existing agriculture and industry. The group also discussed attracting large and small industries as well as proactive measures that the county and cities can take in terms of zoning issues and business incentives.

Discussion regarding main street included beautification and opportunities for new businesses.

Ideas for tourism included capitalizing on pass-through traffic and exploring arts, culture, heritage, outdoor recreation, agritourism, stargazing, and breweries.

Regarding housing, Dorroh said the consensus is that more decent-quality rentals need to be available.

She said water, sewer, and electric power infrastructures are currently adequate and would sustain increases in population, industry and business.

Regarding workforce issues, she said, “We’re hearing loud and clear that vocational training and education is lacking.”

Small businesses owners said they need help with training employees, managing personnel issues, and lowering overhead. One suggestion was to create a library of resources for businesses and employers.

Other topics included flood insurance issues, creating an investment fund for local businesses, historic building designations, developing a vision for the airport, and the need for a robust radio station, high-speed Internet services, and a temporary work agency.

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Runnels reported that a meeting was held June 28 to discuss flood issues in Harney County.

He said, “It was a pretty good meeting. We’re making some headway on a lot of different areas.”

Runnels added that he and Harney County Commissioner Mark Owens reached out to two different insurers regarding the possibility of establishing self-insurance. Runnels and Owens will keep the court updated regarding this matter.

Runnels also discussed a flood plain management planning tool, which could be used to get the community up to a 45 percent discount through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

He also reported that Business Oregon developed a new program that would fit the county’s request for a $50,000 grant to conduct a feasibility study for levee certification.

“We should be hearing back from that within the next week or so,” he said.

Owens noted that Ferguson Engineering will examine the flow of water through the bridge on Highway 20.

He also discussed the need for base flood elevations and expressed frustration regarding FEMA’s unwillingness to accept LIDAR data. FEMA won’t accept the data because there wasn’t a surveyor on the ground while the LIDAR was being flown.

Owens also stated that Ferguson Engineering examined drainage flow and believes it would be almost five to six times lower than FEMA’s calculations.

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In other business, the court:

• was addressed during the public comment period by Barbara Cannady who requested that the court invite Rep. Cliff Bentz to discuss economic development and legislative issues. Runnels said he’d contact Bentz’s office to schedule a visit;

• appointed Lynn M. Whitney to the Housing Authority of Malheur and Harney County Board;

• removed retired Harney County Treasurer Nellie Franklin from the signature card for the SELCO Credit Union account and added Runnels and current Harney County Treasurer Bobbi Jo Heany;

• reviewed water use requests;

• received correspondence from the Department of Environmental Quality regarding annual recertification of financial assurance for the county’s permitted solid waste landfills;

• received correspondence from Secretary of the Interior Ryan K. Zinke stating that Harney County is receiving a Payments in Lieu of Taxes payment of $1,102,628 for 2017.

The next regular meeting of the Harney County Court will be held Wednesday, July 19, at 10 a.m. in Judge Runnels’ office 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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