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Cawlfield briefs court concerning modernization of public health

Public Health Director Jolene Cawlfield attended the Nov. 1 regular meeting of the Harney County Court to provide an overview of public health modernization.

Adopted by the Oregon Legislature in 2015, public health modernization is a framework for the state and local public health system that aims to address Oregon’s health problems with a five-year roll out plan.

“It’s like a whole remake of the public health system,” Cawlfield said.

She explained that, historically, public health focused on providing immunizations; testing water quality; providing environmental health protections; addressing communicable disease; and inspecting local restaurants, hotels, and vendors.

“Now we need to move beyond that and try and help prevent the chronic disease entity of health,” she said.

She explained that, on a state and national level, most health problems are related to people drinking too many sweetened beverages, spending too much screen time, using tobacco, and not getting enough exercise. Through the modernization initiative, public health departments will partner with other entities to address these social determinants of health.

Although $30 million was requested, Oregon Legislature allocated $5 million to begin implementing the initiative.

Cawlfield provided the court with copies of Oregon Health Authority’s $5 million plan, which will prioritize identifying, preventing, and controlling communicable disease.

Counties are being encouraged to form coalitions, which will be eligible to apply for up to $700,000 in grant funding. Harney County joined an Eastern Oregon coalition, which applied for one of the grants. The coalition would use grant funding to hire two full-time epidemiologists and a communicable disease worker who would be shared throughout the region.

“These people would be available to all of the counties and could help attack if there was a surge of need for epidemiology,” Cawlfield said, adding that, in addition to dealing with infectious disease, epidemiologists help counties pinpoint and address all of their major disease issues, including diabetes and cancer rates.

The overarching goal of the modernization initiative is to include “health in all policies,” at every level, which could include prenatal care, smoking cessation, removing junk food/sweetened beverages from vending machines, encouraging schools and business to offer healthy meals and snacks, teaching families how to cook, and ensuring food security.

“This is a huge project to tackle,” Cawlfield said. “We are in the very beginning stages of it.”

•••

Former Harney County Judge Steve Grasty noted that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) would be hosting a meeting on Nov. 7 to solicit comments and provide information regarding sage grouse land management issues.

Grasty encouraged the court to comment and suggested that the court:

• review the Harney Soil and Water Conservation District’s lawsuit and support the district’s positions whenever possible;

• demand that any new decisions be made state-by-state, instead of nationally;

• review all comments made during the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, which led up to the overturned decision, and consider resubmitting them;

• demand a coordinated effort between the court and BLM in which both parties discuss what the new decision will look like;

• ask for a comprehensive economic analysis; and

• request that the Association of Oregon Counties (AOC) take a supportive position.

Grasty added that he’d be happy to assist the court with this effort. Dispelling rumors that he’s a paid consultant to the court, he stressed that his assistance would be free of charge.

Harney County Commissioner Mark Owens replied that the court has been in communication with the BLM and plans to resubmit most of the comments that were put together by the previous county court.

•••

Grasty also expressed concern regarding the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) groundwater quality study that was discussed during the previous county court meeting (held Oct. 18).

“I am very concerned about that. This court asked emphatically of Water Resources [OWRD], when they restricted the water rights, if we were going to have state agencies pile on us, regulation on top of regulation, and we were emphatically told that wouldn’t happen. It now has,” Grasty said. “I hope that Judge Runnels might have a conversation with the two directors of DEQ and OWRD reminding them of the commitment I had in the past.”

“I mentioned that to them,” Harney County Judge Pete Runnels said. “This is kind of like the third thing going on with water now, and what people are going to perceive from that is scary.”

Grasty acknowledged that data collection is valuable, and clean water is important. However, he stated that the Harney County Public Health Department already analyzed arsenic in water wells at various locations throughout the county.

“That effort was voluntary, and a number of households took advantage of it. Additionally, that effort brought a focus for homeowners to check their water quality. At the insistence of this court, the effort was confidential, with the information only coming back to the homeowner,” he said.

However, Owens asserted that the arsenic tests were inconclusive.

He stated that he was also concerned that the water quality tests could result in additional regulation, but DEQ assured him that they wouldn’t.

“The only direction they could ever head in regulation is, if they find pesticides or fertilizer levels exceeding what the average is, they could put in a Groundwater Management Area, which they have three of them in the state,” Owens said. “I don’t have any fear that they’re going to find pesticides or fertilizers. Maybe that’s unfounded. But if they find any naturally occurring element — salts, boron, arsenic — there’s no regulation associated with that. There is a concern in the community that a lot of our domestic well users, as they have to drop, that they are getting poorer quality of water, so I believe it can be an asset in our water planning to a degree that they do now have a source to get their water tested.”

He added, “I believe for health standards, we need further testing.”

Grasty replied that similar arguments were made in favor of an air quality study, adding that the county is now nearing an air quality status that will limit economic development.

“It will stop any development from occurring, so I’m pretty dubious about where they go and what their commitments are,” he said. “It’s important for the public to know if there’s a problem, but it also will create one more challenge for economics here and trying to balance all of that, and they don’t have any money to help fix it.”

•••

Lori Bailey, Melissa Ward, and Christy Cheyne attended the meeting to discuss the Emigrant Creek Ranger District Danger Tree Removal Project.

Developed in cooperation with the Harney County Restoration Collaborative, the district-wide project proposes to remove identified danger trees near forest travel routes, campgrounds, and other improvements and structures.

Danger trees are defined as standing trees that present a hazard to people or improvements due to conditions such as, but not limited to, deterioration or physical damage to the root system, trunk, stem, or limbs and the direction or lean of the tree. These trees have an imminent or likely potential to fail, and they’re within reach of roads used by forest workers, areas where people congregate, or frequently traveled roads.

In addition to providing worker and public health and safety, the project aims to maximize the potential economic benefits of the trees, while reasonably protecting other resources.

Some danger trees would be removed commercially. However, danger trees in special management areas would be cut down and left on site, unless they would inhibit road maintenance activities.

The project is currently in the scoping phase of the NEPA process, meaning that public input is being sought. Comments can be submitted to Lori Bailey at 265 Hwy. 20 S. Hines, OR 97738. They can also be submitted verbally by calling 541-573-4300 or emailed to comments-pacificnorthwest-malheur-emigrantcreek@fs.fed.us. The deadline for submitting comments is Nov. 24.

Additional information regarding the Danger Tree Removal Project can be found online at www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=52029

•••

Greg Smith and Denise Rose of Harney County Economic Development (HCED) attended the meeting to provide an update.

Smith reported that HCED assisted a business with obtaining financing.

“It’s a main street building that’s going to be refurbished and remodeled and upgraded and brought into a position of expansion for another business,” Smith said. “We sat down, put everything together, and took it to the bank. It didn’t take more than like 45 seconds for the bank to say, ‘Thank you. We will take it from here.’ So we are pleased to share that with you.”

He added that HCED is working with two additional businesses that are in the financing stages. HCED is also meeting with an average of 12-19 businesses each month to assist with business plans, financing packages, and regulatory issues.

Smith also reported that HCED is “digging deep into research” and getting set up with office equipment, signs, business cards, marketing materials, name tags, and a reader board.

HCED staff has also been attending Community Response Team (CRT) meetings. The topic of the Nov. 1 CRT meeting was housing, and participants included community members, bankers, realtors, small business owners, and representatives from housing and community development. Smith said they put together an analysis to identify challenges and issues that need to be addressed.

HCED also hosted a class, which taught 10 entrepreneurs how to start a small business. HCED’s second class will teach cash flow management for small business owners.

HCED is also:

• coordinating with Treasure Valley Community College to provide advising assistance;

• building its social media presence;

• developing a new Web page and an economic development magazine;

• communicating regularly with realtors, bankers, and local business owners;

• considering legislative issues; and

• gathering information concerning infrastructure.

•••

In other business, the court:

• held a work session to discuss Senate Bill 432, which would allow counties with no population growth, and cities within those counties, to adopt exception to any statewide land use planning goal for certain purposes, with exceptions.

Planning directors from Harney, Baker, Malheur, and Gilliam counties agreed that the state’s land use laws have caused their counties to lose economic opportunities, and they advocated for more local decision making;

• continued its conversation concerning flooding in Harney County.

Vegetation removal and cleanup is ongoing.

The next meeting regarding flooding will be held Nov. 20, at 10 a.m. in Runnels’ office at the courthouse;

• reviewed water use requests;

• received correspondence from U.S. Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke who addressed the court’s concerns regarding the Blue Mountains Forest Plan Revision.

Tooke stated that, “U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service will continue to work closely with local governments and communities to incorporate local views and concerns in the revision and development of land management plans.”

He added that the court will have an opportunity to object when the proposed final plan is issued;

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

• discussed the American Leadership Forum, which was held Nov. 9-10 and will continue Nov. 16-17 in Burns.

The forum provides leadership training and opportunities, and local speakers will discuss collaboration and cooperation in and around Harney County;

• was addressed by Connie Kristensen regarding the condition of her neighbors’ properties.

The court will discuss the issue with the sheriff and county counsel and keep Kristensen updated on their progress;

• is attending the AOC conference Nov. 14-17 in Eugene.

Due to scheduling conflicts, the next meeting of the Harney County Court will be held Tuesday, Nov. 21, at 10 a.m. in 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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