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Wet, Not White

Snowpack Stays Below Average

Jayson Jacoby/Baker City Herald The snowpack is fairly close to average at some higher-elevation sites in Northeastern Oregon, including the Wallowa Mountains, seen here. But as the snow-free lower slopes in this photo show, the situation isn’t as promising elsewhere.

By Jayson Jacoby

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The trouble with Northeastern Oregon’s snowpack is rain.

Most snow-measuring sites in the region’s mountains have recorded more precipitation than average since the water year started Oct. 1, 2014.

But the water content in the snow — the measurement that matters most when it comes to forecasting the summer water supply — is below average at every site.

County balks at USFS offer

Commission Chairman Bill Harvey says cooperating with the agency has not helped the county

By Jayson Jacoby

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Bill Harvey says Forest Service policies that restrict the harvest of timber, minerals and other natural resources on public land in Baker County are “choking us to death.”

And Harvey, the newly elected chairman of the county’s Board of Commissioners, doesn’t intend to stick the county’s neck out any farther, figuratively speaking.

“We keep getting hurt in Baker County,” Harvey said Tuesday. “They’re totally ignoring us and totally ignoring the needs of Baker County.”

Which is why Harvey this morning asked fellow commissioners Mark Bennett and Tim L. Kerns to join him in signing what is in effect a “Dear John” letter to the Forest Service.

Saved by a pickup

Four Local Men Tell Their Harrowing Tale From Jan. 17 Pile Up On I-84

Submitted photo Joe Patton says he’s buying another Dodge pickup truck just like the one that was totaled on Jan. 17 on Interstate 84 near Baker City. “It gave its all for us,” Patton said.

By Lisa Britton

For the Baker City Herald

Two weeks after the truck he was riding in was smashed in a massive pile up on Interstate 84 near Baker City, Chuck Carey’s phone message from that day brings a chuckle:

“Everybody’s OK. We kind of got in a car wreck.”

He definitely downplayed the situation in this message he left for his wife, Jeanine.

In reality, these four men — Carey, Travis Birmingham and Joe Patton of Baker City, and Leroy Thompson of Sumpter — could have been crushed between two semi trucks.

Potato growers ‘bombshell’

Heinz, the largest buyer of potatoes grown in Baker Valley, won’t be contracting with local farmers starting this year 

By Jayson Jacoby

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Baker Valley’s eight potato growers are scrambling to find a buyer for 2015 before they’re forced to plant less-valuable crops on their former spud acreage.

Farmers had a “bombshell dropped on us” Jan. 22 when officials from Heinz announced the company, which in recent years bought about 80 percent of the potatoes grown in Baker Valley, won’t be renewing the contract with local growers, said Mark Ward, a potato farmer and president of the Malheur Potato Bargaining Association.

Stain Scrubbing

Polishing Geiser Grand Hotel’s Stained Glass Ceiling

S. John Collins / Baker City Herald Everardo Arenas, Geiser Grand Hotel employee, carefully removes one of 96 stained-glass panels from the dining room ceiling Wednesday.

By Lisa Britton

For the Baker City Herald

The stained glass ceiling above the Geiser Grand Hotel’s Palm Court is once again sparkling in the sunshine.

Work on the polishing project began Jan. 20 and should be finished this week.

The ceiling is about 864 square feet.

Drug busts need time, luck

Police, D.A. talk about recent rash of meth arrests

By Chris Collins

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Last week’s arrests of 13 people on charges of dealing or using methamphetamine did not come about because there has been a huge increase in the drug’s prevalence in the community, law enforcement officials say.

Instead, it was more the result of the right people coming together at the right time to make the cases.

And it required patience, says District Attorney Matt Shirtcliff and Police Chief Wyn Lohner.

Search warrants served at Baker City homes on Jan. 19 and again on Jan. 22 were put together over the past two months with evidence gained during an undercover  operation involving a confidential informant.

Demographic quirk makes Haines, other small towns ineligible for vital federal grants

Officials are optimistic, though, that the problem can be fixed and that their towns will be eligible 

A change in how the federal government calculates the percentage of households in a city with low or moderate incomes has at least temporarily made several small local towns, including Haines and Richland, ineligible for federal Community Development Block Grants, a crucial source of money for major projects such as water and sewer system repairs or replacements.

Haines City Recorder Valerie Russell said that, as an example, a federal survey showed that the percentage of Haines households at low or moderate income levels dropped from 2013 to 2014 from 55.5 percent to 39.7 percent. To be eligible for Block Grants, cities must have at least 51 percent of households at low or moderate incomes.

Take Up The Fight

Baker County’s Newest Rural Fire Protection Association Has First Meeting

S. John Collins / Baker City Herald file photo A rangeland firefighter mops up hot spots during the 2012 Sardine Creek fire east of Baker City. The blaze burned in the area that’s part of the newly formed Lookout-Glasgow Rangeland Protection Association.

By Joshua Dillen

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KEATING — Baker County’s newest rural fire protection group had its first meeting Monday night at the Keating Fire Hall.

A group of local ranchers and landowners in the Keating Valley and Little Lookout Mountain area formed the Lookout-Glasgow Rangeland Protection Association (LGRPA) to be a first line of defense against fires on their rangelands in the dry sagebrush country east of Baker City.

Miners talk about future

Eastern Oregon Mining and Aggregate Development summit in Baker City

By Jayson Jacoby

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Mining plays a major role in Baker County’s distant past, and its future might not be as bleak as the industry’s relatively moribund present suggests.

The prospect for a mining revival here and elsewhere in Eastern Oregon was a key theme during a five-hour summit that brought miners, legislators, economists and others to Baker City Tuesday afternoon.

Hells Canyon Road to reopen Friday

OXBOW — Idaho Power Co. plans to reopen Hells Canyon Road at 9 a.m. Friday, after partial removal of a rock slide that blocked the road north of Hells Canyon Park last week.

A single lane will be open, with flaggers on hand to guide vehicles through the slide area, Brad Bowlin, Idaho Power Co. spokesman, stated in a press release. Travelers should expect delays, and are urged to use extreme caution in the canyon, especially in the slide area, he said.

No one was injured in the slide, which happened Jan. 20 about three miles north of Hells Canyon Park on the Idaho side of the Snake River.

The slide was about 60 yards long and included numerous large boulders. Crews worked through the weekend to clear the road. Some of the boulders on the road were so large, they had to be blasted to make them small enough to remove, Bowlin said.

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