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Jubilee can have a future


The Baker County Chamber of Commerce has decided to end its role in organizing Miners Jubilee, but we’re confident that Baker City’s annual July event will persist.

There is a cadre of dedicated volunteers, from service clubs and other groups as well as individuals, who are capable of taking over the Chamber’s tasks, such as signing up vendors for Geiser-Pollman Park, organizing the parade and coordinating the Jubilee button design contest.

We hope too that other organizations which coordinate aspects of the community festival will continue to do so.

These include Historic Baker City Inc., which handles the duck and beaver races, the bed races and other events, the Eastern Oregon Mining Association’s popular displays and contests and the Lions Club’s breakfasts.

This evolution of Miners Jubilee could also result in changes that benefit the event as a whole.

Baker City has an active art community, including the Baker Art Guild, Crossroads Carnegie Art Center and several galleries. We’d like to see more local artists and crafters displaying their works in the park.

And we’d welcome a revival of scheduling local musicians to perform in the park during Jubilee.

Miners Jubilee has some momentum, in part because it’s become the weekend when Baker High School graduates gather for class reunions.

And although public drunkenness and other problems were unusually common during this year’s event, Police Chief Wyn Lohner has been talking with officials from the bull and bronc riding events that, although not officially part of Miners Jubilee, share the weekend and have become mainstay events.

We think this year’s rash of incidents will turn out to be an anomaly.

Ultimately, Miners Jubilee is a community celebration, and as such it can’t last without the support of the community.

We believe that support exists, and that it will show itself in the 2014 Jubilee.


City failed its citizens


Until Thursday afternoon, we were generally pleased with Baker City officials’ efforts to get important information to the public about the crypto crisis.

We’re not pleased any more.

Quite the opposite in fact.

With probably the most important fact yet revealed in this episode in its hands between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. Wednesday — that a water sample taken Sunday from Elk Creek contained a vastly higher amount of crypto than any previous sample from any source — the city didn’t post the information to its website.

As of 10 a.m. today that was still the case.


All open meetings


We understand that Baker City Council members and the county commissioners have been busy this past week, but their duties as elected officials during the crypto outbreak don’t exempt them from Oregon’s public meetings law.

We were disappointed to learn that a quorum of both bodies convened last week without giving the legally required public notification.

City Manager Mike Kee told us the mistake won’t happen again, and we believe him.

He also pointed out that the purpose of the meeting was not for officials to make decisions, but rather to get information.

We believe that, too, but the state law makes no such distinctions, as of course it should not. After all, if elected officials could meet in private, unpublicized venues except when they make decisions, they could do all the important business, all the haggling that goes into making a decision, outside the public’s purview.

Other than violating the public meetings law, officials, both elected and administrative, have mainly done a good job during this crisis. Although they could make better use of websites and social media.

Residents will get a chance to hear from the City Council on Thursday evening, eight days after the city announced the crypto outbreak.

That meeting, fortunately, was announced four days in advance.


What's next with city's water


The reputation Baker City’s drinking water has earned over more than a century has been sullied by a microscopic parasite.

As of this writing, tests had not confirmed beyond any doubt that city water is the source of the cryptosporidium infections that have affected dozens of residents.

But the city’s water is the most likely culprit.

It’s not for nothing that city officials on Wednesday morning recommended residents boil tapwater before drinking it or using it to wash their dishes or brush their teeth.

Yet even if, as unlikely as this might be, it turns out that the crypto came from a different source, the citywide crisis this week has convinced us that protecting residents from crypto and other waterborne illness must be the city’s top priority.

To be sure, the nasty little parasite didn’t arrive, as it were, from a clear blue sky.

In 2010 and 2011, lab tests found small numbers of crypto “oocysts” — the protective shell that makes the parasite resistant to the chlorine the city adds to its water to disinfect it against some other contaminants — in three 10-liter samples of city water.

Unfortunately, the presence of crypto wasn’t revealed to the public as soon as it should have been because Michelle Owen, the city’s public works director, failed to review all of the test reports.

Last fall city councilors debated two treatment options. The city’s preferred option has been an ultraviolet light (UV) system that inactivates crypto, giardia and some other parasites. But UV is not as effective as a filtration plant in removing viruses, UV has no effect on chemicals, and a UV system would not protect the water from dirt and ash that could foul streams were a wildfire to burn in the city’s watershed. City officials have worried for many years about such a fire, but the city’s long history of providing pure water has made the investment seem unnecessary.

And it’s a big investment: The extra capabilities of a filtration plant come at a cost of perhaps $15 million, compared with an estimated $2.5 million for a UV system.

 But in the wake of a week in which so many people were afflicted with stomach cramps, diarrhea and other unpleasant symptoms, in which restaurants and other businesses suffered during a busy weekend, we believe that extra cost is worth it.

Once the crisis is over, city officials should put together a presentation showing how each treatment option would affect customers’ bills. 

No treatment plant can be built quickly, of course. But while construction is under way the city needs to institute a rigorous testing program to ensure that, if crypto again pollutes our water, we’ll know as soon as possible.

And if it turns out, as officials have speculated, that mountain goats that live (and poop) near Goodrich Lake, from which the city draws some of its water, are the source of the crypto, the city will need to figure out how to reduce that risk.


A new element foils city’s plan

By Baker City Editorial Board

Phosphorus is among the more humble elements but it could turn out to be more costly to Baker City residents than gold.

The issue is sewage.

Or, as engineers prefer to call it, wastewater.

The city’s challenge is to dispose of this stuff in a way that causes the least damage to the environment.

For several decades the city has piped wastewater to a quartet of lagoons a mile or so north of Hughes Lane. The purpose of these lagoons, also aptly known as settling ponds, is to let the, well, solid constituents of wastewater fall to the bottom, leaving somewhat less polluted water.

There are other steps to the process, but the basic idea is to leave wastewater in the lagoons for a while and then pipe it into the nearby Powder River.

City officials have known for several years that this traditional practice would eventually run afoul of state and federal laws. The prime concerns are that the wastewater is too warm and that its pH level harms fish habitat.

Rather than wait for deadlines to be set, city officials have spent considerable time looking at options. In 2010 the City Council decided that the best alternative, not least because it appeared to be the cheapest, is to build a pipeline to carry wastewater from the lagoons to a site along Baldock Slough, east of Interstate 84 near the Baker Valley rest area, where the wastewater would create a wetlands.

Several cities have done this, including La Grande.

Which is where phosphorus enters the scene.

In the past few years regulatory agencies, as is their wont, have changed the rules. The current concern, City Manager Mike Kee said, is that phosphorus, which can damage fish habitat, would leach from the wetland and get into the Powder River.

A DEQ official urged the City Council to consider an alternative: using wastewater to irrigate a crop such as alfalfa. Kee said most of the phosphorus would be taken up by the crop, which is then harvested, so the phosphorus doesn’t get into the river.

Here’s the rub: Land application, as the latter method is known, likely would cost twice as much as the wetlands option. The reason, Kee said, is that with land application the city would have to build more lagoons. The current lagoons are almost at capacity, and land application is feasible for only the four or five months of the year when crops are growing.

The advantage to wetlands is that wastewater can be piped to the site year-round, eliminating the need to add lagoon capacity.

A possibly reason for optimism, Kee said, is Roseburg. That city is putting its wastewater into a wetland, and a study suggested that it would take a century for enough phosphorus to accumulate to pose a risk to nearby streams.

We’d like to believe that regulatory agencies will be flexible, and at least consider that forcing Baker City residents to spend twice as much money for a possibly negligible environmental benefit is neither wise nor fair.

But we’re not confident.

Besides which, even if the city can solve the phosphorus problem, there is the not minor matter of the rest of the Periodic Table from which regulators could potentially select the next danger.

Have you counted the elements, many of them nasty pollutants, on that thing?


Sobering statistics from Miners Jubilee


There was much to like about this year’s Miners Jubilee.

Baker City’s annual summer celebration continues to feature a variety of events attractive to families — a parade with plenty of candy skittering across the asphalt, a fun center at the park, a chance for kids to pan a few flakes of gold.

Police Chief Wyn Lohner offers a vastly different, and quite troubling, view.

His memo summarizing Miners Jubilee includes such phrases as “drunk lady bleeding from arms and knees,” and another person “too intoxicated to walk or be left alone,” and a “passed out male trying to get into a vehicle between periods of consciousness.”

Put simply, too many people are drinking too much alcohol during Miners Jubilee.


Wind farms pose too big a risk for county


The debate over whether Baker County should welcome wind farms can be distilled to a cost-benefit analysis.

Would wind farms enrich the county more than they degrade it?

Our answer is no — a proliferation of wind turbines (there are just six in the county now) would not be to Baker County’s long-term advantage.


Protest, but don’t destroy


Some people contend that the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin illustrates an inherent injustice of the American legal system —- one that’s racially motivated.

We disagree.

We agree that Martin should still be alive.

And we agree that he probably would be alive, had Zimmerman chosen to stay in his car rather than pursue the teenager that night in February 2012.


Problems, potential profits


Two weekends ago, bicycles were the most common sight on certain Baker City streets.

Starting today, and continuing through Sunday, the two-wheeled conveyance of choice is the motorcycle.

We support both the Baker City Cycling Classic and the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally. Both bring hundreds of people to town, most of whom spend at least a little money while they’re here. 

We recognize, though, that neither event is universally beloved.

To be blunt, both can cause hassles of varying degrees.


HBC’s deal a bad one


We’re afraid that Historic Baker City Inc. has let a financial windfall slip away.

Half of it, anyway.

We were initially elated to learn last year that the unfortunate closure of Bank of America’s Baker City branch, which was located in the 126-year-old Ison House, had one beneficial side effect.

Kate Dimon, HBC’s director, secured from Bank of America officials a deal by which the company would sell the Ison House, at the corner of Washington and Resort, to HBC for $1.

That’s a single buck.

Which is a good price indeed for a property which has a market value of $320,000, according to the Baker County Assessor’s Office.


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