Grant County Court July 24, 2019

Grant County Judge Scott Myers listens to discussion during the July 24 court meeting.

A county ordinance that would formally invoke coordination with state and federal agencies for natural resource planning drew equal numbers of supporters and opponents during the July 24 Grant County Court meeting.

Grant County Judge Scott Myers said he personally felt the county was working closer with the U.S. Forest Service than six months or 20 years ago. He wasn’t sure if the ordinance was needed or defensible in court.

New language

The draft ordinance cites state and federal laws and calls for preserving the customs, culture and economic stability of Grant County’s citizens. It also calls for protecting the environment and property rights.

“State and federal agencies developing plans, programs and projects which may affect private citizens who contribute to the economic stability of Grant County shall assure that serious consideration is given to protecting the environment without depriving county citizens of their economic stability and private property rights and way of life,” the ordinance states.

The ordinance identifies eight objectives, including:

• Significant consequences of proposed state or federal actions should be disclosed to decision makers and the public.

• Means to mitigate adverse impacts to the environment should be identified.

• Intergovernmental coordination and cooperation should be ensured.

• Conflict between county and state or federal personnel should be minimized.

To achieve these objectives, the county court will establish regulations and policies by which the county can coordinate with state and federal agencies. It will also establish a natural resources committee to advise the court.

Pros and cons

Mark Webb, a former Grant County judge and the executive director of the Blue Mountains Forest Partners collaborative group, emailed the county court the morning of the hearing to comment on the draft ordinance.

Webb had submitted a letter to the Eagle expressing concerns about how the new ordinance would conflict with county ordinances from 1995 and 2002. The letter ran in the Eagle the morning of the hearing.

“Scott, Jim, Sam: nice job on the ordinance,” Webb said in his email. “Thoughtful and well written, I believe it addresses the concerns I raise in my letter to the editor.”

Coordination will enable the county to be involved in agency planning early enough to have an impact, Myers said. In the past, the court has received information on Forest Service projects just weeks before the deadline for input, he said.

As an example, Myers said he was interested in talking to the Forest Service about elk security measures proposed in the Austin Project before the U.S. Forest Service talks to the state Fish and Wildlife Department.

Frances Preston said she disagreed with statements by members of the court that the county was already coordinating with the Forest Service. The Forest Service wads up and throws away county suggestions, she said. But under coordination, they would be obligated to follow county suggestions, she said.

Beth Spell said she previously spoke with the late County Judge Dennis Reynolds about his 2011 trip to Nevada to attend a seminar on coordination. People in favor of coordination think it will give them the power to dictate planning decisions to the federal agencies, she said. But that is legally and practically dubious. The court needs clear and concise reasons to persuade the public that the ordinance is necessary, she said.

Dan Becker said he supports the “mutual principles and practices for communication” proposed by the Eastern Oregon Counties Association but not the draft coordination ordinance, which he said was too “demanding.” He said he expected the county will be challenged in court.

Adele Cerny called the ordinance a regressive statement. She said Reynolds told her counties that adopted coordination ordinances would deplete their general funds defending themselves in court. The anti-federal government image could also negatively affect businesses considering a move to Grant County, she said.

A draft of the ordinance was first presented by Sam Palmer on July 10. The latest version will have a second hearing. It would be effective 90 days after approval.

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

Reporter

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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