The foundation of Northeastern Oregon’s timber industry used to be the biggest things in the woods: old growth ponderosa pines.
Yellow bellies, they’re sometimes called.
The future of that ailing industry, by contrast, might well depend on a
lot of little things that loggers used to pile and burn, if they
bothered to do anything with the stuff.
“Slash” is the traditional term for skinny trees, limbs, needles and
debris, but nowadays you’ll more often hear about “biomass.”
Members from Baker County’s Small Woodlands Association talked during a
recent meeting about using biomass as the basis for an industry that
could include a power plant and a wood pellet mill.
Harvesting biomass can also lead to healthier forests where trees grow
faster and are less susceptible to insects, disease and fires.
Those prospects are exciting, and could create a new source of income for private forest owners.
But this is not a turnkey operation waiting for someone to twist it into profit-making life.
Remember those torpid days in July and August, when you shivered
despite the heat whenever you drove past a gas station and your gaze,
almost against your will, fell on the price display?
We do, too.
And we’re awfully thankful that the sight of those signs isn’t nearly so sinister as it was four months ago.
In fact we’ve been tempted to take a drive just to see if the local stations have shaved another dime.
Except we don’t want to waste gas — not even gas that goes for little more than two bucks a gallon.
We mention gas prices because the money we pump into our tanks is real money.
The Oregon School Activities Association won’t be getting Christmas cards from any environmental groups this year.
It shouldn’t, anyway.
On Saturday morning, on the artificial turf at Hillsboro Stadium, two
teams will play for the state’s Class 1A football championship.
Those two teams — the Joseph Eagles and the Imbler Panthers — will have traveled a total of 640 miles to get to the field.
Round trip, that’s 1,280 miles.
And school buses, as you probably know, don’t exactly play in the same league, mileage-wise, as a Prius.
Baker City Councilor Dennis Dorrah said something that needed to be said.
Well, actually Dorrah wrote rather than said what he was thinking, since he couldn’t attend last week’s budget board meeting.
But the point of Dorrah’s words, whether printed on paper or spoken, comes to the same.
That point is that Baker City officials should treat every dollar as precious.
Dorrah, in the letter he submitted to the 14-member budget board, which
includes the seven city councilors and seven members appointed by the
City Council, contends that city spending during the rest of the fiscal
year should “be held to an absolute minimum.”
Dorrah also suggests the city cut at least 5 percent from the budget for fiscal 2009-10, which starts July 1.
Despite its passel of awards and national recognition, Baker City’s historic downtown district is missing something significant.
But perhaps not for much longer.
The glaring gap in the development of downtown is upstairs.
There’s a lot of space on the upper floors of buildings, but a relative
pittance of that space is being used for residential or business
That’s a pity.
Oregon’s House Bill 2210 might have seemed sensible to legislators who
represent temperate, and relatively small, westside districts.
But in the vast, often frigid lands east of the Cascades, the 2007 law,
which mandates the blending of biofuels with regular gasoline and
diesel, brings consequences that detract from the legislation’s
laudable goals of reducing pollution and creating a market for various
crops and logging debris.
Fortunately the Legislature, which convenes in January, can fix the
worst of the law’s problems by way of a couple of modest tweaks.
First, the ethanol.
The law requires that gasoline sold in Oregon contain 10 percent of the
plant-based fuel, which can be produced from crops as well as from
Ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline and produces fewer pollutants.
Oregon’s excellent public records law allows us to find out, among many
other matters, when our neighbors get a marriage license, or register
to vote, or apply for a permit to build a fence.
But now many of Oregon’s 36 county sheriffs — including Baker County’s
Mitch Southwick — argue that we’re not necessarily entitled to know
which of our neighbors have a permit to carry a concealed handgun.
It seems to us that on the roster of government records that citizens
ought to have access to, concealed weapons permits rank quite a lot
higher than, say, marriage licenses.
Think of it this way: If the government issues a marriage license to a
couple who aren’t ready to be married, no one besides the unfortunate
pair is likely to be harmed.
Forgive us a brief excursion into exaggeration, but compared to Baker
County’s draft zoning ordinance, “War and Peace” is a pamphlet.
Which is to say the ordinance — all 45 chapters — is long and complicated.
County officials have been putting the thing together for five years, after all.
They shouldn’t be in a rush now to make the ordinance official.
We don’t fault the county’s efforts thus far to explain to residents and property owners what’s going on.
We don’t as a rule subscribe to the notion that a nation or a state can tax itself out of recession and into prosperity.
But we think Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski is onto something with the tax-hike proposal he unveiled last week.
We endorse much of Kulongoski’s plan because he wants to use the extra
money for a specific, and necessary, purpose: Replacing dilapidated
bridges and repairing rough highways.
And unlike many tax-raising schemes that politicians devise,
Kulongoski’s concept would benefit private businesses far more than it
would enrich state bureaucracies.
The governor told legislators last week that his plan would put almost
$500 million per year into the state’s coffers, and result in about
2,100 new jobs per year over the next five years.
Most of those jobs would be in the construction sector.
The tax and fee increases Kulongoski proposes are modest.
“Baker County votes don’t matter — Portland decides every election.”
This lament is one we hear often.
And it’s not without merit.
Consider, for instance, that President-elect Barack Obama received 57
percent of the votes cast in Oregon, and John McCain 41 percent.
Obama did exceptionally well in Multnomah County, Oregon’s most
populous, where he got 77 percent of the votes to McCain’s 21 percent.
Yet in Baker County Obama polled just 32 percent to McCain’s 64 percent.
The returns are similarly reversed in the U.S. Senate race.