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Local streams added to bull trout habitat list

Forest Service official expects little effect, because agency already managing streams to protect the fish

The federal government on Tuesday added sections of about 30 streams in Baker County to the list of critical habitat for the bull trout, a threatened species.

Among the newly designated critical habitat are reaches of several creeks in the Elkhorn Mountains west of Baker City, and about 25 streams in the southern Wallowa Mountains near Halfway and Richland.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first proposed the Baker County waterways, which total about 325 miles, as critical habitat in January of this year.

Although the federal Endangered Species Act requires agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service to protect critical habitat, Tuesday’s decision probably won’t have a major effect locally on how the agency manages public land.

The reason, said Paul Boehne, fish biologist for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, is that the forest, since the bull trout was listed as a threatened species in 1998, has managed streams that could harbor the fish as though they did have bull trout population.

The agency did so because streams can be designated as critical habitat even if biologists haven’t found, or even looked for, bull trout in them.

BLM warns of possible mine hazards

Agency mailed letters to mining claim holders, but BLM can actually deal with just a small percentage of the problems each year

The Bureau of Land Management has mailed letters to about 4,000 miners, including 155 in Oregon, alerting them to possible abandoned shafts or other hazards on their mining claims on BLM land.

The letters are part of a BLM campaign to reduce or eliminate dangers associated with old mines.

“We’re taking a proactive approach to warning active mining claimants whose mining claims include hazardous sites,” BLM Director Bob Abbey said in a press release.

The letters, which were mailed within the past week, went only to miners with claims on BLM land.

In the Baker-Grant county region, the most productive gold-mining area in Oregon late in the 19th century and early in the 20th, the majority of the current active mining claims are on public land managed by the Forest Service rather than the BLM.

Budding farmers bring in the harvest

Who knew that carrot stems could be used to swat away flies — and pesky boys?

That was just one of the discoveries Wednesday when 80 youngsters from Powder Valley School invaded the gardens of Valerie and Rod Tachenko of Medical Springs.

The field trip was part of Powder’s Farm-to-School program, which is sponsored by Oregon Rural Action.

Last May, Val Tachenko went to the school and helped the students plant pumpkin seeds, which they tended for a month.

On June 1, the kids took their pumpkins out to the farm for planting. Each plant was marked with a wooden stick that had the child’s name on one side and the pumpkin’s name on the other.

Those pumpkins grew all summer, and Wednesday was harvest day.

Anthony Lakes Highway rebuild nearly done

The rebuilding of a nearly 10-mile section of the Anthony Lakes Highway is almost finished.

The project’s contractors were “tickled about the warm weather so they could finish the work,” said Judy Wing, public information officer for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

High Desert Aggregate and Paving Inc. of Redmond started work in June.

The 9.5-mile job starts at the Wallowa-Whitman boundary and continues up into the Elkhorn Mountains to a sno-park just beyond Ski Anthony Lakes resort.

Two local veterans honored with trip to Washington, D.C.

Milt Prowell spent a little more than two years in the U.S. Army during the final phase of World War II, serving in France, Germany and Belgium.

Marie Colombari served just 28 days shy of  two years in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service), working in the main post office at the Naval Training Center in San Diego.

Prowell was drafted into the U.S. Army from his Beaver Creek farm just south of Baker City in 1944, two years after he graduated from Baker High School. After the service he returned to the farm where he worked for several years before establishing P&E Distributing in 1967 with his nephew, Ed Elms. Prowell retired in 1981.

Colombari, a 1941 graduate of Pine Valley High School at Halfway, first worked in the Portland shipyards before enlisting in the WAVES in 1944. She also returned to Baker County after she was discharged in May 1946. She married Bari Colombari and settled in Baker City where they raised three children.

And now, more than half a century later, both Prowell and Colombari are being honored for their dedication to their country during war as part of the Eastern Oregon Honor Flight, which leaves Portland Thursday en route for Washington, D.C.

Candidate forum set for Oct. 13

Candidates for the Baker County Board of Commissioners and the Baker City Council are scheduled to speak and to answer questions from the public during a forum next week.

The candidates’ forum is set for Oct. 13 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the commons at Baker High School, 2500 E St.

The free event is sponsored by the Baker Branch of the American Association of University Women, and the Baker City Herald.

Each candidate will give a short statement, followed by questions from the audience.

Two of the three County Commission seats are in play in the Nov. 2 election.

Both incumbents, Fred Warner Jr. and Carl Stiff, are running for another four-year term.

And each has drawn an opponent.

Plan seeks to protect economy

Baker County’s Natural Resource Plan takes a look at agriculture, forestry, recreation and several other issues that affect, and involve, the county’s resources.

In March of 2009, the three county commissioners organized a Natural Resources Advisory Committee to define the economical, social and agricultural goals of Baker County as they relate to its natural resources.

Last week the 15-member committee, joined by the commissioners, had an informal meeting to listen to public comments about the draft version of the county’s Natural Resources Plan.

The purpose of the 47-page plan is to ensure that the county’s goals and resources are in accordance with state and federal laws, while still preserving Baker County’s heritage and economy — the largest sector of which is agriculture, accounting for about $66 million in sales annually.

“The main reason was we wanted to have a goal and objectives for our natural resources. So when state and federal agencies come to us we can say ‘here is our plan,’ ” said Fred Warner Jr., chairman of the board of commissioners.

Council OK’s skate park facelift at Sam-O

Doing general cleanup at the Baker City skate park near Sam-O Swim Center during the weekend are, from left, Jesse Hatfield, Aiden Lang, and Gabe Logsdon.(Baker City Herald/Kathy Orr)
The skate park near Sam-O Swim Center on Baker Street will soon be getting a facelift and a few additions that have been 15 years in the making.

The city owns the park.

However, not much has been done in the way of maintaining it. There are two trash cans near the park, but those are only square concrete receptacles with no interior liner, and they’re not close enough to the park to encourage usage.

There also is a weed control issue that has not been addressed.

Nonetheless, those who use the park are proud of it and have offered to volunteer to help with the construction of improvements and to begin keeping the area clean.

The city has set aside $24,000 for improvements toward the park even though there haven’t been any major projects done in several years.

“What I wanted to point out is, again dollars are available … that were given for specifically skate park improvement, and those are in the budget,” Michelle Owen, Baker City director of public works, told councilors Tuesday night.

The proposed improvements would cost $12,000.

“Which leaves $12,000 in the budget for future opportunities,” she said.

The newest splash at the Courthouse

Renovated fountain will spew water for first time since 1974

After 36 years of inactivity, this fountain outside the Baker County Courthouse, 1995 Third St., will flow again. (Baker City Herald/Kathy Orr)
The fountain glitters a coppery glow in the fall sunshine, which makes Vince Woods smile.

“It’s going to be the focal point of this courtyard,” he said.

Woods is head of the facilities department at the Baker County Courthouse. Last October, he and Nathan Petrucci dismantled the fountain, which hadn’t spewed water since 1974 when the “Boy with the Boot” statue was moved inside.

He’d noticed the fountain his first day of work nearly two years ago.

“This was the first eyesore I saw — a big silver monster,” he said.

Since the removal, the fountain parts have been worked on by Cook’s Radiator, Natural Structures and inmates at Powder River Correctional Facility.

“They disassembled and reassembled it numerous times,” Woods said of the inmates. “They did a wonderful job.”

On Wednesday the inmates finished the five-month project by helping Woods install the fountain in its place at the courthouse, on a new pad of concrete.

Murder suspect can assist with trial

Kevin Blankenship, who is charged with murder in the death of his 38-year-old wife, Christina Blankenship, will enter a plea next month.

An entry of plea had been scheduled Wednesday in Baker County Circuit Court, but the date was changed at the request of Blankenship’s attorney, who said more time was needed to receive discovery (evidence in the investigation) from the state.

During the 20-minute session, a new plea hearing was set for Nov. 23, beginning at 1:30 p.m.

Blankenship, 41, has been held at the Baker County Jail since shortly after the shooting at the couple’s home at 3500 Auburn Ave. around midnight on Aug. 26.

Blankenship is represented by John Day attorney Dan Cronin. Bob Whitnah of Baker City has been appointed as co-counsel with a cap of 150 hours, according to court records.

The two attorneys appeared in the courtroom in person Wednesday along with District Attorney Matt Shirtcliff. Blankenship appeared via video link from the Baker County Jail and Judge Jeffrey Wallace of Umatilla County, who presided over the the hearing appeared via video link from a Hermiston courtroom.

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