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County looks at private wind farm easement

Baker County Commissioners expressed strong interest in a proposed private wind farm during their meeting on Wednesday. The development would be constructed on private land near the LIme Wind turbines recently built about 40 miles southeast of Baker City. Commissioners also approved a contract for evaluation and consultation services for a federal child safety grant, made appointments, heard a report on the weed control program and received a public comment regarding a dispute over mining operations.

With few reservations, commissioners expressed support for granting an easement through County property to Oregon Wind Farms, LLC, for access and installation of transmission lines and other equipment. The agreement, if finalized, would result in payment to the county of $5 per foot within the easement.

Commissioner Tim Kerns asked questions about legal protection and possible county use in the future, but the biggest concern centered on the open-ended time frame for development. Commission Chair Fred Warner agreed that he was not comfortable with the term “in perpetuity,” within the proposal. Jason Yencopal then set up a conference call with Oregon Wind Farm representative Robert Guertin. Guertin expressed a willingness to replace the open-ended language with a limit such as three years. After discussion about possible county use of lines and poles, he agreed to send new proposed contract language for the commissioners to consider.

Warner explained that Oregon Wind Farms has not applied yet to build the facility but was doing its “due diligence.” He said the company has put up test towers and is looking at power line routes. The county will have control over the placement of lines and over road standards, he said.

In other business, the Commission approve a contract for services with RMC Research Corporation to provide evaluation and consultation services for a federal grant funded program titled Northeast Oregon Collaborative for Child Safety.

County Weed Control Director Arnie Grammon gave a summary of his efforts over the past year. He said the wet spring weather helped some encroaching species and delayed control efforts.

He described the week control program as “generally well-received” but said he had occasionally encountered strong objections from some property owners. He said that he tries to work cooperatively with owners, rather than “using an iron fist.” Commissioner Warner said, “We’re going to be real cautious” with roadside spraying.

Grammon announced a proposed renewal of the tax levy for weed control in 2012, asking voters to approve the same amount as the current levy. He also described biocontrol (using selected insects or other organisms to control weeds) and the herbicide give-away program in which local residents can get free products from his office.

Debbie Duggan was appointed to the 911 Consolidated Dispatch Board, and Jay Carr was appointed to the Weed Control District.

Commissioners discussed a proposed land exchange near Halfway, but took no action, expressing reservations about the benefit to the county.

In an extended public comment, local resident Art Sapington urged the county to exert control over Forest Service land. Sapington said he has done extensive research regarding the county’s rights over federally controlled land related to the Orion Mine, of which he is a part-owner.

The commissioners’ next meeting will be December 7.