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Making room for canyon campground

Hells Canyon has long been one of Baker County’s main tourist attractions, but the views down there are much more abundant than the amenities are.

A Colorado company hopes to change that ratio.

We applaud the Baker County Commissioners for approving on Wednesday Western Land Management’s request to change the zoning on its 76-acre property. That change paves the way for the company to build an RV park on its parcel beside Hells Canyon Reservoir, about four miles north of Oxbow.

The county planning commission endorsed the company’s plans last month.

Western Land Management wants to construct 10 cabins and create campsites for 25 RVs and 25 tents.

The right decision

Baker County’s three commissioners made a difficult decision last week when they appointed 11 people to serve on the county’s Mental Health advisory committee.

But we believe it was the right decision.

The controversial part was commissioners’ decision to not re-appoint two incumbent members, chairman Gary Dielman and secretary Ed Moses.

Both Dielman and Moses have publicly criticized commissioners for failing to scrutinize Mountain Valley Mental Health (MVMH), the private contractor the county hires under a million-dollar contract to serve clients with mental health problems.

Many of those criticisms were valid.

State regulators cited more than a dozen deficiencies at MVMH in 2006.

Big future for little wood products

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.

Thankful by the tankful

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.

Wasting time, gas

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.

We concur, councilor

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.

Looking up downtown

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 purposes.

That’s a pity.

Curing glitches in state’s biofuel law

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 logging slash.

Ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline and produces fewer pollutants.

Don’t conceal gun permits from public

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.

Don’t rush zoning law

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.

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