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City failed its citizens

Until Thursday afternoon, we were generally pleased with Baker City officials’ efforts to get important information to the public about the crypto crisis.

We’re not pleased any more.

Quite the opposite in fact.

With probably the most important fact yet revealed in this episode in its hands between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. Wednesday — that a water sample taken Sunday from Elk Creek contained a vastly higher amount of crypto than any previous sample from any source — the city didn’t post the information to its website.

As of 10 a.m. today that was still the case.

Letters to the Editor for Aug. 7, 2013

We need more published proof of crypto

Dozens of Baker City residents have recently suffered from digestive illnesses, blamed on cryptosporidium.

The only way to confirm that cryptosporidium caused the illnesses, is by multiple lab tests of the people who got sick.  Most of these would then have to show a preponderance of the little beasties, in at least a majority of the affected people.  

Remember, those who have gotten sick represent a tiny fraction (roughly, less than one percent) of people who’ve been drinking city water without getting sick. Also, scores of other factors can cause similar digestive diseases.

All open meetings

We understand that Baker City Council members and the county commissioners have been busy this past week, but their duties as elected officials during the crypto outbreak don’t exempt them from Oregon’s public meetings law.

We were disappointed to learn that a quorum of both bodies convened last week without giving the legally required public notification.

City Manager Mike Kee told us the mistake won’t happen again, and we believe him.

He also pointed out that the purpose of the meeting was not for officials to make decisions, but rather to get information.

We believe that, too, but the state law makes no such distinctions, as of course it should not. After all, if elected officials could meet in private, unpublicized venues except when they make decisions, they could do all the important business, all the haggling that goes into making a decision, outside the public’s purview.

Other than violating the public meetings law, officials, both elected and administrative, have mainly done a good job during this crisis. Although they could make better use of websites and social media.

Residents will get a chance to hear from the City Council on Thursday evening, eight days after the city announced the crypto outbreak.

That meeting, fortunately, was announced four days in advance.

What's next with city's water

The reputation Baker City’s drinking water has earned over more than a century has been sullied by a microscopic parasite.

As of this writing, tests had not confirmed beyond any doubt that city water is the source of the cryptosporidium infections that have affected dozens of residents.

But the city’s water is the most likely culprit.

It’s not for nothing that city officials on Wednesday morning recommended residents boil tapwater before drinking it or using it to wash their dishes or brush their teeth.

Yet even if, as unlikely as this might be, it turns out that the crypto came from a different source, the citywide crisis this week has convinced us that protecting residents from crypto and other waterborne illness must be the city’s top priority.

To be sure, the nasty little parasite didn’t arrive, as it were, from a clear blue sky.

In 2010 and 2011, lab tests found small numbers of crypto “oocysts” — the protective shell that makes the parasite resistant to the chlorine the city adds to its water to disinfect it against some other contaminants — in three 10-liter samples of city water.

Unfortunately, the presence of crypto wasn’t revealed to the public as soon as it should have been because Michelle Owen, the city’s public works director, failed to review all of the test reports.

Last fall city councilors debated two treatment options. The city’s preferred option has been an ultraviolet light (UV) system that inactivates crypto, giardia and some other parasites. But UV is not as effective as a filtration plant in removing viruses, UV has no effect on chemicals, and a UV system would not protect the water from dirt and ash that could foul streams were a wildfire to burn in the city’s watershed. City officials have worried for many years about such a fire, but the city’s long history of providing pure water has made the investment seem unnecessary.

And it’s a big investment: The extra capabilities of a filtration plant come at a cost of perhaps $15 million, compared with an estimated $2.5 million for a UV system.

 But in the wake of a week in which so many people were afflicted with stomach cramps, diarrhea and other unpleasant symptoms, in which restaurants and other businesses suffered during a busy weekend, we believe that extra cost is worth it.

Once the crisis is over, city officials should put together a presentation showing how each treatment option would affect customers’ bills. 

No treatment plant can be built quickly, of course. But while construction is under way the city needs to institute a rigorous testing program to ensure that, if crypto again pollutes our water, we’ll know as soon as possible.

And if it turns out, as officials have speculated, that mountain goats that live (and poop) near Goodrich Lake, from which the city draws some of its water, are the source of the crypto, the city will need to figure out how to reduce that risk.

Letters to the Editor for Aug. 2, 2013

Police Chief owes apology for cowboy comments

We read with interest the BCH article dated July 22, 2013, “Police Busy During Jubilee.” For Police Chief Lohner to blame the Bull & Bronc Riding Beer Garden and the rodeo cowboys as the main culprits for disturbances is totally absurd. Per Chief Lohner, “anytime you mix alcohol with confined areas and rodeo cowboys, you’re going to have some issues.” Police Chief Lohner owes the cowboys of Baker County and the USA an apology and if City Manager Mike Kee feels any responsibility for his employee’s statement, he needs to make sure the apology is given.

Mike and Glenda Purvine

Baker City

Can’t get church leaders to contribute to papers

I’m still on the same trail as of my last letter to the editor, and why? It seems no pastor or church leader has the time or interest to use open doors even when they are offered freely. I’m referring to the offer that both home papers are willing to re-open the “Devotion” page once a week! So far no takers. I’ve heard many arguments of which most hold no water.

The one that infuriates me the most is the excuse that some may be controversial. So be it. If it’s the truth but you are afraid to speak or print it, maybe you should not be a leader?

Now that I’ve made some angry I’ll go on with my stories about the one and only true God. Yes, the only one. Most people who deny the existence of God, his glory, his righteousness, are being led by the devil to destroy themselves whether or not for lack of knowledge. It’s his plan to stop you from entering heaven. Hell is real also, folks. Many kid about it, I did too until I became aware of the facts. I can tell you, you don’t want to go there. It’s forever and there’s no way out. One religion believes you can be prayed out. I have to go by what the Bible teachers, and there’s no basis for this teaching. The Bible in 2 Corinthians 5:8 teaches to be absent from the body (death) is to be present with your Lord. There’s only two Lords to serve. You choose, up or down. Jesus said “choose life” for He is the only life. Well, I didn’t get much of my story in this time, guess God has other plans. That’s all right, maybe next time he’ll let me tell about my trips. How he stopped me from murder, delivered me from many habits. Some say God never spoke to them, maybe you’re not listening. Some say the devil never bothers them, maybe you’re no threat to him, why waste his time on you. Become a threat, things will change.

Richard Fox

Baker City

A trio of Baker stories that swelled the heart

He was a black child who prospered in a town that was about as white as a town can be.

They are a family which has raised six sons, each of whom has reached the pinnacle of Boy Scouting.

Here is a group of teenagers who epitomize the concept of handling guns safely, and with the respect such instruments demand.

Three stories we’ve published over the past couple weeks.

Each struck me as an example of how the people of Baker City and Baker County can achieve the highest standards to which a civilized society aspires.

A local cemetery that instills joy, not sadness

By Jayson Jacoby

Baker City Herald Editor

There is a certain sort of cemetery which can make a visitor’s impending death seem rather less melancholy than is typical.

Rock Creek Cemetery in Baker Valley is such a place.

I don’t as a rule go around pondering my inevitable demise.

But of course cemeteries tend to prompt such thoughts.

As we drove past Rock Creek Cemetery on a recent sun-dappled Sunday morning (which is most Sunday mornings in July in these parts) I was so taken by the simple beauty of the scene that I felt, rather than maudlin, a kind of joy at the thought of concluding a good life, well-lived, in so sublime a spot.

The perfectly groomed, lush lawn reminded me of nothing so much as one of the military cemeteries that England constructed in Northern France and Belgium after the First World War.

The English affinity for gardens is well known, of course, and is reflected in their burying grounds.

Even if a preference for the pastoral were not part of the nation’s character, though, I suspect Britain’s war cemeteries would look pretty much as they do. There must have been a powerful need, after so much blood had been shed (the British lost about a million soldiers in the war, a terrible tally, yet compared with Russia, France and Germany they got off light), to not merely bury the terrible bones-and-steel detritus of mechanized war but to grace it with a veneer of the living and tranquil green.

Rock Creek Cemetery hasn’t such a tragic legacy, and anyway it needs no artificial embellishments.

It comes by its grandeur naturally, from its setting in a fine and verdant valley within sight of two imposing mountain ranges.

The nearer of these, rising steep and timbered just a couple miles to the west, are the Elkhorns.

Whether this is the grandest vista from any of our local cemeteries is of course a subjective question, lacking any definitive answer.

The nearby Haines Cemetery, for instance, no doubt has many admirers, and for good reason. Its location, atop a minor rise, adds an ethereal, bird’s-eye quality to the view which is lacking at Rock Creek.

Still and all, the sheer majesty of the Elkhorns from Rock Creek Cemetery, the soaring granite of Red Mountain, the forested eminence of Hunt Mountain, seems to me unrivalled.

Connie Brown, a lifelong Haines resident, has been taking care of both the Rock Creek and Haines cemeteries for 18 years.

They are part of a district, which includes Haines and parts of Baker Valley, in which property owners pay a tax each year to maintain the two cemeteries.

(They get a discount on burial plots, too, if they choose either cemetery.)

I remember when Rock Creek Cemetery was rather disheveled, the grass dry and high, the weeds rank.

Brown said that when she was hired, the considerable task of keeping up with the weeds and the wind damage and the occasional trespassing cow had become too much for the previous caretaker.

She set about putting things in order in the cemetery, which covers about 4acres (Haines Cemetery is almost exactly the same size).

With help from co-workers, as well as inmates from the Powder River Correctional Facility, she tamed the weeds, had gravel access roads built and, perhaps most important, a well was dug to supply irrigation water to nourish the grass.

“It took a lot of work, and it still takes a lot of work,” Connie said. “We try to make it a little better every year.”

Connie said that when she started, about 75 percent of the burials at Rock Creek were traditional ones, with a casket, and the remainder were cremations, with an urn burial.

Today the percentages are about the opposite.

One of the main reasons for the change, she said, is that some years ago the cemetery district ceased selling plots for casket burials. Burying caskets is troublesome because the water table is high and there’s an old subterranean stream channel on the property.

Plots are available for urn burials, however. 

I’ve not given any great amount of thought to how I want my remains dealt with. I have no objection to cremation — there’s a aspect of purification to the process that appeals to me — but I rather like the notion of being buried more or less intact, to gradually meld with the good earth, perhaps to nurture some worthwhile root with my meager contribution to the soil.

Better still if my final plot lies within the shadows of the great peaks, that I might retain a vestigial link with those high places I loved best.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald. 

Letters to the Editor for July 26, 2013

Volcanoes affect climate more than people do

This letter is in response to Gary Dielman’s letter of July 17.

As Gary does, I do so love facts, especially about global warming — oops, I meant climate change, sorry, forgot it’s getting cooler. That dreaded carbon dioxide that we all exhale and makes the plants grow is nasty stuff and the cause of global, sorry, I meant climate change.

Hate to break this to all of you people that cling to the theory that people can make a difference to our global climate by curtailing CO2 emissions. Not that it isn’t a good thing. I enjoy clean air as much as the next guy. Getting rid of existing coal- and oil-fired power plants and by installing expensive alternatives to fossil fuel is a fairy tale of epic proportions. Not that we don’t need clean energy, but on the backs of ratepayers by subsidizing wind, solar and battery power by demonizing CO2. No matter what the cost to the consumer and taxpayers.

The three biggest volcanic eruptions put more carbon dioxide in the air than man has through the entire Industrial Revolution. Just think what Mount St. Helens did to us. Every time we have a forest fire, the burning tree gives up all of the carbon dioxide that the tree took in during its lifetime. Ask Ash Grove if they’re thankful for CO2 . Volcanoes pumped millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it mixed with the inland seas that covered our area, creating limestone formations that are thousands of feet thick. Bet you thought that limestone was created entirely by sea shells.

Our climate is controlled by the temperature of the ocean currents and is in constant change. Solar flares from the sun and moisture in the air has way more effect than any CO2 ever did. Wonder who is making all this money off this climate change fear? Sure won’t be the ratepayers.

Chuck Chase

Baker City

A note to fellow travelers on Cancer Boulevard

It seems just the other day life was so carefree as I traveled life’s freeway, when a blowout sent me off onto a rough and rocky road. At the same time I was weighted down with a mighty heavy load.

Through no choice of her own, my wife was forced to join me on this road, and to share my heavy load. A sign says it’s Cancer Boulevard, and now the softest seats on which we travel seem lumpy and hard.

We cannot stop; we cannot get off; we cannot turn back. Days run together, and of time I cannot keep track. I face each turn with dread. A sign saying “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” lies straight ahead.

It’s dark and hard to find our way. O, how I wish there were some other way. Then I see a man standing by the road. He has scars in both his hands and feet, and with a smile he offers to carry our heavy load.

He tells us if we will take His hand he will lead us through this uncharted land. Now, with my hand holding His, or is His hand holding mine, suddenly I knew everything will be fine.

The way that seemed so dark before is now shining bright as day. Oh, what a difference it makes when He leads the way. Now I see the pathway of life leads right through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but I have nothing to fear, when this man named Jesus is near.

Off in the distance I see that this pathway of life leads right to heaven’s gate. He assures me I will not arrive a day too soon or a day too late.

Lynn Shumway


Denying wind farm permits will help businesses

We would like to thank the Baker County Planning Commissioners for their decision to deny the wind farm permits. We would also like to thank Bill Harvey and Tom Van Diepen for their work in getting information out to concerned citizens. We believe this decision will protect our tourism and agricultural base and help local businesses. Thank you all again.

Bill and Billie McClure

Baker City

Police chief should apologize for ‘cowboy’ comment

I read with interest the articles regarding Miners Jubilee and the Baker City Bronc & Bull Riding event. To be forthcoming, I am actively involved in the Baker City Bronc & Bull Riding Inc., which is a 501c(4) non-profit organization that has contributed over $350,000 to charities and the people of Baker County.

 I am writing to express my dismay at the bias that was shown to the Bronc & Bull Riding beer garden and the comment of “Anytime you mix alcohol with confined areas and rodeo cowboys, you are going to have some issues,” that Chief Lohner stated to the paper.  I take offense at this comment, as being involved in the event, the cowboys I have seen and been involved with are professional athletes who treat their sport with the utmost respect. They are not a “rowdy” bunch of people who consume too much alcohol and become a menace to the community but top rodeo athletes who are past world and current world champions. 

 That does not mean that there are not individuals, who wear cowboy hats, who consume too much alcohol and make fools of or cause fights within the community.  Some of the fights, from the overconsumption of alcohol, could also have come from the “K-Y Jelly Wrestling” event or the beer garden from the Baker Brewery, Bullridge, or Sunridge.  I just disagree that it is the “cowboys” that are the cause of it. 

 The Bronc and Bull beer garden is what allows us to contribute to the charities and people that we do. We do not do the beer garden to make money for profit, but to make money for charitable causes. We strive to make this event as least troublesome as we can. We have asked our city police to do a periodic walk-through to help alleviate any problems, but were told that they were not funded to help us out in that manner.  So we hired the Blue Mountain Security, approximately 15 people, to oversee our event, checking IDs and keeping order.  We follow all OLCC regulations and had an OLCC representative on Friday night. We agree that some changes need to be improved, but we take offense that the “cowboys” and our beer garden are the problem. I feel that the Baker City Police Chief Wyn Lohner needs to make a public apology to the Baker City Bronc and Bull Riding, Inc. for the insensitive comments regarding “cowboys” and our beer garden.

Dawn Coles

Baker City

A new element foils city’s plan

By Baker City Editorial Board

Phosphorus is among the more humble elements but it could turn out to be more costly to Baker City residents than gold.

The issue is sewage.

Or, as engineers prefer to call it, wastewater.

The city’s challenge is to dispose of this stuff in a way that causes the least damage to the environment.

For several decades the city has piped wastewater to a quartet of lagoons a mile or so north of Hughes Lane. The purpose of these lagoons, also aptly known as settling ponds, is to let the, well, solid constituents of wastewater fall to the bottom, leaving somewhat less polluted water.

There are other steps to the process, but the basic idea is to leave wastewater in the lagoons for a while and then pipe it into the nearby Powder River.

City officials have known for several years that this traditional practice would eventually run afoul of state and federal laws. The prime concerns are that the wastewater is too warm and that its pH level harms fish habitat.

Rather than wait for deadlines to be set, city officials have spent considerable time looking at options. In 2010 the City Council decided that the best alternative, not least because it appeared to be the cheapest, is to build a pipeline to carry wastewater from the lagoons to a site along Baldock Slough, east of Interstate 84 near the Baker Valley rest area, where the wastewater would create a wetlands.

Several cities have done this, including La Grande.

Which is where phosphorus enters the scene.

In the past few years regulatory agencies, as is their wont, have changed the rules. The current concern, City Manager Mike Kee said, is that phosphorus, which can damage fish habitat, would leach from the wetland and get into the Powder River.

A DEQ official urged the City Council to consider an alternative: using wastewater to irrigate a crop such as alfalfa. Kee said most of the phosphorus would be taken up by the crop, which is then harvested, so the phosphorus doesn’t get into the river.

Here’s the rub: Land application, as the latter method is known, likely would cost twice as much as the wetlands option. The reason, Kee said, is that with land application the city would have to build more lagoons. The current lagoons are almost at capacity, and land application is feasible for only the four or five months of the year when crops are growing.

The advantage to wetlands is that wastewater can be piped to the site year-round, eliminating the need to add lagoon capacity.

A possibly reason for optimism, Kee said, is Roseburg. That city is putting its wastewater into a wetland, and a study suggested that it would take a century for enough phosphorus to accumulate to pose a risk to nearby streams.

We’d like to believe that regulatory agencies will be flexible, and at least consider that forcing Baker City residents to spend twice as much money for a possibly negligible environmental benefit is neither wise nor fair.

But we’re not confident.

Besides which, even if the city can solve the phosphorus problem, there is the not minor matter of the rest of the Periodic Table from which regulators could potentially select the next danger.

Have you counted the elements, many of them nasty pollutants, on that thing?

Letters to the Editor for July 24, 2013

Worried about extending authority of executive branch

Concerning the guest editorial from Bend of July 15 about the unconstitutionality of Obama’s decision to extend the employer’s compliance with the employee insurance from 2014 to 2015. It is a valid point because the executive branch does not have authority to change a law passed by the legislative branch. Unfortunately for those opposed to Obamacare, the Health Care Bill contains a provision giving authority to the Secretary to make whatever decisions of an administrative nature necessary to facilitate the gathering of information for the implementation of the bill.

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