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City, Resort St. owners meet

By Pat Caldwell

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A meeting Thursday at Baker City Hall between City Manager Mike Kee and members of the Resort Street Project Committee generated debate and questions and, perhaps, a way forward.

Members of the committee — property owners Randy Daugherty and Tabor Clarke — met with Kee, city Finance Director Jeanie Dexter and City Councilor Dennis Dorrah to discuss the issue of property tax assessments connected to the Resort Street Local Improvement District (LID).


Local students earn awards in essay, art and speech contest

By Chris Collins

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Baker City students earned top  honors displaying their writing, speaking and artistic abilities around the theme “Value Life, Beginning to End,” in a recent Oregon Right to Life contest.

Seven of the first-place winners attend Harvest Christian Academy.


Collared wolf from Snake River pack comes to Baker County

By Jayson Jacoby

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A male wolf from the Snake River pack moved into northern Baker County near Medical Springs on Sunday night and was still in that area Tuesday afternoon.

The wolf, designated OR-18, is an adult male, said Brian Ratliff, district wildlife biologist at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Baker City office.


Foiled on the Freeway

Oregon State Police photo Two people died in a multi-vehicle crash Sunday evening on Interstate 84 about 10 miles east of Pendleton. The crash resulted in the freeway’s westbound lanes being closed between Ontario and Pendleton for about 19 hours.

By Pat Caldwell

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and Kelly Ducote

The (La Grande) Observer

A multi-vehicle crash Sunday night near Pendleton that closed the westbound lanes of Interstate 84 for 150 miles and left two people dead also reverberated across the region in terms of economic impact and stalled commerce. 

The Oregon State Police, collision reconstructionists and Oregon Department of Transportation officials searched for answers at the scene of the crash — near Deadman’s Pass on Cabbage Hill — into Tuesday. OSP said initial information indicated a commercial truck traveling west near milepost 221 lost control on ice and slammed into the side of the road with its trailer partially on the roadway.

Later, two commercial trucks crashed into the trailer. During the secondary crash, two 51-year-old truck drivers died — Mario Santana of Richland, Wash., and Gerald Alexander of Houston. A fourth truck later crashed into the two vehicles involved in the secondary collision.

Besides being icy, the freeway was shrouded in dense fog at the time.

The crash prompted ODOT to close the westbound lanes between Ontario and Pendleton, effectively severing the vital commercial truck route from Boise to Portland.

Eastbound lanes remained open.


Attorney: Oregon Supreme Court ruling could clear way for cities to ban medical marijuana outlets


Baker City's attorney, Brent Smith, wrote in a Monday memo to City Manager Mike Kee and Police Chief Wyn Lohner that a 2010 Oregon Supreme Court ruling could clear the way for cities to ban medical marijuana dispensaries.

The City Council last month passed just such an ordinance.

But because of uncertainty regarding a bill that the Oregon Legislature is considering that might restrict cities' authority to ban medical marijuana outlets, the City Council included a sunset clause of June 15, 2014, with the ordinance.

Smith wrote in his memo that even if the Legislature passes a bill that allows cities to regulate, but not to outright ban, medical marijuana stores, the 2010 Oregon Supreme Court ruling in the Emerald Steel case could supersede that bill.

In that 2010 ruling the state Supreme Court decided that an employer could fire an employee who used medical marijuana.

Smith wrote in his memo that state Sen. Ted Ferrioli, the John Day Republican who represents Baker County, asked the state Legislative Counsel to issue an opinion about how the Emerald Steel ruling might apply to city ordinances banning medical marijuana dispensaries, and specifically whether cities would be required to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate.

The Legislative Counsel's response: "The answer to this question is no. We believe a court would not require a local government to permit the transfer of medical marijuana."

Smith wrote in his memo: "Basically, legislative counsel is saying that if a suit arises under the current controversy that the Oregon Supreme Court will either have to continue under its Emerald Steel reasoning and allow local governments to ban activities that are inconsistent with federal law, or the Supreme Court will have to overturn its recent decision in Emerald Steel."

In response to Smith's memo, Lohner sent a memo to city councilors in which he asks:

"Do we want to create another ordinance to simply remove the 'sunset clause' from Ordinance #3330 and leave the prohibition on the books as is, or do you wish to go another direction with it?"


Wolf numbers up by one-third

By Katy Nesbitt

The (La Grande) Observer

In 2013, Oregon wolf numbers increased to 64 documented wolves in eight known packs, a 33 percent increase over the previous year.

Greater numbers also means increased territory and dispersal of young, adult wolves traveling as far as Idaho, Heppner and even Mount Hood.

Over the winter, photographs of tracks and collection of scat were gathered in the Prairie Creek and Alder Slope neighborhoods of the Wallowa Valley. Russ Morgan, the agency’s wolf biologist said, more data are needed to determine if wolves are settling into the valley or if they are just passing through.

Northeast Oregon’s wolves have made some fascinating movements lately, not just in the Wallowa Valley, but around the region.


Snowpack Surge

Fifth-wettest February on record boosts snowpack from dismal to almost average

S. John Collins / Baker City Herald Valley fog rises to eventually engulf the prominence of Elkhorn Peak following a recent storm over Baker Valley and the high mountains.

By Jayson Jacoby

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Northeastern Oregon’s snowpack was ailing, and February was the cure.

The start of one, anyway.

February not only ended the region’s four-month dry spell, it brought the anemic snowpack very nearly to average.

It was the fifth-wettest February since at least 1943 at the Baker City Airport, with a monthly total of 1.19 inches of precipitation.

October, November, December and January were all drier than average, and a persistent dry, cold pattern during January left the snowpack lagging.

At the start of February the water content in snow at 18 measuring sites across the region was 68 percent of average.

By the end of the month the water content had risen to 87 percent.


Property owners say city is overcharging them for Resort Street project


Workers bury utility lines along Resort Street in this April 2013 photo. S. John Collins/Baker City Herald

 Pat Caldwell

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A funding source critical to last year’s Resort Street improvement project will be reviewed by a citizens committee after several property owners on that street expressed concerns about the issue during Tuesday night’s City Council session.

At the heart of the matter are questions about how much the property owners should pay for burying power lines and other utilities during the Resort Street project. The city created a Local Improvement District (LID) to pay part of the bill to bury the utilities.

 An LID is a funding system that provides for a group of property owners to share costs of infrastructure improvements.

The Resort Street LID money — $294,881 — constitutes about 43 percent of the $686,413 project. 

The city disbursed $389,459.73 from the street fund toward the project. 


Nanette Lehman, 2013 Teacher of the Year, wins another award

Nanette Lehman, who teaches second grade at Haines School and was named Oregon’s 2013 Teacher of the Year, has received another honor that will take her to China this summer.

Lehman has received the  National Education Association Foundation’s Award for Teaching Excellence, the Baker School District announced on its website.

Lehman traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive the award during a gala event Feb. 7.

“These prestigious awards recognize, reward, and promote excellence in teaching and advocacy for the profession, community engagement, attention to diversity, and leadership in professional development,” the district website states.  

The Oregon Education Association selected Lehman as the state’s representative for the award.  She was one of 36 public school educators chosen for the honor. 

Lehman will be among 34 of those who will travel to China in June to participate in the 2014 Global Learning Fellows Program. The group will travel to Beijing and Xian, China, where participants “will learn how to enhance the connections of the cultural and educational worlds.” 

Haines School received a check for $650 from the NEA Foundation. It was recognized as “a school that creates an environment that encourages teamwork and excellence from students and educators alike,” the website states.


City Council OKs ordinance banning medical marijuana dispensaries

Ordinance includes sunset clause for June 15, 2014, based on the Legislature's discussion about limiting cities' authority


By Pat Caldwell

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A decision with statewide overtones arrived in an anticlimactic fashion Tuesday night when the Baker City Council passed a mandate to ban medical marijuana dispensaries.

The Council approved Ordinance No. 3330 — Prohibiting the Establishment of Marijuana Facilities/Dispensaries within City Limits — on its third reading and by a unanimous vote.

The ordinance — which will now go onto the city books — stipulates that any person, firm, organization or other entity that stands in violation of the mandate will face a fine up to $5,000. The ordinance will sunset on June 15, 2014.

The sunset clause will allow city officials to review a separate proposed, but related, business license ordinance. The clause will also allow city leaders to see what the Oregon Legislature decides to do with a bill that might allow cities and counties restrict, but not ban, medical marijuana dispensaries.


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