The Union City Council’s monthly meeting kicked off Monday night with a presentation about the Elkhorn Valley Wind Farm.
Tom Burke, the project manager with Telocaset Wind Power Partners, a subsidiary of Horizon Wind Energy, provided a construction update and opened the floor to questions from councilors and the audience.
Burke said crews had fully assembled 18 wind turbines, with 31 partially erected. A total of 61 will be installed.
“We expect to be fully in service by Thanksgiving,” he said.
Burke devoted much of his time to the issue of trucks speeding in Union.
“I know that that’s been a real inconvenience,” he acknowledged.
He said his company takes the issue of reckless driving seriously.
“Number one, it’s a big safety issue,” he said. “Number two, it has a big impact on a site that’s very congested.”
Burke said a truck driver found speeding once is warned; on the second offense, the driver is taken off the project.
He noted that each of their truck drivers was required to complete an orientation course that delineated the speed limits of local routes.
Councilor Eileen Bowles said, “I’ve noticed that the truck drivers going through town have been pleasant to people on the street.”
Some in the audience echoed concerns that Union’s streets couldn’t handle the trucks’ weights.
But Burke said the actual turbines are transported off I-84 through North Powder to the work site.
“We don’t have any of our (turbine) loads that are permitted to pass through Union,” he said.
Rock trucks used for road construction do enter town. Burke said that should Main Street incur any damage as a result, his crews would address the issue.
Burke said the project was benefitting the city of Union and the county as a whole economically.
“We’re spending quite a bit of money in the community,” he said. He estimates this translates to a little over $1 million every month in the local area.
On top of normal expenditures in towns such as Union and North Powder, Burke noted, “We’re really trying to give the local community as much of our construction work as we can.”
In other business, Union Fire Chief Tod Hull, who recently assumed the position from Bill Hooker, expressed concerns over his department’s fiscal health.
“Our biggest thing is budget,” he said. “The Union fire budget is way too low.”
Hull said that around $60,000 of the department’s budget, this year set at $85,000, hinges on ambulance revenue, which is presently down.
“We’re banking on the ambulance to make this service run,” he said. “Our budget is so small, we’re not going to have enough to do maintenance on our trucks.”
Maintenance, he said, is absolutely essential this year, as trucks are due for oil changes and other routine upkeep. But Hull pointed out he wouldn’t know the cost until the work is performed.
He said some $4,000 had been added to the fire department’s expenditures. This included money going toward the city administration.
City Administrator Jeff Wise said that he developed the budget working closely with Hooker, and used the best information he had. He considered it appropriate to direct some of the fire revenue to administration, saying he devoted about 2.5 percent of his time, or maybe an hour and a half a week, to the department.
Nonetheless, he said, “I do sincerely apologize if I messed something up for you.”
Wise said there is $5,000 available in contingency funds.
“If something comes up and needs to get done,” he told Hull, “let me know and we’ll make it happen.”
Councilor Dick Walker told Hull he needed to submit something in writing to the council, and that his concerns were more appropriate for the budget committee.
Mayor Kyle Corbin told Hull, “I really am sorry – that’s an unfortunate thing. (But) the months and months of budget process we went through, that’s when it needed to be addressed.”
Walker suggested taking one of the department vehicles in for maintenance and ascertaining the cost, and then putting this into his request to the council.
Councilors thanked Hull and the fire department for their good work during last weekend’s Grassroots Festival.
Wise said that the final report from Crandall Arambula, the urban planning firm that visited Union as part of the Transportation and Growth Management (TGM) Program, was available at City Hall for residents to examine. Corbin said the city’s next step is to develop an action plan partly based on the TGM results.
Also, the council celebrated the Carnegie Public Library while examining its activity report.
“I am always impressed with the library report,” said Councilor Sue Briggs, “because there always seems to be so much going on.”
Councilor Bowles noted that attendance at library functions in Union, such as children’s reading programs, consistently bested that in neighboring communities, including La Grande.
“No community is any better than its literacy,” she told the council, “and it has to start with those little kids.”
By Ethan Schowalter-Hay
14 August 2007
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