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Modulars the best move for kindergarten

We agree with the school board’s decision Tuesday to buy as many as four used modular buildings and install them at Brooklyn as kindergarten classrooms and a cafeteria and music room.

This isn’t the ideal solution, but we believe it is the best option.

Certainly it is the option that requires the least amount of student shuffling. Only the kindergarten classes will move — the rest of the grade levels will remain where they are.

Nor will the cost of the modulars force the school district to cut employees or programs. District officials also are confident they could sell the modulars if they become superfluous in the future.

Critics say the district instead should create space for kindergartners inside Brooklyn by moving third-graders from that school to South Baker Elementary.

But that would require that sixth-graders, who now attend South Baker, move to either Baker Middle School or to the former North Baker Elementary.

Opponents of the modulars have cited the North Baker option in particular, pointing out that there are vacant classrooms in that building.


Letters to the Editor for Feb. 28, 2014

Nonpartisan county race preserves local control

As chief petitioners we believe it is essential that all voters understand the effects of both the current and nonpartisan election process, and that representative government requires participation by the most voters possible.

Concerns have been raised about the loss of local control if county commissioners vacate the position. This has happened twice recently in Baker County involving a single commissioner.

The current process for a single vacancy involves receiving three suggested candidates from the county political party of the vacated seat; the remaining two county commissioners make the appointment in a public hearing.

This differs little from the nonpartisan process where the two remaining county commissioners receive applications from potential candidates, take testimony and statements from those candidates and the public in open hearings, and then they make their decision in a public hearing. The political parties and the PCPs may submit applications or testimony in this process.

The fact that the vacancy can be filled by any Baker County resident means the choice can be made based on ability and not on political party affiliation. If the voters think it was the wrong choice they can correct it at the next election.

The appointment by the governor of one or more vacant commissioner seats for nonpartisan elections only occurs when there is not a quorum seated (less than two commissioners) and the governor shall only replace the minimum number of commissioners needed to reach a quorum. The two, seated, commissioners will then make their appointment as described in the preceding paragraph. This minimizes the loss of local control.

How often does the governor appoint county commissioners? In Oregon the majority of counties choose their commissioners with a nonpartisan process (20 of 36) and there seems to be only one appointment by the governor in the last 20 years. What is of greater concern to us is the fact that a small number of voters will decide the next election. Based on the 2010 primary election results the next two county commissioners will be selected by only 12.4 percent of Baker County voters. Is that the representative democracy we want?

Randy Joseph

Chuck Guerri

Loran Joseph

Baker County Committee for Nonpartisan Elections


In Oregon, voter apathy not hard to understand

I used to write off registered voters who don’t vote as lazy, but my antipathy for their apathy is increasingly being shoved aside by sympathy for their plight.

Three recent examples from Oregon show that sometimes when you win at the ballot box the victory is fleeting.

I’m not referring to cases in which the electorate, fickle group that it is, changes its mind at a subsequent election.

That can be frustrating, to be sure, but it is at least consistent with democratic principles.

I’m much more troubled, though, when voters are in effect betrayed by the very people we elect to represent us.

During the past few years Oregon voters have had their will thwarted, to varying degrees, on three issues:

• Whether to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the state

• Whether condemned criminals should be executed

• Whether the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages will be defended against legal challenges


Letters to the Editor for Feb. 26, 2014


Where’s common sense in BLM’s sage grouse plan?

As an active participant in protecting a precious commodity, our beautiful Baker Valley and the forests, rivers, and high desert around us,  I wish to ask why the BLM is proposing a plan for protecting sage grouse habitat in Oregon, which directly harms our ranchers, communities and the sage grouse eco-system they support.  

 It appears those of us who live here are at the mercy of vocal, well-funded special interest groups that not only don’t live or work here, but whose goals are the elimination of all public grazing practices. I am confident these special interest groups have other hidden agendas that further their own interests.  The sage grouse appears to be only a pawn in a larger scheme of keeping legitimate ranchers, miners, recreational users, hunters, fishermen and others off public lands, including our beloved forests. The BLM sets short comment periods, thus making it difficult to comment or respond.  

Is the sage grouse plan helping pave the way for the Boardman to Hemingway line, proposed by Idaho Power Company, to be placed in front of the Interpretive Center in plain view of one of Oregon’s most scenic highways? Former Governor Tom McCall, who I knew, set in place a “utility corridor” from Boardman to Idaho, which affects no one and is the common sense route for this transmission line. 

As for the cattle industry, these stewards of the land support our schools and communities through tax revenue and employment. Yet, according to the BLM, their preferred plan would result in job loss across five counties. 

 In 1990, the spotted owl was listed as an endangered species, and logging was stopped by court order on all federal lands. Baker County came to a standstill. Middle-income jobs were lost, stores closed, schools closed and people moved away. Now we find the spotted owl’s predator was another owl species, not logging. We cannot let this craziness happen again.  A listing of the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act will damage Oregon, especially Eastern Oregon. This should not happen. Where is the common sense in all of this? 

JoAnn Marlette

Baker City

What will happen if the forests are closed?

How do I start this letter? Good question, but here goes ... Yesterday at the local library I was informed by an employee of the U.S. Forest Service that our president of these United States intends to close all forest lands in the whole of this country in the next two years. Now that’s quite a statement, making me wonder how many thousands of Americans and companies will be suddenly out of work. I wonder what then will houses be built out of — plastic two-by-fours? steel framework? rubber roofs? Wouldn’t that mean no more paper bags, no more cardboard boxes, no more paper products, no more woodstoves? Fireplaces? Or no more campsites? Locked out of hunting, hiking, trail rides on horseback to high mountain lakes. Gee, that sounds like a good idea! The American public should take that right in stride. I’m getting mad already.

So how do we heat our homes and small businesses with gas or electric. Few of the middle and low class could ever afford it, and hopefully no one will stand still and let this come to be.

Do we have anything to say about bad rumors or are we just supposed to stand by and let it happen? People, you’d better get together and ask some hard questions to our state and U.S. Forest Services; sounds to me that they won’t have a job either, so who’ll put out the fires. All good questions, but where are the answers? I’d be writing serious letters to our governor and high-ranking government officials and demand a sensible reply, or better yet call and raise some questions about who is running America and Oregon.

We can’t let this go unchecked. If we do it’s only the beginning of total government rule and we’ll truly lose what freedoms we have left. And of course if they take our guns, too, I don’t have to tell you what that means, do I?

Think real hard about all this. Do something, please.

Jim Smeraglio

Baker City

Merkley does the Potomac two-step

Senator Merkley’s town hall meeting the other day made one wonder how our country has survived so long with leaders like him in charge. All but a very few questions asked by his constituents were not answered, mostly by analogies of what he thought we wanted to hear.

I patiently listened to the senator do a Potomac two-step around issues of concern to this part of Oregon. At least 15 minutes was devoted to that nasty carbon footprint we have been leaving, and “global warming” or “climate change.” By telling us how important it is to cut back on emissions, no matter what the cost to the consumer. By trying to make a case to curb coal-fired electric generation plants, and get in tune with the president and the EPA, curbing carbon emissions with voodoo science.

I do so love facts, don’t you, senator? I get so confused with the half-truths and the people of this world that spin the facts to fit their own pocketbook or their green agenda.

Fact No. 1: The Icelandic eruption put more carbon dioxide in the air than man has removed with the Clean Air Act, gasohol, wind turbines, solar power and the shutting down of coal-fired plants. That isn’t including what Mount St. Helens or the almost weekly eruptions of the Asian fire chain has contributed to the carbon dioxide levels.

Fact No. 2: The three largest volcanic eruptions put more carbon dioxide into the air than man has since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Fact. No. 3: Trees, including in our Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, absorb carbon dioxide and give off life supporting oxygen. But when a forest burns that tree gives back all of the carbon dioxide it has absorbed in its lifetime.

We have come a long way in cleaning up our air and water, including the smog covering our industrial belt. Nobody wants to go back to the way it was. It kind of makes one wonder what their climate change agenda is. It couldn’t be about control of the people and their lives. What do you think, senator?

Chuck Chase

Baker City


Cover Oregon questions


We don’t mean to damn with faint praise by saying that Congressman Greg Walden’s call for a federal investigation in the Cover Oregon fiasco is an obvious political ploy.

Sometimes — and this is such a case — the obvious political ploy also happens to be necessary public policy.

And since the rest of Oregon’s congressional delegation hasn’t seemed eager to try to marshal the considerable resources of the Government Accounting Office (GAO), it was left to Walden, the only Republican among that group, to act.


More millions, for what?


We understand why U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., during his town hall meeting in Baker City last week, touted the $15 million he helped secure for the BLM’s sage grouse management plan.

The BLM’s goal — to avoid having the grouse listed as a threatened or endangered species — is one we share.

If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does decide next year to list the sage grouse, livestock grazing on public land — a mainstay of Baker County’s economy — could be severely curtailed, with the attendant local effects.

Yet when we pondered Merkley’s words we recognized that there was more to the senator’s statement than typical political posturing. And some of it is not worthy of boasting about.


Letters to the Editor for Feb. 21, 2014


We must stand up for our rights to access public land

What defines freedom? Is it an individual’s call to support the “greater good” or is it their ability to live as a sovereign being in the world?

You are going to be told over the next few months that “we are doing this for the greater good” or “we are only following orders.” This my friends is the how bad policy starts, and even worse things begin for the people of our region.


Warm front denies us the pleasure of the big snow


My almost-3-year-old son, Max, scampered across the slushy yard, whining that he had lost his plastic garden trowel in the pond. This plaintive claim struck me as curious because so far as I could remember we don’t have a pond.

Certainly we didn’t dig a pond or buy a pond or indeed even desire a pond.

But we got one anyway.

And it didn’t cost us anything except a few pairs of soggy boots.

(And Max’s missing trowel, which turned up not in the pond but hidden beneath a pail.)


The hazards of backcountry travel


When it comes to assessing the danger of winter travel in the Wallowa Mountains, we defer to experts such as Dave Clemens.

Clemens, who lives in Richland, has crossed the Wallowas on skis seven times during winter.

He understands avalanches.

Clemens told us this week that when he heard on Feb. 11 that an avalanche had  killed two backcountry skiers near Cornucopia, he was of course saddened.

But unlike most people, Clemens had skied the same terrain.

Clemens emphasized that no matter how much experience and knowledge a backcountry traveler has — and he has prodigious amounts of both — there is an inherent risk in skiing, or snowmobiling, through the Wallowas.

Yet Clemens also noted that knowledge and experience can, to the extent possible, reduce that risk.

Fortunately, there are resources available to help travelers, even those who lack Clemens’ experience, increase their knowledge.

The Wallowa Avalanche Center in Joseph is the most important such source. This nonprofit group doesn’t make avalanche forecasts, but it does issue a weekly bulletin about local conditions, and it offers annual avalanche training.

We encourage all backcountry visitors to avail themselves of these services. Knowledge can not only save your life, but it help avoid the need for rescuers and others risking their own lives on your behalf.


Why do feds have to build?

In an era when frugality is reality for many people and businesses, the federal government stubbornly goes against the grain.

For the feds it seems that the concepts of scrimping and making do with what you have rarely impede with governmental bricks-and-mortar ambition.

Never mind budget deficits and sluggish economic recovery — when some ostensible need arises, it seems there’s always half a million tax dollars available to erect another building.

As a current, and local, example, consider the situation of the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM.

Employees from the two federal agencies had shared office space for several years in a complex of modular buildings on 11th Street, just east of the Forest Service’s vehicle compound.

The modulars were never intended to be permanent, and in early December the Forest Service employees who worked there moved across town to the David J. Wheeler Federal Building. That structure already houses the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest headquarters.

The modulars are slated to be removed in September. BLM workers will move across H Street to the former New Tribes Mission complex — itself a former federal property that housed Air Force workers more than half a century ago.

The Forest Service, meanwhile, plans to build a new office, where the modulars stand now, at an estimated cost of $500,000.

The building will have office space for Forest Service fire officials and seasonal employees, as well as rooms for public meetings.

Although the Forest Service issued a few press releases last year announcing the planned move to the Wheeler Building, none mentioned replacing the modulars with a new office.

Moreover, the agency’s workforce in Baker City has been shrinking, not growing, over the past two decades.


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