The Grant County Court agreed Jan. 23 to look into “invoking coordination” with federal and state agencies as a way to protect community interests during planning for projects on public land.
Commissioner Sam Palmer brought the matter to the court after earlier providing research material and sample documents to Judge Scott Myers and Commissioner Jim Hamsher.
Palmer said invoking coordination would give the county “equal footing” during planning by government agencies and would allow the county to be involved from the very beginning of the planning process.
Palmer said he spoke with officials in Harney and Crook counties about how they dealt with coordination. He recommended creating a six-member committee representing various local interests to advise the court on invoking coordination.
Myers said he appreciated Palmer’s work. Myers said the current planning process forces the county to object to project proposals during the comment period rather than allow the county to participate in project planning.
Myers also noted that the idea of “invoking coordination” doesn’t need to be a “scary proposition.” He said it should be good for both the county and the government agencies, but Palmer’s proposal should be carefully scrutinized by an attorney familiar with natural resource issues.
Hamsher motioned to move forward with Palmer’s proposal. Myers seconded the motion, noting that this was something the county had not done in the past. Myers said he wasn’t sure how it would be done, but an ordinance or resolution was needed.
The packet that Palmer provided to Myers and Hamsher included a sample ordinance establishing a coordination policy for the county, a sample resolution establishing coordination between the county and federal agencies, a sample court agenda for a meeting between the court and the Forest Service and a sample letter from the court to the Forest Service invoking coordination.
Palmer told the Eagle he wrote the sample documents based on research he had conducted.
The sample ordinance lists eight objectives and provides several pages of actions that all state and federal plans, projects and programs that could affect land or natural resources in Grant County must take into account.
The county must be notified “of any proposed action prior to the initial planning phase of the proposed action,” the sample ordinance states. State and federal agencies must also “coordinate procedures with Grant County as equals” and “consider alternatives which would reconcile proposed action with the county’s laws, policies and plans and take all practical measures to resolve any conflict,” the sample ordinance states.
State and federal agencies must “comply with all laws, case law, statutes, regulations, rules and guidelines concerning protection of private property rights in Grant County,” the sample ordinance states.
To enforce this policy, the county court may request the district attorney to bring an action seeking criminal or civil penalties, the sample ordinance states. Anyone found to have deprived a person in Grant County of property rights secured by the sample ordinance “shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by not more than 30 days in jail, a $500 fine, or both,” the sample ordinance states.
The sample ordinance also calls for establishing an oversight committee to assure that the intent and purposes of the ordinance are maintained.
“The basic function of the committee shall be to monitor federal and state actions and advise the (court) regarding compliance by such agencies with this ordinance,” the sample ordinance states.
Palmer’s sample letter to the Forest Service invoking coordination states, “Notice must be given to the county of any intent to prepare a land and resource management plan, along with a general schedule of anticipated activities to the governing body of the county.”
A coordination meeting “must take place after public issues have been identified and it must take place before recommendation of a preferred alternative is made,” the sample letter states.
Following Palmer’s proposal at the Jan. 23 court meeting, Eva Harris raised several questions about invoking coordination. She said she didn’t believe Grant County could get “equal footing” under the National Forest Management Act, and the act did not refer to “invoking coordination.” She also said the county’s custom and culture resolution needs to be updated.
Myers responded by noting that her points needed to be addressed by county counsel, but the county needed to be involved in public land planning at an earlier stage. He also noted that the custom and culture resolution had not been challenged in court.
John Morris said coordination is included in the National Environmental Policy Act, which means that it applies to state as well as federal planning. Dave Traylor advised the court to confer with legal counsel to understand the true meaning of coordination instead of relying on personal interpretation.
Jim Sproul noted that, in order to invoke coordination, a county needs to have a natural resources plan in place. He proposed the court use the plan developed by a committee several years ago. He also suggested the court invite a representative from a county that had invoked coordination to speak at a public forum here.
Sheriff Glenn Palmer suggested that the six-member committee proposed by Commissioner Palmer include residents dependent on natural resources and not just elected officials.