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March 4, 2015

Pursuant to notice made to the newspaper of general circulation throughout Grant County, the radio station, county website, and e-mail distribution list, a special meeting of the County Court was held in the Circuit Courtroom at the County Courthouse in Canyon City OR.

The meeting was called to order at 2:00 pm. Present were Judge Scott W. Myers, Commissioners Chris B. Labhart and Boyd Britton, Secretary Mary Ferrioli, Assessor Lane Burton and the following individuals: News Reporter Scotta Callister, Mary Ellen Brooks, Mary Burke, Brooks Smith, Larry Blasing, Zach Williams, King Williams, Joann Keerins, Ken Brooks, Cici Brooks, Ken Holliday, Jim Sproul, Mark Webb, Travis Medema, George Ponte, Rob Pentzer, Alec Oliver, Hal Smith, Sharon Livingston, Jeff Thomas, Ron Phillips, Jason Kehrberg, Rick Henslee, Kent Jisha, Allan Mullin, Pat Holliday, Amy Stiner, Hop McLeod, Melissa Brooks, Dan Cronin, Billie Moore, Brenda Percy, and Rob Stewart.

Oregon Department of Forestry District Forester George Ponte was scheduled to present information on Zone 1 lands within Grant County. He was accompanied by Central & Eastern Oregon Area Director Travis Medema and John Day Unit Forester Rob Pentzer. Medema provided an update on a number of changes at the executive level and about proposed legislation for the 2015 Session. He talked about significant challenges with the catastrophic losses incurred during the 2013 and 2014 fire seasons and this year’s snow-pack which presents a challenge for this fire season.

Copies of written materials and graphs including ORS Chapter 476 “Fire Protection and Control on Certain Lands Not Otherwise Protected,” History of Zone 1 Rates in Grant County (by signed agreement) 1944 – 2012, Zone 1 Rate & Inflation Comparison, Central Oregon District Protection Budget Rate Calculation Fiscal 2015, Zone 1 Assessment & Fire Costs, and Grazing & Zone 1 Acres by County in Central Oregon District were previously provided to the court. Ponte distributed additional copies to the audience. Ponte reviewed and explained the fire protection statutes, current 30 cents per acre rate, and previous rates mutually established by agreement between the county and ODF. Discussion took place about ODF’s (not specifically tracked) costs to perform work on unprotected lands, and its valued relationship with the county and landowners of classified forest lands and Zone I lands. Ponte explained how increased costs to fight fire are estimated and projected over the district for grazing and Zone 1 lands in Grant County. He noted the 30 cent per acre rate has not increased for 14 years, so he would be requesting an increased rate next fiscal year.

Ponte and Medema answered a number of questions posed by some attendees related to how costs for fire protection outside the county are made up. It was reported that rates are assessed on timber land and grazing land, but not on Zone 1 lands. The department also talked about surcharge collection for fire protection on unprotected lands with structures.

Ken Holliday and Sharon Livingston pressed ODF for clarification about what they do not understand. Both were of the opinion that assessments collected on Zone 1 lands should remain in the county for fire protection only in Grant County. It was noted both the timber and grazing rates are the same for all 12 counties in the Central Oregon district. Ponte indicated that he was willing to look at and discuss other forms of fire protection. Other discussion took place about how ODF’s insurance works and the tiered structure of costs that exceed the deductible for their Lloyd’s of London insurance policy, and a request from the Emergency Board for additional General Fund dollars to cover the additional amount. ODF explained cooperative agreements for mutual aid the department has with other agencies allowing ODF to work across boundaries and property lines to fight fire.

Mark Webb sought clarification about ORS 476.310 and its application to Zone 1 and Zone 2 (rural lands not included in Zone 1). ODF planned to do more research and provide information on Zone 2 in the future. Ponte talked about improvements the department is continuing to make to address equipment and response time that can reduce the impact of fire. Ponte proposed implementing an increase to 35 cents per acre as a bottom line.

Ken Brooks expressed frustration with the Grouse Mountain fire in which a couple of hot spots were unattended, blew up, and went all the way to John Day. Jeff Thomas, of Kimberly, expressed frustration about his past experience with fire on land adjacent to his that was not properly attacked and allowed to get out of control. ODF and the county were urged to take control of this problem and formulate a new approach to assessing fire protection rates.

3:10 am -- DA Jim Carpenter entered

Labhart asked for and received information from Ponte about citizens’ (and local) involvement with ODF’s Budget Committee. Some discussion took place about activities of and county representation on the Eastern Oregon Fire Protective Association. It was noted there is no longer an active Forest Land Classification Committee in Grant County; however, ODF is now going through the forest land classification process with Crook and Deschutes counties.

Assessor Lane Burton confirmed ODF’s method to arrive at a rate for grazing in the Central Oregon District then deduct Zone 1 monies at the rate that would produce. So, everyone in the district who has grazing land benefits from Zone 1 monies in Grant County.

Local landowner/ contractor Mark Webb had requested time today to discuss assessment of fire protection rates on Zone 1 lands. Webb, along with local ranchers Allan Mullin and Ken Holliday, previously provided a letter to the court encouraging engagement with ODF to develop a fire protection plan for Zone 1 lands that compliments the efforts of others agencies and landowners to create healthy landscapes that reduce the chance of costly, catastrophic wildfires that neither landowners nor ODF want to experience or fight. Webb acknowledged the 1969 and 1982 amendments to the 1944 MOA between the county and ODF. He didn’t think that would change his proposal much, since the form for fire protection was still supposed to be a joint effort. Concerning the original 5 cents per acre rate, Ponte noted that 1981 legislation removed the 5 cent per acre limitation on the annual pro-rata assessment. Webb said he was unclear about what constitutes Zone 1 lands and wanted to know if the 1981 statute altered the conditions governing how Zone 1 lands are handled. He pointed out that new approaches are being addressed at the federal level; he wanted to see the state do the same thing. He urged the court to be proactive and work with ODF and landowners to develop a new form for fire protection that controls firefighting costs and changes the conditions under which fires burn. Webb stressed the importance of accountability on the part of the department and asked the county to leverage the language contained in the current agreement and the statutes. He also pointed out a number of inefficiencies related to the cost of fighting the Grouse Mountain fire.

Travis Medemna expressed the department’s commitment to work with the county and the landowners to seek alternative solutions to the form, practice and cost of fire protection. Local ranchers continued to express frustration with budget management and accountability by ODF. Britton felt the county has a big advantage now in going forward, to sit down with ODF and discuss how we can be more proactive about how fire fighting is conducted in the county. Mary Burke supported and encouraged undertaking the opportunity to have broad conversations between the county and the state around land management and fire suppression. Jeff Thomas wondered if the county had the power to direct how fire fighting is done throughout the county. Britton felt the court had the power to work with ODF and ranchers to make decisions on a more proactive approach. Thomas suggested the county look at forming a rural fire district for the purpose of fighting fire on our own. Travis Medema reviewed and explained the Wildfire Protection Act and how it benefits eastern Oregon lands.

General discussion on these issues continued among the attendees and representatives of ODF. Some other discussion took place about emergency management related to fire fighting. Labhart would like to see Rob Pentzer use his fire crew to conduct “fire school” (i.e. back-burning) on private lands.

Pat Holliday voiced her opposition to increasing the Zone 1 assessed rate for fire protection.

Myers summarized the meeting with an acknowledgment there’s a clear need for change and the county is open to working the ODF around these issues. Britton asked Ponte what he would have the county do to assist the department in its mission. ODF suggested the County Court could assist in locating landowners who could work on addressing Zone 1 suppression strategies. Webb believes ODF needs to assume the leadership role in these matters. It was generally agreed that the county and ODF could get together with landowners Webb, Holliday and Mullins to begin discussions around these issues that would lead to a new mutual agreement outlining a process that works for all parties. It was agreed that Britton would be the county’s contract for those discussions.

4:30 am -- Adjourned

Respectfully Submitted,

Mary R. Ferrioli

County Court Secretary

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