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HBC’s deal a bad one


We’re afraid that Historic Baker City Inc. has let a financial windfall slip away.

Half of it, anyway.

We were initially elated to learn last year that the unfortunate closure of Bank of America’s Baker City branch, which was located in the 126-year-old Ison House, had one beneficial side effect.

Kate Dimon, HBC’s director, secured from Bank of America officials a deal by which the company would sell the Ison House, at the corner of Washington and Resort, to HBC for $1.

That’s a single buck.

Which is a good price indeed for a property which has a market value of $320,000, according to the Baker County Assessor’s Office.

 

No-spray map is a good idea

Although opinions vary widely about the use of pesticides, we’d wager that everyone agrees that these toxins should be used as sparingly as possible.

People who dislike pesticides obviously want the use minimized.

But so do the farmers, ranchers and others who rely on pesticides to control insects, weeds and diseases that can harm their businesses. For them, pesticide sprayed where it’s not needed amounts to a waste of money.

Which is why we endorse the idea, proposed by organic farmer Dick Haines, to create a countywide map showing properties whose owners don’t want pesticides getting onto their land.

In making his pitch to county commissioners, Haines emphasized that he’s not trying to prevent anyone from using pesticides.

His idea, rather, is to make it possible, by means of a computerized map, for people who do need to use pesticides to see which properties could be affected negatively.

Ideally, pesticide users would be able to tailor their spraying plan to reduce the potential effect on other properties, while still dealing with the pests.

Haines encourages people who’d like to have their property added to the map to phone him at 541-523-3554.

 

We need to fight fires, but is the cost too dear?

I fought fires on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest for three summers, 1989-1991.

About the worst thing that ever happened to me was once I had to stay out overnight unexpectedly and I had little to eat except a package of Wheat Thins of the size the stores would sell for Halloween, if homeowners often handed out crackers as treats.

Which, fortunately, they do not.

There’s nothing funny about fighting wildfires, though.

Firefighters die.

They die in van crashes while driving to fires.

Trees fall and crush their skulls.

Helicopters and slurry bombers crash.

And, perhaps most horrible of all because it seems so personal, so terribly ironic, sometimes the flames, which are nothing so much as a tornado of combustion, turn and strike at those who would corral them.

On Sunday, 19 firefighters, members of an elite Hotshot crew from Prescott, Ariz., were overcome by flames while trying to stop a fire advancing on Yarnell, Ariz.

Firefighting gets into the news often, of course, and much of the public debate has to do with whether the federal government, which has been racking up billion-dollar firefighting tabs in recent years, is spending too much.

I don’t care.

A billion dollars is a pittance in federal terms.

What I wonder is whether we’re spending too many lives, most of them young lives, on this campaign.

My gut answers yes.

But the question, I fear, is too complex for simplistic answers based on emotion rather than reflection.

The Prescott Hotshots weren’t engaged in a dubious enterprise, weren’t trying to prevent flames from killing trees 10 miles from anywhere.

They were protecting a town, people and houses.

We won’t cease sending firefighters into such places, nor should we.

The real conundrum, though, is that it’s well nigh impossible to recognize, hours or even days in advance, which fire is likely to transform from merely dangerous to deadly.

When that transformation depends on factors as fickle as the winds of a thunderstorm, well, we’d as well consult tea leaves or goat entrails.

Tragedies on the scale of the Arizona disaster are exceedingly rare, to be sure.

Sunday’s death toll of 19 was the highest, for a wildfire in the U.S., since 1933.

Yet the balm of the actuarial tables is cold comfort, indeed it’s no comfort at all, when you’ve just watched a procession of vans carrying 19 bodies to the coroner’s office.

. . .

When the first drop of sweat slides into the corner of your eye before you’ve made even one full revolution with the socket wrench, you understand that you picked the wrong time for the job.

The wrong hour.

Quite possibly the wrong year.

I winced at the slight sting of the sweat. The socket, which I had been tugging on with considerable force, leaped off the nut with all the stupid suddenness of a tool (tools, I am convinced, do not like me, probably because I’m mechanically inept, and that they delight in every bruise, gash or puncture wound they can inflict).

I rapped my knuckles on the gate hinge I was trying to set straight so that it would latch properly. This hurt more than the sweat in my eye, and was infinitely more annoying besides.

It was scarcely past 9 in the morning. When I stepped outside wielding a wrench and a hammer, it seemed to me not terribly hot.

Warm certainly, but nothing like the inferno the forecasters were predicting for the afternoon.

I pegged the gate repair as a five-minute job requiring the two simple hand tools and, fortunately for my fingers, neither motors nor reciprocating parts.

What I didn’t count on was breaking out so quickly into that flop sweat.

This prompted me to consult my array of meteorological instruments, which is not so much redundant as it is ridiculous.

Anyway the devices told the tale: The humidity ranged from 55 percent to 75 percent.

These of course are figures more typical of summer in, say, Savannah, Ga., or St. Louis than in Baker City.

 We suffer here from what’s known, with a certain affection, as a dry heat.

I’ve never much cottoned to that term, mainly because it seemed to me misleading.

But my painful experience at the front gate was something of an epiphany.

I used to bristle at references to dry heat because it implies that even when it goes over 95 around here that’s not so bad because the humidity, like as not, is less than 15 percent.

Well, that’s about what it’s like inside a lumber kiln, and I daresay there’s nothing pleasant about being inside a lumber kiln.

Or any kind of kiln, come to that.

But now that I’ve experienced, albeit in a brief and minor way, the combination of heat and humidity that’s endemic to the Midwest and the South, I concede that the defenders of dry heat make a pretty compelling point.

The older of my two sisters lived in Southern Virginia for seven years, returning to Oregon last August, and she tried to explain to me how uncomfortable truly sultry weather can be.

Her husband, Bill, told me about having to run his windshield wipers on clear days because the air was so heavy with moisture even though the temperature was in the 80s.

Try to fix a gate in weather like that — try to open a gate, for that matter — and you’d probably need to hook up an IV to ward off dehydration.

I stand by my belief that beyond a certain threshold on the thermometer — 90, maybe — it’s a scorcher no matter how low the humidity.

Death Valley’s even drier than Baker City, but you don’t see people frolicking around there on summer afternoons.

And I’m not talking about convulsions.

Still and all, I’m more respectful than before of the power of humidity.

It laid a few of my knuckles low and that only took a few minutes.

If I had to perform even my modest household chores anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line, well, I’d be a repeat customer at the prosthetics store.

Jayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.

 

Eat your fill, tiger muskies


We wish good hunting, and good eating, to the newest residents of Phillips Reservoir.

Tiger muskies.

These are the little fish — little for now, anyway; they can grow to 3 feet or more — with what Oregon fish biologists hope is a big appetite for yellow perch.

This latest tactic in the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (ODFW) anti-perch campaign is elegant in its simplicity.

 

Cleaning up at Ash Grove


It wasn’t cheap, but a deal announced recently between Ash Grove Cement Co. and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will greatly reduce the company’s pollution footprint, including from its Baker County factory near Durkee.

Ash Grove, which is based in Kansas, must pay a $2.5 million penalty, as well as spend $30 million in pollution controls at nine factories.

EPA officials said the changes will reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.

This agreement follows Ash Grove’s voluntary decision to spend about $20 million to install equipment that, since it started operating in July 2010, has cut the Durkee plant’s airborne mercury releases by about 90 percent.

Ash Grove has shown that it will take responsibility for the environmental effects of its business.

Now, with the nation’s economy beginning to improve, the company should be well-positioned to take advantage. And that would be good news for Baker County, because Ash Grove is one of the county’s largest private employers.

 

Story’s not about Snowden: It’s about the truth


I don’t think Edward Snowden is a traitor.

Nor am I convinced he’s a hero.

But I’m far less interested in the man, and in any meaningless labels which might be affixed to him, than I am in the information he made available.

And it seems to me that the details Snowden has divulged about the U.S. government’s domestic surveillance programs are details which we, the American people whom the politicians are always prattling on about as though we’re all the best of pals, deserved to know.

 

Letter to the Editor for June 28, 2013


Wisdom from a 6-year-old

I was at Albertsons, waiting for my daughter, in the van with my 2-year-old and 6-year-old grandsons. Alex, who is 6, just had his tonsils and adenoids and two front teeth pulled. He was not feeling too well. A car was parked next to us with Idaho plates. A man came to the car, looked at me and seemed very upset. Then I think his wife arrived. I was standing outside my van attending to the boys. The man said very loudly, “nigger lover.” I would prefer to say black lover. It got my attention. Alex asked me what that meant. I said he means black person. Alex replied, “Nana, wasn’t that nice? We love all colors of people, right nana?” My answer: “Yes, sweetie, we do.” I’m a proud grandma of one very smart grandson. 

Carol Free

Baker City

 

New way to gauge teachers


The Baker School District had no choice but to revamp the way it evaluates teachers.

A 2011 state law requires districts, starting July 1 and for the first time, to include students’ test scores among the criteria administrators use in measuring teachers’ performance.

This is a good idea.

Test scores should not be the only measuring stick, of course — and we’re not convinced that scores should even be among the more important criteria.

 

Letters to the Editor for June 26, 2013


Obama’s climate change policies robbing the future

This week, President Obama is unveiling his further plans to combat climate change. This is not necessarily good news, as some of his present efforts leave much to be desired. Taxes paid by ordinary Americans are used to further enrich the president’s already rich, politically connected buddies. Green energy companies have their snouts deeply buried in the government’s feeding trough. But all too often, this is money lost down a rat hole, such as the federally guaranteed loans to the failed energy company Synergy.

The administration is allowing the price of gasoline and diesel fuel to raise significantly, the rationale being that high prices will cause people to cut back their use of motor fuels and buy more fuel efficient rigs. This policy has a huge negative impact on the poor. They cannot afford to buy a $40,000 hybrid, so are stuck with their old clunkers and watch helplessly as fuel costs take an ever-increasing bite out of their budgets. Yet their tax dollars are used by the government to subsidize the purchase of those same hybrid cars by affluent upscale car buyers.

The president justifies his climate change plan, saying, “But when it comes to the world we leave our children, we owe it to them to do what we can.” Unfortunately, this president’s largest legacy to the next generation will be to saddle them with a huge, crippling debt. In the first four years of his administration, four trillion dollars ($4,000,000,000,000) has been added to the national debt, an amount larger than all previous presidents combined. Since he has absolutely no plans whatsoever to repay this borrowed money, our children and grandchildren will be paying the interest on that four trillion dollars year after year after year, indefinitely into the future. Already, interest on the national debt is one of the largest single items in the federal budget.

This administration and its congressional allies are thus robbing future generations so they can bribe the present generation into voting for them. 

Pete Sundin

Baker City

Bicyclists need to be more alert while on the street

Let’s talk about sharing the road. Within three weeks I’ve had three teen to adult bicyclists dart out in front of my car without looking or checking whether a car was in the road and a car on Auburn ran a stop sign and we almost ran into him. Just because the weather is perfect doesn’t give us the right to forget about the rules of the road. Your life means something to me. Please be more alert when on the streets. 

Tammy Hadley

Baker City

Cell towers don’t have to be naked metal

A picture is worth a thousand words. We have been working to bring greater awareness regarding the proliferation of cell towers growing in our environment. A camouflaged cell tower is a solution that is viable and desirable, over a naked metal forest.

“Fake trees” are better than no trees at all, to help lessen the negative visual impact of telecommunications equipment growth. Even our wise and beautiful national symbol must believe this to be true!

Linda Wunder Wall

Wayne Wall

Baker City

 

Families brighten day for Powder River inmates

By Jayson Jacoby

Baker City Herald Editor

It’s easy to forget that there’s a state prison in Baker City.

The Powder River Correctional Facility would be much more conspicuous, I suspect, if it closed.

Doubtless the local economy would notice the loss of about 100 jobs (roughly two-thirds are state employees, the others contractors).

The minimum-security prison, which has 308 beds and could add 30 more, opened almost a quarter-century ago, on Nov. 9, 1989.

The building, at 3600 13th St. in north Baker City, attracted quite a bit more attention during its first several years of operation than it has since.

This is due in part, I imagine, to Powder River being a new and somewhat controversial — as prisons inevitably are — addition to the community.

The more noteworthy characteristic during that early period, though, was that Powder River inmates got loose pretty frequently.

In its first six years or so, 44 inmates either escaped from the prison or walked away while part of a crew working outside the walls — one every couple of months, on average.

But since February 1996 just 14 inmates have gone missing — and only two of those were in the past decade.

So what happened to explain this sharp decline in escapes?

Well, razor wire happened.

Workers topped the prison’s 12-foot perimeter fence with coils of the skin-shredding stuff in February 1996.

Of the 44 inmates who had escaped before then, 26 of them had scaled the razor-free fence.

Since 1996 just three inmates have escaped from the prison itself (as opposed to fleeing from a work crew), and one of those slipped out the front gate rather than trying to negotiate the razor wire.

Considering that escaping is the most common way in which inmates of any prison get noticed by local residents, it’s little wonder that Powder River generates rather less publicity than it used to.

But it would be overly simplistic to conclude that the fear of getting sliced up is the only deterrent keeping Powder River inmates in their cells.

Another important change, this one dating to 2003, was the arrival at Powder River of a program by which inmates who are being treated for drug and alcohol addiction — Powder River has won awards for the success of its treatment program — can qualify for early release.

The efficacy of the treatment program itself, which predates the early release option, has surely motivated inmates as well, most of whom are within two years of release when they arrive at Powder River.

And I’d like to believe that a third element — one that was tried for the first time last weekend at the prison — will give inmates yet another powerful reason to avoid the temptation to shorten their sentence by extralegal means.

On Saturday, June 15, Powder River put on its inaugural “Family Day” event.

Inmates’ relatives were invited to the prison not just for a regular visit, but for an afternoon in which inmates could share a meal with family, play games, or paint a flower pot. Veronica Johnson, correctional rehabilitation manager at Powder River who helped organize the event, estimated that 250 family members attended.

Inmates paid for the food with money they’ve earned from work while in custody.

I concede to a certain ambivalence when it comes to anything which could be construed as coddling convicted criminals.

But as I looked at the photographs that the Herald’s Kathy Orr took at Powder River on Saturday, I remembered that inmates aren’t the only ones who suffer from their own misdeeds.

I looked at the faces of children whose fathers are incarcerated here, noticed how broad and how bright their smiles were as they got to spend an afternoon with dad’s arm around their shoulders.

It’s a perfectly valid question, of course, to ask, if having wives and children didn’t persuade these men to follow the law before, why would a barbecue on a sunny June afternoon influence their behavior in the future?

I don’t know the answer.

However, a recent study commissioned by the Minnesota prison system showed that inmates who have visitors are much less likely to re-offend, said Liz Craig, communications director for the Oregon Department of Corrections.

This makes sense, since visiting with a loved one ought to remind a prisoner what he’s missing, and why he doesn’t want to go back once he’s served his time.

Which is pretty much the goal, as I understand it, of the penal system.

I don’t mean to suggest that scheduling a “Family Day” once a year will eliminate recidivism.

But neither do I see any downside to the practice — the more so since inmates, not the taxpayers who already give them room and board, have to buy the food.

Sentencing someone to prison is supposed to be a punishment, of course, and I believe that, by and large, it should be.

But if, for the paltry cost of giving inmates a few hours in the sunshine with the people who love them, we can prevent even a relative handful from returning to the wrong side of the fence, I would consider this a sound investment.

As for a little girl’s or a little boy’s smile, well, you can’t put a value on that.

. . .

On the morning before the solstice my furnace was up before dawn, puttering around the house and rifling through my wallet, like a teenager looking for lunch money.

(Which makes me wonder: Do kids still get allowances in currency, or via electronic transfer to their smartphones?)

This is to be expected, of course, in our climatological purgatory halfway between the equator and the North Pole.

And at least this chilly interlude was accompanied by beneficial rain — albeit perhaps too much rain in a single day.

Still and all I felt a twinge of financial pain when I heard the familiar whisper of air issuing from the grates.

I relish these shoulder seasons that separate the frigid and the torrid. It’s a fine thing to sit in temperate comfort, with no machine burning through your BTU budget.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.

 
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