Year 2002 erupts in tragedy, rebounds with generosity, Part II

Domestically raised elk at the Rudio Creek Ranch were served a death sentence when a single cow elk tested positive for tuberculosis. The herd was destroyed per a state depopulation plan to contain the TB.

Editor's note: Following is the second quarter of the Blue Mountain Eagle's annual retrospective. The second half of a look at 2002 will appear next week.

APRIL

• The Grant County Justice Facility, which has gone 46 days with sheets of plywood fastened over a damaged main entryway, is scheduled to open to the public with a new set of doors by next week. Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer said the glass-door frames were picked up from the factory and are scheduled for installation by local contractors. The sheriff said a replacement sallyport door also is on order. Both doors suffered extensive damage when fugitive Almeron Hinton drove a pickup truck into the two entryways just before his apprehension by police on Feb. 23. The damage will cost the county at least $5,000 (the amount of the county's insurance deductible). Another $6,828 from the insurance company, Northland Insurance, will help pay for the replacement doors, according to county officials.

• A group called the Oregon Wilderness Coalition is spearheading an ambitious wilderness proposal that would encompass 1.84 million acres on nine sites in northeastern Oregon. The Oregon Natural Resources Council, a Portland-based environmental group, and a coalition of 130 environmental groups want more than 400,000 acres of federal land in Oregon designated as wilderness this year. Ultimately, the Oregon Wilderness Coalition seeks wilderness designation for 4.8 million acres of Oregon land.

Sites proposed for wilderness designation in eastern and northeastern Oregon include the Hells Canyon Wilderness, 323,000 acres; South Fork John Day Wilderness, 137,000 acres; North Fork John Day-Elkhorns Wilderness (including the Elkhorns and Greenhorn Mountains), 287,000 acres; Malheur Basin Wilderness (including Myrtle-Silvies and Silver Creek), 143,000 acres; Malheur Canyons Wilderness (including Malheur River Canyon and Pine Creek), 168,000 acres; Blue Mountains Wilderness (including Hellhole and Walla Walla River), 267,000 acres; Upper John Day Wilderness (including McClellan Mountain and Baldy Mountain), 106,000 acres; Grande Ronde Wilderness (including the La Grande City Watershed and Mount Emily), 236,000 acres; and Wallowa Mountains Wilderness (including Lake Fork and North Fork Catherine Creek), 175,000 acres. Included in the plan (available at the Web site: www.oregonwild.org) is a proposal to designate 30,000 acres at Sutton Mountain in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Prineville district and 36,219 acres at Murderer's Creek in the Malheur National Forest as wilderness. Twenty-eight new wilderness areas would emerge on 18.5 million acres of Forest Service- and BLM-managed land, the coalition reported.

• The City of Dayville and its Volunteer Fire Department got a new set of wheels as a Type I fire engine rolled into town. The 1975 rig has less then 28,000 miles on it and will replace the 1960 Roney formerly used by the department. The department's other three fire rigs have over 100,000 miles on them - one up to 150,000. The 1953 pumper, which is the only truck the city bought new, is now mainly used for parades.

MAY

• School resource officer Todd McKinley has become a familiar face at Grant Union High School and also has received commendations for his work as a Grant County Sheriff's Department deputy. Sheriff Glenn Palmer requested an audit of the school resource officer grant by the federal government to make sure McKinley can wear both hats. On Nov. 30, the U.S. Department of Justice ends its three-year, $109,182 contribution toward the position of a school resource officer in Grant County. Grant County must maintain the position a fourth year or pay back the grant. Before the COPS in School grant expires, however, Palmer said he wants to make sure he has complied with the grant specifications. "I don't want to end up putting the county in liability," Palmer explained.

• A new Bridge Creek spillway and fish ladder have earned recognition from two industry associations. The Bates Pond Spillway and Fish Ladder Restoration Project, constructed during the winter of 2000-2001, won an award from the Oregon Concrete and Aggregate Producers Association and American Concrete Institute, Oregon chapters. The project was selected as first runner-up in the Non-Bridge Structure Excellence in Concrete category for 2000-2001. In April 2001, crews finished work on the spillway and fish ladder, which were attached to the dam of the historic Bates mill pond northeast of Prairie City. Oregon Lumber Co. constructed the Bates mill pond dam about 70 years ago. The town of Bates later would be dismantled and relocated; the mill pond, following the mill's closure, remained intact on private property now owned by Joann Vidondo of Prairie City.

• A mysterious white powder which was discovered after a letter broke open in the cancellation machine at the John Day Post Office has been identified as Tylenol-3, which contains codeine, Sgt. Rich Tirico of the John Day Police Department reported. Local postal workers became suspicious when the letter went through the machine and broke open, revealing the white powder. In light of recent bio-hazard-related incidents around the country, the employees immediately took precautions to isolate the potential threat and notified the postal inspector. Initial investigation by local police officials with the assistance of postal authorities and the FBI determined that the substance presented no threat to postal workers. A criminal investigation was initiated in an attempt to determine who had sent the letter.

• In a pair of unanimous votes, the John Day City Council agreed to pay landowners Bruce and Tracy Resnick $190,000 for 88 acres of undeveloped property near Grant County Regional Airport. City manager Peggy Carey identified a $450,979 water replacement reserve fund and a $141,225 sewer collection replacement fund to pay for the purchase. This land long has been targeted as a potential site for an industrial park by city and county leaders but the plan was complicated in May 2001 when developers Chuck Church and Dr. Phil Gerstner expressed interest in the land, and their letter of intent to landowners Bruce and Tracy Resnick stalled negotiations for its purchase by the city. Church and Gerstner since have rescinded their offer. Plans to build an industrial park next to Grant County Regional Airport reach back to 1996 when the city competed a study about ways to provide water and sewer services to the airport area. In 1998, the Grant County Resource Enhancement Action Team sponsored an economic strategic plan for John Day, which identified extending sewer and water infrastructure to the John Day Airport. Another strategy was to "research the feasibility of developing an industrial park. A Grant County economic diversification study noted: "The large, rectangular tract of flat land at the Grant County Airport offers an excellent site for development of an industrial park if the infrastructure requirements can be provided at costs that enable the lots to be price-competitive in the market. That will be more likely if a major portion of those costs are paid by grants rather than by loans or local tax revenues. ... The conclusion here is that this is the best site in Grant County for development of an industrial park that can be effective in recruiting new businesses to the area, and that this property should be the focus for any industrial park development efforts." In October 2000, the city and county began negotiating with the Resnicks.

• Local school board members did not waste any time making budget cuts after voters defeated an education funding referral on the May 21 ballot. The Grant School District No. 3 board of trustees met the night after the election for a budget committee meeting to adjust the district budget. Measure 13, a legislative referral which sought to shift $220 million from a $280 million education endowment fund into a stabilization fund for public schools, failed by a margin of 52,500 to 49,719 statewide. In Grant County, the measure failed by a margin of 1,108 to 1,029.

• Bristling over inertia in the Forest Service, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., promised to push legislation in the U.S. Congress to streamline federal forest management. In a dogged line of questioning at a hearing in Grant County, Wyden demanded to know why Forest Service leaders turned away money for logging and other projects in the Pacific Northwest.

Wyden pressed Forest Service associate chief Sally Collins for the names of federal employees who declined funds for Region 6. Wyden, chairman of the Forests and Public Land Management Subcommittee, voiced disbelief that a 2-3 percent reduction in regional funding resulted from voluntary budget transfers to forests in other parts of the country. The hearing, titled "Public land management and the rural economy," became a probe into the failing economies of central and eastern Oregon's timber-dependent counties. These counties, rich in federal lands, have battled double-digit unemployment rates for nearly a decade.

• Grant County leaders announced a plan to initially target "hazard trees," dead or dying trees that threaten public safety on county roads, in a nod to a measure asserting the right of local stewardship of federal lands. On May 21, Grant County voters, by a margin of 1,512-745, passed Measure 12-38. This initiative declared "a right of citizens to participate in stewardship of natural resources on public lands." The primary target was the 1.46-million-acre Malheur National Forest, which encompasses 1.12 million acres of Grant County, or about 39 percent of the county's land mass.

• The agricultural water quality plan for the middle and north forks of John Day River sailed through approval by the Oregon Board of Agriculture with just a hint of the controversy it caused in Grant County. All that's left to put the plan into action is official filing of an administrative rule which has the force of law. Tom Straughan, a state water quality planner based in Pendleton, told the ag board the John Day plan is Oregon's first to concentrate on issues raised by livestock grazing. The plan was almost three years in the making, and included repeated local rejection of state-suggested provisions. When citizens didn't like what they saw 18 months ago, a group got together and wrote their own plan. Even then, when the document came to another public hearing in November 2001, the plan ran into opposition. At the top of the issue list is an assertion that the plan violates the U.S. and Oregon constitutions. In a memo to the ag board, staff said the rule passed a legal review by the Oregon attorney general.

• Like a team of surgeons touring a sick ward, participants in a fuel-reduction analysis marveled at the fire danger near Parish Cabin Campground on the Malheur National Forest June 6. The tour group agreed a lightning strike, like a sudden infection in a sick ward, could wipe out the inhabitants - in this case, towering, 40-inch-diameter ponderosa pines. Watersheds and cultural sites could burn down to the obsidian in a high-intensity fire. These fears are not unjustified. "Grant County is one of the highest danger (locations) in the State of Oregon," warned Bill Supulski, ecosystem management staff officer for the Malheur National Forest.

JUNE

• The Little Canyon Mountain Project is a privately led and loosely configured effort to confront extreme fire danger on the mountain near Canyon City. About 60 citizens attended a June 1 meeting in Canyon City to discuss strategies for fuels reduction on the mountain. Since then, the Bureau of Land Management - responsible federal agency for much of the mountain's forestland - has agreed to look at tree removal as a fire-protection measure. A collaborative planning class at the Malheur National Forest sparked the idea of a local planning group. The coalition of private citizens scheduled two meetings, one on June 1, the second on June 18. "My impression is there are a number of interested members of the public over there that are trying to pull together what issues they see so they can bring them to the BLM," said Tina Welch, field manager for the Bureau of Land Management. Welch oversees the Central Oregon Resource Area, which encompasses BLM land between Prineville and the Blue Mountains.

• Bonnie Wood, supervisor of the Malheur National Forest for nearly three years, moves to the Portland area next month to take on a new job of implementing the National Fire Plan. Less than three years ago, on Jan. 16, 2000, Wood shed the title of acting forest supervisor when she officially replaced Carl Pence as forest supervisor of the Malheur National Forest. Pence had resigned in September 1998 to work on the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project out of Boise, Idaho. Roger Williams, the Malheur National Forest deputy forest supervisor, will step in temporarily to serve as acting forest supervisor as Wood's replacement.

• A typical environmental story for the FOX News bureau in Seattle, Wash., might concern tree sit-in protests by environmentalists or political wrangling by lawmakers about federal-lands logging. "We look for stories that are different," said cameraman Charles Stewart. So it was natural that FOX News would send Stewart to Grant County earlier this month to document the news story from Eastern Oregon that has captured nationwide attention. The unique news from Grant County is a forest stewardship measure, declaring "a right of citizens to participate in stewardship of natural resources on public lands," an initiative which received overwhelming support from county voters May 21. Initiative proponent Dave Traylor, Grant County Judge Dennis Reynolds and Malheur National Forest supervisor Bonnie Wood were among those interviewed by FOX News. The segment was scheduled to air the third week of June.

• In another negotiation with advocates for quick fuels reduction on national forests, the Grant County Court backed away from declaring a fire-hazard emergency. "There is no fire burning right now," pointed out Grant County emergency management coordinator David Cary. However, Dave Traylor, one of the drafters of a local forest-stewardship measure which passed overwhelmingly in May, argued that the county faces a serious fire danger from overstocked national forests. The potential for fire is so great to constitute an emergency in its own right, he said. The County Court did not declare an emergency, but leaders promised to lobby Sen. Gordon Smith and other federal leaders, seeking quicker action from the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

• The woods and hills east of Seneca have become the latest area in Grant County where the buffalo roam. Sheriff Glenn Palmer reported a large bull, wandering along Road 16 near Forest Service Road 1645 on Wednesday, June 26. It was deja vu from last June when the sheriff killed two stray bison near John Day. Those buffalo were the property of ranchowner D.R. Johnson. This time, the owner of the loan buffalo was not identified.

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