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Trim proposed street fee

We applaud the Baker City Council for making street maintenance a high priority for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

But the proposed street user fee that councilors discussed Tuesday (no action was taken) — $5 per month for homeowners, $10 per month for businesses — would be too heavy of a burden on too many city residents.

That fee would bring add an estimated $250,000 per year to the city’s street-maintenance budget. Those dollars could be put to good use. City officials say it would take at least twice that much new money each year to reverse the decade-long downward trend in the condition of city streets.

But in a city with a significant number of residents living on Social Security or other fixed sources of income, an extra $5 per month can be painful.

We suggest a more moderate fee — say $2 per month for everyone — which could be increased by modest increments in the future. That would help smooth the streets without making for too bumpy of a financial ride for residents.

No need to leash ODFW head

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board

So much for the old adage about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer.

A quartet of environmental groups thinks it’s unseemly, and maybe worse, for officials from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to even be seen in public with people who don’t much like the gray wolves that that agency is responsible for managing in Northeastern Oregon.

Keep anti-pot flights

Cutting back on National Guard helicopter flights designed to find marijuana-growing sites, in order to save a pittance in the federal budget, is a bad bargain for Baker County.

We hope Congress fixes that flaw in President Obama’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

So long as marijuana is illegal, there will be great temptation for people to grow it in remote areas.

Which pretty much describes quite a lot of Baker County — including the million acres (half the county’s area) of public land.

These isolated plantations pose considerable danger to hikers, hunters, ATV riders and others.

The potential threats include chemicals, booby traps and gun-toting “guards.”

Fortunately, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., advocates for continuing the interdiction flights.

Ideally such flights wouldn’t be necessary. But until that ideal becomes reality, the public who pay the federal government’s bills deserve the protection that regular surveillance flights provides.

Dams and ditches

Baker City Herald Editorial Board

We hope a recent comment from retired U.S. District Judge James Redden isn’t indicative of the level of consideration he gave to the question of salmon conservation while he was on the bench in Portland.


Kitzhaber's inconsistency

We’ve noticed a curious lack of consistency in how Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber employs his bully pulpit.

Or, in this case, bully word-processing program.

On Wednesday the governor sent a letter to several federal officials urging them to undertake a multi-year (and no doubt, multimillion-dollar) study of the possible effects of transporting coal from Montana and Wyoming to ports in Oregon and Washington.

This coal would be shipped across the Pacific Ocean to Asia where several countries — China, of course, among them — would burn the coal to produce electricity to run their burgeoning economies.

(Yes, some countries actually have such things.)

To be sure, Kitzhaber’s concerns are not the ravings of a Chicken Little.

Nudity not necessary

We’re no prudes, but our skepticism is aroused whenever someone insists that getting naked was necessary to make a political point.

The most convincing arguments can be delivered at least as effectively, we’d wager, by a person who is clothed.

Nudity, you’ve no doubt noticed, tends to distract people, and thus detract from the position being advanced.

All of which is to say we think the statement John Brennan, the Portland man who shed his clothes recently at Portland International Airport, was trying to make was as blurry as the videos of his antics broadcast on TV.

Brennan, who was annoyed at being detained by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents, described the U.S. airport security system as “broken.”

It’s annoying, to be sure. So is waiting in line at Disneyland. But you don’t often hear about people stripping at the entrance to Space Mountain.

Until terrorists start wearing T-shirts announcing their intentions, we’re willing to endure brief interludes with zealous TSA drones. It beats crashing or getting blown up.

Take a breath

So now everyone embroiled in the debate over the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest’s Travel Management Plan (TMP) can take a deep breath.

Wallowa-Whitman Supervisor Monica Schwalbach on Tuesday withdrew her decision, announced March 15, to ban motor vehicles from about 3,600 miles on 1.3 million acres of the forest.

A wise choice.

It quickly became apparent that the alternative Schwalbach picked back in March would have banned rigs from a lot more roads than many local residents expected.

Too many roads, we believe.

The pertinent issue, though, is which roads should be taken off that original closure list.

Fred Warner Jr., chairman of the Baker County Board of Commissioners, pointed out that, based on the diligent work of local volunteers who inventoried roads, about 30 percent of the forest roads in Baker County aren’t being used by motor vehicles.

“Closing” those roads would have a theoretical rather than an actual effect on the public. And indeed, most of those roads were slated to be closed in the postponed TMP.

But the plan also closed, in some areas, not only redundant roads, which roughly parallel a nearby road, but both of those roads.

The revised plan should be based on Alternative 3 in the final environmental impact statement. That option would close about 1,800 miles, roughly half the mileage in Schwalbach’s initial decision.

That’s still a lot of roads. But it’s an option that comes much closer to achieving the “balance”  between preserving motorized access, and reducing its effects on wildlife and habitat, that Schwalbach is aiming for.

Bury Resort Street plan

Burying the electric, cable TV and other utility lines that currently run overhead along Resort Street downtown certainly would make this important arterial more attractive.

And the timing, at least in theory, is right, with the city preparing for a $2.3 million project next year that will rebuild the street and sidewalks, and install benches and plants. That money comes from the state.

Holes, suffice it to say, will be dug regardless.

But the price of burying the utilities is simply too high for city residents to bear.

Appealing the TMP

The Forest Service, in common with most bureaucracies, strives to convince us, as members of the public, that it truly cares what we think about its actions.

Witness the cavalcade of meetings and open houses and, of course, “public comment periods” which proliferate, like dandelions, whenever the agency is up to something in the woods.

Just recently a lot of Northeastern Oregon residents have reacted to the Forest Service’s putative interest in public opinion with healthy skepticism or, in many cases, with outright disgust.

We understand why.

Wegener’s comment on Knight’s religion out of bounds

Kyle Knight’s religion has as much to do with his current dispute with other members of the Baker 5J School Board and Superintendent Walt Wegener as his hair color does.

Which is to say, nothing at all.

That’s why part of an email that Wegener sent on Sunday to Knight and the four other board members is both inappropriate and unnecessary.

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