The route of a 300-mile high-voltage power line has won the federal government’s approval, but some Eastern Oregon farmers hope state regulators can still alter its course.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has granted a right-of-way allowing Idaho Power’s transmission line to cross roughly 100 miles of federal land, but Oregon’s Energy Facility Siting Council must still sign off on its overall path.
“They picked a route but the state doesn’t have to go along with that,” said Mark Bennett, a rancher and commissioner for Oregon’s Baker County.
The transmission line between Boardman, Ore., and the Nampa, Idaho, area is expected to cost up to $1.2 billion, with construction projected to start in 2021.
About 70 miles of the transmission line would run through Baker County, with more than 80 percent of those miles located on “exclusive farm use” property, said Bennett.
“It not only affects that farming ground, it’s affecting the visual corridor as well,” Bennett said.
Farmers and ranchers in the area would prefer the transmission line to bypass Baker County by traversing an existing Central Oregon energy corridor, though that would likely add to its length, he said.
Aside from the transmission line itself, its presence is associated with road-building, weeds and other disturbances to agriculture, he said.
Irrigation wheel lines and center pivots would be disrupted by the transmission line, as would aerial pesticide applications, said Bennett.
“It affects people’s property values by putting up a power line in their viewshed,” he added.
Further to the West, in Morrow County, farmers have at least partly resolved concerns about the transmission line’s effects on agriculture.
Growers were hoping for 12 miles of the transmission line to be located on the edge of the U.S. Navy’s bombing range near Boardman, Ore., rather than on farmland.
Due to the presence of tribal cultural resources within the bombing range, however, the southernmost five miles must cross the road onto private property, said Carla McLane, Morrow County’s planning director.
“They have to balance all those impacts to have a viable project,” McLane said.
As the transmission line travels further south of the bombing range, it would first cross land used for irrigated farming and then dryland farming, she said.
Irrigated agriculture often involves growing several crops per year, so the transmission line would be more prone to interfere with those operations than dryland agriculture, McLane said.
“There’s more opportunity for conflicts,” she said.
Another issue associated with the transmission line is the planned construction near Boardman of an electrical substation, with which other power lines will eventually seek to connect, said J.R. Cook, director of the Northeast Oregon Water Association.
“You’ve set a heartbeat at that point,” he said.
The U.S. will continue to demand new energy sources, which need to connect to the electrical grid, but federal processes often push transmission lines onto private farmland, Cook said.
“These issues are going to continue to compound,” he said.
Cook said he’s doesn’t blame Idaho Power for the problem, but he is disappointed with the planning process for siting transmission lines.
The partial victory of relocating seven miles of the transmission line has cost the local community roughly $1 million in legal fees, travel and staff time, he said. “How is that a system that’s working?”
It’s been a bloody year for Oregon wolves, with at least 10 killed under circumstances ranging from authorized “lethal control” due to livestock attacks and a shooting ruled self-defense, to an unintended poisoning and unsolved poachings.
At this point, Oregon State Police have no reason to think there is a concerted action by an individual or group to illegally kill the state’s wolves.
However, the investigation into the most recent killing, a collared wolf designated OR-23, is still active, OSP spokesman Sgt. Kaipo Raiser said.
Steve Pedery, conservation director for the Portland-based group Oregon Wild, warned that a “shoot, shovel and shut up” attitude toward wolves has taken hold in rural Oregon and become part of the political fault line separating factions of Americans.
In Wallowa County, he said, it’s not unusual to see “Smoke a pack a day” bumper stickers.
Doug Cottam, ODFW’s Wildlife Division administrator, said the department is “upset and frustrated by the unlawful wolf killings in Oregon.” Rewards are offered for information leading to arrests.
“Poaching of any wildlife is wrong and harmful to their conservation,” he said in a prepared statement.
Police and ODFW believe the latest wolf was shot Nov. 12 or 13. It was found Nov. 14 in the Chesnimnus hunting area known as Cold Springs, in Northeast Oregon’s Wallowa County. Tracking collars on wolves are designed to emit a mortality signal if the animal does not move for a certain period of time, ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehey said. She assumed that’s what led to finding the wolf’s carcass in this case.
State police found evidence OR-23 was killed by a gunshot, but released no other information.
The wolf was part of the Shamrock Pack. In February 2017, a male from the pack, OR-48, died after it bit or tugged on a M-44 trap set by the USDA’s Wildlife Services to kill coyotes.
In April 2017, the remains of a male wolf designated OR-33 were found about 20 miles northwest of Klamath Falls in the Fremont-Winema National Forest. A necropsy showed it had been shot.
In late October, another collared male, OR-25, was found dead near Fort Klamath in the Sun Pass State Forest. The cause of death was not disclosed.
On Oct. 27, in a case that caused an uproar on social media, an elk hunter told ODFW and OSP he’d shot an uncollared wolf in Northeast Oregon that ran at him while at least two other wolves appeared to be flanking him. The Union County district attorney reviewed the case and decided not to prosecute the hunter; state police said the hunter acted in self-defense.
Conservation groups and others say the 30.06 bullet’s trajectory — through one side and out the other — is at odds with the man’s account. Some accused the hunter of panicking, or of deliberately killing the animal and making up a story to justify it. In an interview with the Capital Press, the hunter said he believed he was in danger. When the wolf ran at him, he said he screamed, raised his rifle, saw fur in the scope and fired. A shell casing was found 27 yards from the wolf’s carcass.
In August, ODFW killed four wolves from the Harl Butte Pack after a series of attacks on cattle. In September, a livestock producer acting with authorization from ODFW shot a Meacham Pack wolf to protect his herd.
Yet another wolf, OR-42, the breeding female of the Chesnimnus Pack, was found dead in May. The cause of death was undetermined, but foul play was not suspected. Meanwhile, several wolf deaths from 2015 and 2016 remain unsolved.
Pedery, of Oregon Wild, said the conservation group is not aware of an organized effort to kill wolves. But he said the ODFW-sanctioned killing of wolves for livestock attacks helps establish an atmosphere in which poachers feel they can get away with it or are justified.
In rural Northeast Oregon, where the majority of Oregon’s wolf packs live, the situation is layered with a decade of livestock losses, the cost and worry of non-lethal deterrence and resentment over urban residents weighing in on what are considered local matters. Divisive national politics find expression in anti-wolf reactions as well, Pedery said.
Other observers point out that Oregon’s steadily increasing wolf population, and their dispersal from Northeast Oregon, means armed hunters are more likely to encounter them in the wild.
Carter Niemeyer, a retired federal wildlife biologist with extensive experience tracking, trapping and occasionally shooting wolves, said wolves are potentially dangerous but unlikely to attack humans. A shout or warning shot should scare them off, he said, and he suggested hikers carry bear repellent spray if they are worried about bears, cougars, coyotes or wolves.
Anyone with information about the most recent wolf killing is encouraged to contact Sgt. Chris Hawkins at OSP’s La Grande Patrol Office, 541-963-7175, extension 4670. People also can provide information anonymously by calling the Turn In Poachers (TIP) hotline at 1-800-452-7888.
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A Washington state man who joined the Ammon Bundy-led takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge sought and received leniency from a judge Tuesday after saying he’s been through “two years of hell” since his arrest in February 2016.
U.S. District Judge Anna Brown cited Darryl Thorn’s rough childhood and other factors in sentencing him to 18 months in prison — at least six months less than federal sentencing guidelines. Thorn will also get credit for time he has already served in jail.
Thorn performed armed guard duty, sometimes from a watchtower, during the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation that lasted Jan. 2 to Feb. 11, 2016. The group sought the release of two ranchers imprisoned for setting fires on U.S.-owned land.
Twenty six people were indicted in the case. Most accepted plea bargains and avoided prison. Bundy and six others were acquitted in a trial last year.
Thorn was twice on the verge of accepting a plea bargain before changing his mind and going to trial earlier this year. Jurors convicted him in March of conspiracy and possessing a firearm.
“This has been extremely difficult — mentally, physically, emotionally,” Thorn told Brown. “I have a life. I have a family I would like to go back to.” Thorn has been in jail since June, when Brown revoked his conditional, pre-sentencing release because of suicidal threats.
Thorn’s lawyer, Jay Nelson, filed a sentencing memorandum that includes some details of his client’s childhood after he was born to a drug-addicted mother. Thorn’s abusive stepfather shackled him to a back porch for hours on end, securing his ankle with a heavy chain and padlock, the memorandum said.
Thorn was 12 when finally removed from the home and placed in foster care, Nelson wrote.
Prosecutor Ethan Knight agreed that Thorn’s upbringing was a mitigating factor but sought a sentence of more than two years, saying Thorn’s standoff role was “sustained and dangerous.” Thorn encouraged others to stay and fight authorities after the fatal shooting by police of occupation spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, Knight said.
The judge urged Thorn to embrace mental health treatment while in prison and get an education.
“You’ve got to find a way to live in this world that does not seem threatening to other people,” she said.
Several supporters of Thorn were outside the courthouse during the sentencing hearing, including Duane Ehmer, a co-defendant who starts his one-year prison sentence in January.
Ehmer showed up on the horse named Hellboy that he rode during the standoff.
Inside the courtroom, Thorn was excited to hear that Ehmer arrived on the horse.
“That’s what I’m talking about!” Thorn told court spectators before the sentencing hearing started.
I’d say they have it mostly correct…
Time has run out for environmentalists to appeal a ruling with implications for Oregon water rights, but irrigators remain nervous about their underlying legal theory.
In 2013, Central Oregon Landwatch and Waterwatch of Oregon filed a complaint against the U.S. Forest Service for approving the replacement of a water intake in the Deschutes National Forest.
The environmental groups argued the Forest Service inadequately studied the impacts of diverting water from Tumalo Creek, among other allegations.
Although the lawsuit targeted water consumed by the City of Bend, irrigators and other water users intervened in the case because they feared it could set a dangerous precedent regarding water rights on federal land.
Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed the Forest Service shouldn’t allow the creek to fall below the minimum flow level established under instream water rights owned by the state government.
Under Oregon water law, instream water rights function according to the policy of “first in time, first in right,” meaning they are subordinate to older water rights established by many irrigators.
However, if the minimum flow levels cited in Oregon’s instream water rights became a mandatory requirement for the Forest Service, it would effectively elevate those instream rights above senior users, said Richard Glick, a water rights attorney with the Davis Wright Tremaine law firm.
“This would set prior appropriations doctrine on its head,” Glick said.
If the environmental groups had prevailed, this legal theory would apply only to irrigators who withdraw water from federal land. However, the federal government owns a tremendous amount of property in Oregon, he said.
Ultimately, though, the environmental plaintiffs were unsuccessful.
U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken disagreed that the Forest Service’s analysis was insufficient and dismissed the case.
In August, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld her ruling and the plaintiffs didn’t challenge the decision before the U.S. Supreme Court by a mid-November deadline.
Nonetheless, the environmental groups’ legal theory demonstrates how Oregon instream water rights can be “weaponized” in federal litigation, said Glick.
The 9th Circuit upheld the lawsuit’s dismissal in an unpublished memorandum, which means it doesn’t have precedential value, he said.
“It could be tried in some other context,” Glick said of the legal theory.
Paul Dewey, executive director of Central Oregon Landwatch, said the lawsuit’s goal wasn’t to change Oregon water law regarding instream water rights.
Rather, the plaintiffs simply used the minimum flow levels in Oregon’s instream water right certificates as evidence in the case, Dewey said.
“It’s an evidentiary issue for a federal court to determine a minimum instream standard,” he said.
The plaintiffs could have cited another document as evidence of minimum flow requirements, Dewey said, adding that people concerned about the lawsuit may have an ulterior motive.
“This seems like an agenda to undermine the instream water law,” he said.
DUNES CITY, Ore. (AP) — Close to the Pacific Ocean and tucked between two lakes, Dunes City is a residential oasis and a popular place to live for retirees.
Yet Dunes City has become the latest little Lane County community to become divided over marijuana. The state is reviewing plans from three commercial marijuana growing operations in Dunes City, a town of 1,316 people. The plans are stirring debate among residents about pot businesses sprouting between homes.
“I’ve convinced myself that this is growing pains for Dunes City, and that this is not going to be the last time that we’re going to have an issue that makes the city re-examine where it is and how it is, and how it provides services,” City Administrator Jamie Mills said. “That’s kind of where we are at right now.”
Like Creswell, Dunes City residents will vote on a commercial marijuana ban, though the ban wouldn’t apply to the three applications pending with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Creswell earlier this month reaffirmed a ban on pot businesses in the southern Lane County city. Dunes City residents will vote next November on whether to embrace or outlaw marijuana, a question other small cities around Oregon have struggled to answer, more than two years since the state legalized recreational pot.
The ban would stop pot-growing and other marijuana-based businesses in the city just south of Florence on the Oregon Coast. It wouldn’t apply to the three planned pot growing operations because the property owners submitted applications to the OLCC before the Dunes City council tentatively approved the measure in September.
Dunes City doesn’t have a downtown or a commercial district. Instead, the city consists primarily of a collection of homes intermixed with woodland east of Highway 101, across from Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park. Views of Woahink and Siltcoos lakes drive property values.
Most businesses in town are based on tourism.
“We have nine commercial operations, every single one of them is either an RV park or a fish lodge,” Mills said.
Quiet defines Dunes City, and opponents to marijuana growing in the city say that’s what they want to preserve. In their opinion, marijuana business will be smelly, noisy and attract crime — not a good fit for their neighborhoods.
“I cannot but believe that having that there will affect the value of a home,” said Berne Hill, a real estate broker and neighbor of one of the planned growing operations. “. I would not want to pay $350,000 to be next to a marijuana grow, simply because of the security,” she added.
The hopeful Dunes City pot growers contend that their businesses will blend in, and they say they have met city and state requirements. They are just waiting for the final approval from the OLCC.
Ross Day, the Portland-based attorney for the people pursuing pot growing in Dunes City, contends that marijuana, also known as cannabis, doesn’t attract crime.
“Cannabis is a crop just like any other crop — blueberries, lavender, hops,” he said. “It comes from the same family as hops. And we don’t notify neighbors when we are I’m going to grow wine grapes or garlic, or anything else. Why would we treat cannabis any different? Well, because it’s cannabis, that’s what people say. It’s a plant, just like every other plant God’s made, and we should be treating it the same way.”
Dunes City doesn’t have a police force, and its residents don’t pay municipal property taxes. Septic tanks typically are the most contentious issue, with many residents drawing their water from Woahink Lake.
But marijuana talk has become a daily part of Mills’ work routine as Dunes City’s primary official. Along with being city administrator, Mills is the city recorder and fills other posts for the city.
Each day she has come to expect up to 25 emails from the most vocal of the pot critics. Meanwhile, the attorney from the lead marijuana grower prefers she talks to him rather than his clients.
Dunes City, like other cities where residents locally voted against marijuana legalization in 2014, had an opportunity to ban marijuana without a public vote by the end of 2015. The city council didn’t.
The city also had the opportunity to ban pot by a ballot vote in November 2016. It didn’t.
Instead, Dunes City residents voted two-to-one to approve a city tax on marijuana sales, with 624 voting for the tax and 310 voting against the tax.
Even with tax approval, opponents to marijuana growing in Dunes City say the city didn’t seem like a place that would attract pot entrepreneurs. “I don’t think it occurred to anybody that marijuana is something that would happen here,” Mills said.
Dunes City is one of four Oregon cities so far with a marijuana ban on the November 2018 ballot. The other cities also are small — Culver in Central Oregon, and Haines and Sumpter in northeast Oregon.
Lane County has a dozen cities. Coburg and Junction City, as well as Creswell, have marijuana bans in place. Eugene, Springfield and seven other cities in the county — including Dunes City, for now — allow marijuana growing, processing and selling.
Valerie Cain-Mathis, a former California Department of Corrections officer, said she only considered trying marijuana once she became sick.
She said her ailments in recent years have included cancer and multiple sclerosis, and pot provides lasting relief. By growing marijuana, she wants to make more medicine for patients like her.
One of the marijuana growing operations proposed for Dunes City would be on property owned by Cain-Mathis, a patch of forestland uphill from Woahink Lake.
Getting approval has proved hard, though.
“It’s been an ordeal,” Cain-Mathis said.
Her sister, Patricia Smalley, owns the property next to her and also has ambitions of growing marijuana. And Smalley has a freshly constructed building for an indoor operation.
“Everything is ready,” Cain-Mathis said. “We are just waiting.”
The building looks like a house at first glance, but its lack of windows gives it away as something else. Signs on the door include the state-required warnings, including no on-site marijuana use and no minors.
The three growing operations in Dunes City would be linked by family and friendship. Dennis Smith — owner of Premium Choice Marijuana, a pot shop between a cafe and a hardware store in Florence — became Cain-Mathis’ pot provider when she moved to Oregon last year. They plan on being business partners.
Smith, who has the third pending OLCC application in for a Dunes City growing operation, is a marijuana connoisseur, Cain-Mathis said.
“He grows the gourmet stuff,” she said.
Smith declined to comment, referring questions to his attorney.
The indoor marijuana operation on Smalley’s land would start with 400 plants and three employees, Cain-Mathis said. Charcoal filters in the ventilation system would cut off the smell of marijuana, she added.
Cain-Mathis declined to say how much she has invested in the venture so far, saying it would be hard to fully tally.
She feels Dunes City residents should welcome her and her business partners because they are the “right people growing for the right reasons.”
ENTERPRISE — Oregon State Police are asking for help finding a poacher who shot and killed a wolf in Wallowa County.
According to a press release, the body of the collared wolf — dubbed OR-23 — was found Nov.15 in the Chesnimnus unit in the Cold Springs area east of Joseph. Police said the animal likely was shot Nov. 12 or 13.
OSP is asking for help finding the shooter or anyone involved in the killing. Anyone with information is asked to call Sgt. Chris Hawkins at 541-963-7175, ext. 4670, or leave an anonymous tip at 1-800-452-7888.
Poaching of fish and wildlife, including wolves, is a problem in Oregon, according to Capt. Jeff Samuels in a press release. The division employs 120 officers in Oregon.
“We are upset and frustrated by the unlawful wolf killings in Oregon,” said Doug Cottam, ODFW Wildlife Division administrator, in the release. “Poaching of any wildlife is wrong and harmful to their conservation.”
NEWPORT, Ore. (AP) — The traditional Dec. 1 opening of the commercial Dungeness crab season will be delayed by at least two weeks to give the crabs more time to fill with meat.
Fisheries managers use “meat fill” tests to determine how well the Dungeness have rebounded from the late summer shedding of their shells in a process called molting.
After the molt, the crabs fill with water as their shells harden and they grow new muscle.
The minimum threshold is 25 percent meat, meaning a 2-pound crab must yield at least a half-pound of meat.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture says another round of crab-quality testing will occur in late November or early December. The results will determine if the season opens Dec. 16.
Commercial Dungeness crab is Oregon’s most valuable fishery.
Oregon’s fish and wildlife regulators plan to secure new instream water rights to preserve fish habitat, raising concerns about possible impacts on irrigators.
The new instream water rights are intended to protect flows, but the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is still studying which river basins to target.
“This is a statewide approach based on need,” said Anna Pakenham Stevenson, ODFW’s water quality and quantity program manager.
ODFW also plans to revive negotiations over protested instream water rights applications the agency filed roughly two decades ago.
Both plans are potentially worrisome for farmers, since new state-owned instream water rights could lock up water that could otherwise be used for irrigation.
While the new instream water rights would be junior to those of existing water rights, they may preclude any additional irrigation water rights from being obtained in affected waterways.
If an instream water right claims all the unappropriated water in a stream, “an irrigator would not be able to get a new water right,” said Mary Anne Cooper, public policy counsel for the Oregon Farm Bureau.
Irrigators also fear that instream water rights will complicate certain processes — changing points of diversion, making water transfers and replacing intakes — due to the involvement of state agencies.
“It would increase the bureaucratic protocol we’d have to go through,” said Curtis Martin, a rancher near North Powder, Ore., and water resources committee chairman of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association.
When a state agency leases existing water rights and devotes the water to instream flows, it can adversely affect junior irrigators, said Richard Kosesan, lobbyist for Water For Life, a nonprofit representing irrigators.
Junior irrigators are often dependent on return flows of water from growers with senior water rights, he said. If all that water remains instream, however, the junior irrigators don’t benefit from the return flows.
The reactivation of applications from 20 years ago could also be problematic for irrigators.
If state agencies succeed in obtaining those water rights, they’d have priority dates in the 1990s. In other words, they’d be senior to water rights obtained since then.
Originally, 140 of ODFW’s water rights applications from the 1990s were protested by groups and individuals, but the agency has resolved all but 61 of them.
The 61 remaining cases have long been dormant, but the agency can resolve them by withdrawing the applications, settling with the protesters or moving forward with contested case administrative proceedings, which can take from six months to three years.
“There wasn’t activity on these for a while and there have been renewed efforts to work on them as work (proceeds) on efforts to implement instream and out-of-stream needs,” said Racquel Rancier, senior policy coordinator for the Oregon Water Resources Department, in an email.
The agency plans to resolve the disputes over the next year or two, hopefully through settlements, said Pakenham Stevenson.
“If we can go from contention to mutual benefit, that’s where ODFW would like to work,” she said.
For example, in the Powder-Brownlee basin in Northeast Oregon, irrigators filed a protest against an instream water rights application in the early 1990s.
Rather than go through the contested case process, ODFW now aims to strike a collaborative agreement with irrigators to conserve water, said Martin, an area rancher.
Replacing open canals with pipelines would prevent water seepage, for example, creating a more direct benefit for flows than an instream water right, he said.
In some segments of a canal, half the water can be lost to seepage, Martin said. “We can put that in the pipeline and have basically zero loss.”
The man whose horse-riding, flag-carrying images became an icon of the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was sentenced Thursday to a year and a day in federal prison.
U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown handed down the penalty to Irrigon, Oregon, resident Duane Ehmer for his role in the 41-day occupation. He also faces three years of supervision after prison.
In March, a jury found Ehmer guilty of depredation of property, a felony. Brown also found him guilty of two misdemeanors: trespassing and tampering with vehicles and equipment.
“It’s not lost on me that he’s never accepted responsibility for his criminal conduct,” Brown said in handing down her sentence at the federal courthouse in downtown Portland.
“He hasn’t even apologized today,” she added. “He had the opportunity to leave at any point and stayed and ended up committing this felony crime.”
Ehmer said he plans to appeal his conviction.
Defense attorney Michele Kohler argued her client — a disabled veteran and single parent to a 14-year-old daughter — should be sentenced to probation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight argued for a 14-month prison sentence.
During the occupation, Ehmer participated in digging a trench.
Defendants argued at trial that the trenches were defensive, aimed at protecting themselves against any attack from law enforcement. Federal prosecutors said the trench showed the remaining occupiers were fortifying themselves for a fight with the FBI.
Federal prosecutors said Ehmer spent only about eight minutes operating heavy machinery owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — a fraction of the time it took to dig the trench. It was completed by another defendant, Jake Ryan. Ryan has not yet been sentenced.
The land is an archeological site and considered culturally significant to the Burn Paiute Tribe.
The tribe was outraged when it learned not one, but two trenches had been dug at the refuge.
Diane Lorraine Teeman, the tribe’s cultural heritage representative, spoke at Thursday’s hearing.
“Malheur Lake is our heart,” she said from the witness stand.
Teeman said tens of thousands of tribal members have had a connection to the land for at least the last 15,000 years.
The area where Ehmer and Ryan dug, she said, was a effectively a burial site. Teeman said she was aware of several significant sites near the trench.
“There was a sense of devastation, heartbreak and despair,” Teeman said, when she and other tribal members learned the occupier had dug a trench at the refuge
“I knew our ancestors were being excavated by that machinery,” she said, at one point pausing to grab a tissue to dab her tears. “Not being able to do anything was really heart-wrenching.”
Before he was sentenced, Ehmer read a statement while choking back tears. He spoke of his military service and his daughter. He also spoke of being terrified.
“All of my focus was on protecting human life,” Ehmer said.
He said he has a reverence for history.
“I have the utmost respect for Native Americans,” Ehmer said. “I would never hurt any artifacts.”
Ehmer also spoke of his 20 years of sobriety, something he said he was able to maintain during the stress of the occupation.
“I’m one of the few that’s been able to make it through an FBI standoff sober,” he said. “I’m very proud of that.”
Prior to Brown’s sentence, Knight said it was important for the judge to look at Ehmer’s actions in context of the occupation.
“It was a culmination of a series of choices by Mr. Ehmer to damage a property and place that was not his to damage,” Knight said.
In addition to prison time, Ehmer has agreed to pay $10,000 in restitution.
HERMISTON, Ore. — In what turned out to be a closely contested race, incumbent Jack Bellinger was re-elected Tuesday to the Westland Irrigation District board of directors, defeating challenger Ray Vogt by just 12 votes.
Bellinger, owner of Bellinger Farms in Hermiston, kept his seat by a narrow count of 107-95, according to unofficial results. The Westland board will meet Monday, Nov. 20 at 1 p.m. to certify the election and announce an official winner.
The Westland Irrigation District delivers water to approximately 260 patrons in the Umatilla Basin. Only district members were allowed to vote in the board election, with voting weighted by land ownership. Anyone with up to 40 acres received one vote, while anyone with between 40 and 160 acres received two votes and anyone with more than 160 acres received three votes.
Vogt, who raises beef cattle and alfalfa on 24.5 acres, said he ran to improve transparency between the board and patrons, and to ensure small farmers like himself have a voice in major decisions moving forward, such as the ill-fated Central Project to secure mitigated water from the Columbia River.
“I just don’t feel like the smaller farmers have been asked for their advice in any of those decisions,” Vogt said. “The small guy has just as much right to his water as the big guy has to his water.”
While Vogt said he will support Bellinger, he added that the tight race does show there are patrons out there questioning whether small farmers are truly being represented.
In an interview Wednesday, Bellinger said his goal is to unite the district in the face of a lawsuit filed against it last year by a group of patrons with senior water rights.
“We need to resolve this lawsuit so it’s not hanging over our head,” Bellinger said. “Until we do, I don’t think our district can come together to do big things.”
The lawsuit accuses Westland of systematically taking water from the plaintiffs to benefit three larger farms with junior rights. Those patrons seek $4.14 million in combined damages. Bellinger said he disagrees with the premise of the suit, adding that arbitration appears unlikely.
“I think there needs to be a precedent set where their claims are ruled upon,” Bellinger said. “Then we can move forward.”
As for the long term, Bellinger said he remains committed to finding new sources of water for the district to ensure a full irrigation season every year. Unlike the neighboring Hermiston, Stanfield and West Extension irrigation districts, Westland remains entirely dependent on live flows from the Umatilla River and stored water in McKay Reservoir.
The Westland board, however, voted unanimously in May to abandon the Central Project — a $14.4 million proposal that would have brought mitigated water from the Columbia River — over fears the project could be stalled or derailed by the lawsuit.
Bellinger said that loss still hurts, so much that he considered not running again for the board.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we let slip through our fingers,” he said.
Ultimately, Bellinger said there are things the district can do to benefit all farms, large and small, if they come together. He specifically thanked the Westland Water Users Group for coming together after the Central Project fell through to combat what he described as misinformation within the district.
After 16 years on the board, Bellinger said he is encouraged that more people are starting to pay close attention to issues affecting Westland, and participating in the board’s monthly meetings.
“It’s made me be a better board member,” he said. “I’m much more conscious of my role, and procedures.”