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Learning from the flames


The wildfires that blackened huge swathes of sagebrush steppe in southeastern Oregon this month surely will rekindle the simmering debate over the effects of livestock grazing on the primarily public rangeland that was scorched.

This is a good thing.

The BLM, which manages the vast majority of those acres as well as quite similar land in eastern and southern Baker County, is obligated to try to find out why almost 750,000 acres, which includes vital habitat for the sage grouse, burned.

Moreover, the agency has a responsibility to revise its grazing rules should the post-fire probe show that such changes would likely reduce the risk of similar fires in the future.

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Tapping our local energy


Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., came to Baker County last week to talk up hydroelectric power.

We share the congressman’s enthusiasm for this rather humble source of megawatts.

We’ve been tapping the potential of flowing water around here for about as long as we’ve boasted electric lights.

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Sandusky is the real monster


Quite a few people in addition to convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky have had their reputations forever tarnished by the Penn State football abuse scandal.

And rightly so.

But amid the publicity that followed last week’s release of the report that is a scathing indictment of the Sandusky cover up, we were troubled by the focus shifting from Sandusky to his much more famous boss, the late Joe Paterno, Penn State’s head coach for more than 40 years.

Paterno deserves the scorn that has been heaped on him, to be sure. So do all the other Penn State officials who failed to stop a monster from preying on more victims.

But the monster — the only one who truly has earned that moniker in this whole awful mess — is Sandusky himself.

It would be a pity if the enormity of his crimes were diminished, in the public’s perception, by attention given to associates such as Paterno whose notoriety is greater but whose misdeeds, bad though they are, are minor compared to Sandusky’s.

 

Bye, bank. Hello home? Or a pub?


The news that Bank of America is closing its Baker City branch in October wasn’t exactly shocking.

Most of the nation’s major banks — B of A, based in Charlotte, N.C., ranks second in assets to JPMorgan Chase — have pared their operations since the financial meltdown four years ago.

But this inconvenience for the bank’s local customers also creates an opportunity for the community.

That’s because Bank of America’s Baker City branch is not the typical boring banking center, architecturally speaking.

It’s located in one of Baker City’s older — and to our eyes, one of the more interesting — Victorian homes.

The Ison House, at 1790 Washington Ave., was built in 1887. The Queen Anne-style home was built of brick brought from Portland. According to Historic Baker City Inc’s guide to local architecture, the home’s original owner, Luther B. Ison, deemed locally fired brick too soft for his tastes.

Not to disparage banks, and the potential loss of jobs from the bank’s closures is unfortunate, but we’d be pleased if the Ison House were sold and used for either of two purposes.

The most obvious would be that someone with a surfeit of money and patience buys the home and restores it for its original use: as a home.

The more intriguing idea, though, has to do with brew.

McMenamins of Portland is renowned for turning antique buildings into restaurants. Among the company’s locations is an old house in South Salem that’s not all that different from the Ison House.

Baker City already has two brewpubs, of course — Barley Brown’s and Bull Ridge. 

Adding a McMenamins could bolster our reputation as a destination for beer connoisseurs, and give a boost to the two existing businesses that serve a similar clientiele.

 

Studded tires get a reprieve


Your studded tires should be safe for at least one more winter.

A Portland man who wants to ban studded tires on Oregon roads failed to gather enough signatures to put a proposed ban on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Jeff Bernards didn’t even come close, in fact. He needed at least 80,000 signatures from registered voters. He collected about 10,000.

We’re happy about his failure.

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City needs your ideas on streets


The news that Baker City is beginning work on updating its 16-year-old transportation plan might sound like one of those bureaucratic exercises that are as exciting as listening to a lecture delivered in a language you don’t understand.

We’re not going to try to convince you that the city’s finished product will pull you in like the latest from Stephen King or Craig Johnson.

But unlike famous authors, the city, along with the engineering firm it has hired to write the plan, will incorporate reader suggestions.

The city, in fact, is all but pleading for your help with what amounts to the plot.

Even if you didn’t attend this afternoon’s kickoff meeting at City Hall, and you can’t make the bicycle tour that starts Thursday morning at 10 o’clock (meet at City Hall, 1655 First St.), you’ll have ample chances over the next year or so to tell the city what you think its transportation system lacks.

One thing that isn’t exactly in abundance here, of course, is traffic.

Considering our version of rush hour resembles a tranquil Sunday in a Portland suburb, you might wonder why Baker City even needs a transportation plan.

Well, for one thing the state thinks we ought to have a plan if we intend to keep applying for grants and loans that make major projects financially feasible for a small town.

But it’s also valuable for city officials — including the seven elected city councilors, who have the final say on such things — to have an idea of what their constituents think is important.

In Baker City we needn’t fret over such things as billion-dollar light rail extensions or even more expensive bridges over the Columbia River.

And our street system is pretty much in place.

We’d wager, though, that most locals could come up with a list of improvements, such as adding bicycle lanes or sidewalks, that make it easier, and safer, to get around town.

The sooner city officials learn about those needs, the more likely it is they’ll end up in the final plan, and the more likely they’ll actually get built.

 

A family endures a nightmare

Baker City Herald Editorial Board

What happened to one of Stacy and Jason Bingham’s five children would cause any parent to shudder.

That the same medical malady — in essence, a failed heart — could befall two of their daughters, and possibly one of their two sons, well, that seems the stuff of fiction.

Six years ago the Binghams, who live near Haines, watched as their eldest daughter Sierra, then 6, underwent heart transplant surgery at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif.

Today the Binghams are there again.

 

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Freedom signs near the Fourth

Baker City Herald Editorial board

It seems to us fitting that the United States of America, within a week of our Independence Day, lurched through one of those raucuous public episodes that are a hallmark of our republic.

The cacophony attending the Supreme Court’s ruling on President Obama’s signature legislation — the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare — was the sort of spectacle that can happen only in an exceedingly free society.


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A great option for higher ed


Baker City lacks the archetypal university campus with its tree-lined walkways and imposing, ivy-bearded buildings.

But for many local residents who want to further their education, what we do have is, well, better.

Blue Mountain Community College gives the so-called “non-traditional” student (as though there’s anything unconventional about a person wanting to learn) flexible options in pursuing a degree that aren’t always available at four-year universities.

It’s no real surprise, then, that the college, which is based in Pendleton but has a satellite campus in Baker City, is becoming a more popular choice for Baker County students.

Enrollment locally has increased almost three-fold in the past five years.

In addition to convenient schedules — including online classes available for students who need them — Blue Mountain’s tuition is a bargain, at about $45 less per credit than its closest competitor.

Students can choose to earn an associate’s degree, or transfer their credits to a four-year university where they can go on to earn a bachelor’s degree.

The bottom line is that Baker County residents needn’t leave home to acquire a higher education.

 

Which roads to sacrifice?


Local Forest Service officials want to hear what you have to say about the plan to ban motor vehicles on some roads on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

We recommend you take them up on the offer.

Although we doubt many people will need much prodding to make themselves heard on this matter.

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