BLM retiree appointed to Prineville City Council

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: May 30. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – The Prineville City Council appointed and swore in a new member, Jack Seley, at a meeting Tuesday night.

Seley fills a seat on the council that had been vacant since late March when Tim Harris resigned citing work-related conflicts. Harris was appointed to the council in 2005 and re-elected in November. Seley’s term will run through December 31, 2010.

The replacement comes at a time when the city is addressing its infrastructure needs for a growing community. Seley’s first task immediately after he was sworn in Tuesday was attending a meeting on Prineville’s draft budget for the 2007-08 fiscal year.

Seley is a retired employee of the Bureau of Land Management who has lived in Prineville for just more than one year. In his 35-year career with the BLM, he lived and worked in California and Reno, Nev., he said.

“There was a need, and I thought that my experience and abilities fit the need, so I applied (for the council seat),” Seley said. “Community service is one of the things that we all need to get involved in.”

Seley added that he served two terms with a homeowners association before moving to Prineville, and his work with a federal agency also should be an asset.

“I have been in public service,” he said. “I’ve conducted public meetings – I’ve had to coordinate and cooperate with federal agencies, state agencies, county, city, so I’ve been involved in that way.”

Seley was one of only two people to apply for the job, and the other – Crook County Planning Commission Chairman Bill Gowen – withdrew his name from the race. The City Council holds two regular meetings a month, and councilors are unpaid and must be at least 18 years old, be registered voters and have resided in the city for at least one year.

Prineville Mayor Mike Wendel said he was “a little bit” surprised that so few candidates applied for the job.

“We have a lot of people that have a lot of concerns about what’s going on, and I was really sort of hoping that we would have more, but people have other things going on in their lives I guess,” Wendel said. “I think (Seley) will be an asset to the community being on the City Council – I look forward to working with him.”

He added that serving on the City Council is a significant time commitment.

“I’m always looking for somebody that has the time to commit ’cause I believe it should take a fair amount of your time,” he said. “I’m also looking for people that are interested in looking at the long term of the community, not just to fix the immediate situation.”

Seley said he does not have a specific agenda as a council member.

“I come into this basically issue-neutral – I think that’s a positive for the city and for myself, too, because I don’t have any preconceived notions,” he said. “I’m just going to sit back and learn (and) keep my mouth shut until I know something about the issues.”

He added that he and his wife moved to Prineville because of its semi-arid environment, similar to areas they have lived in previously. That also means he is already familiar with some of the environmental issues the city faces. Seley, who is originally from the Willamette Valley area, has two children and three grandchildren, all of whom live in Reno.

“I know that we’re dealing with a large population influx,” he said. “We have a potential problem with securing enough water for the increasing population – we have some of the same problems that I was used to in other locations.”


Nonprofit to help abused children in Crook County

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: May 21. 2007 5:00AM PST

Prineville will soon be the home of a satellite branch of the KIDS Center, a Bend-based nonprofit that helps children who are the victims of child abuse and neglect.

The Crook County Court announced last week that it will use grant money from the Central Oregon Community Investment Board as startup funding for a satellite center to be located at Prineville’s Pioneer Memorial Hospital.

The center will provide evaluations and mental health counseling for children who may have experienced physical or sexual abuse or neglect. It will also provide assistance to law enforcement officials as they pursue criminal investigations against those involved.

Brenda Comini, director of the Crook County Commission on Children and Families, said children from Crook County have been using the Bend KIDS Center for some time. In recent years, Comini said, the number of Crook County clients has increased.

In 2005, she said, the KIDS Center served 38 children from Crook County. Through October 2006, that number had risen to 42. The KIDS Center serves about 450 children annually, according to its Web site.

“Part of it’s our population growth, obviously,” Comini said. “Part of it is we’ve launched a lot of awareness around the region on child abuse and neglect, so that tends to up the ante on reporting.”

The center will start out operating on a part-time basis in the fall with support from local medical pro-viders, she said. Staff members will also coordinate with law enforcement to assist in prosecutions when necessary.

“Without this kind of medical evaluation and the forensic work that’s done, you only have basically the word of the child, which is very awkward,” Comini said. “It’s very hard sometimes for families, depending on the age of the child, to decide whether they should be testifying or not, and on the court side, deciding whether they are viable to testify.”

She hopes that having the center in Prineville will make it easier for local families to access this type of service.

“For some families the barrier of obtaining services in Bend and driving to Bend, or just that whole issue, causes some kids to fall through the cracks,” she said. “We believe that providing service locally will provide increased use and hopefully will break the cycle for those kids and help them toward healing.”

Crook County Court Judge Scott Cooper said in the past the county has tried to address the problem of child abuse through education, increased law enforcement and more training, but he thinks the KIDS Center has a better chance for success.

“I think that child abuse is a stubborn, intractable problem in Central Oregon and in Crook County,” Cooper said. “This is a way we can help families, we can help kids and we can help prosecution to try and take what’s truly just a plague on our country and get a handle on it in our local community.”

Concerns rise for Prineville water supply

After well failures, officials say city is ‘behind the ball’ for short-term needs

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: May 20. 2007 5:00AM PST

The failure of one-third of the city of Prineville’s wells this week had officials working through the night to avoid a full-scale water crisis.

By Friday, City Manager Robb Corbett had lifted the emergency irrigation ban and announced that the three malfunctioning wells were once again online.

But the situation – coming on the heels of other prominent difficulties with the city’s wells – raises questions about Prineville’s water supply and the strain new residential developments could put on the system.

At the same time, some water experts say the city should have enough water for years to come, with the assistance of conservation efforts and careful planning.

Corbett called the convergence of problems this week – which were all related to mechanical issues in the wells’ pumps – a coincidence.

“It doesn’t seem to be a warning sign that there’s anything going on,” he said.

“It’s just that we coincidentally have had wells that have failed simultaneously, which pronounces the idea that you want to make sure you have plenty of pumping capacity in the community.”

The city’s water superintendent, Jerry Brummer, agreed, saying all of the city’s wells are checked every day to make sure they are functioning properly.

“It’s like an automobile with the transmission – you can take it the mechanic and you think you’re all set, and then the next day it goes out,” Brummer said. “It’s the same with these wells.”

Corbett and Brummer both said the city is currently drilling a new well at the Prineville Airport, which is scheduled to be completed in time for the peak usage months of July and August. Brummer said if all of the nine wells were pumping 24 hours a day, they could produce about 3.5 million gallons of water per day. Peak summer demand this year is estimated to be about 3.1 million gallons per day.

But Corbett said the city is behind the ball on its short-term water needs, because three wells dug last year at a cost of $970,000 failed to produce drinkable water. The newest of the city’s current nine wells dates from 1999.

“I think it’s hard for me to argue that we did a good enough job,” he said. “I think we’ve had some setbacks in developing new water sources … At the same time, I don’t think anybody at the city could have ever anticipated the amount of increased demand that we’ve experienced these last three years.”

In February, the Prineville City Council decided to spend another $1 million on two more wells, but last month work stopped at one of the sites because of concerns about contamination. And late last year, the council authorized a $300,000 expenditure for more water rights, which allow the city to pump additional water.

Trying to conserve

Like in many cities, the Public Works Department already asks Prineville residents to follow an odd/even system for watering their lawns, where those living in odd-numbered houses water on odd-numbered days and people with even street numbers water on even days. Corbett said residents should also try to conserve water in their daily use wherever possible.

“We ask that you water in the mornings and in the late afternoons when it’s cooler so that the water is being used more efficiently, and then just recognize that water is an important resource to the community,” he said.

The Prineville area has unique obstacles confronting its municipal water supply because of the differences between the Deschutes River Basin and the Crooked River Basin, said Kate Fitzpatrick, project manager with the Deschutes River Conservancy.

“The Deschutes is all permeable kind of basalt volcanic rock that just soaks up groundwater, and we have a wonderful groundwater situation that’s really stable, but once you get to a certain point over in Crook County, you hit impermeable rock that doesn’t transfer water very well,” Fitzpatrick said.

In April, the Deschutes River Conservancy participated in a water summit concerning the Crooked River that brought Prineville and Crook County officials together with other water experts.

Fitzpatrick said her organization’s projections show that Prineville should have enough water to meet demand in 2025 – it’s just a matter of obtaining and allocating it in the right way.

“The key is really working together instead of competing,” she said. “Municipal need, even though it’s increasing – and it’s kind of a crisis for them – in the grand scheme of water, it’s not that much.”

The majority of water rights currently go to agriculture, she said. In addition, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has set minimum flow levels for protecting fish in the river, which will become increasingly important as federal and state agencies start a planned reintroduction of steelhead and Chinook salmon next spring.

Future sources of water, Fitzpatrick said, could come from increasing the current wells’ capacity or digging new wells; petitioning the federal Bureau of Reclamation to allow the city to use surface water from the Prineville Reservoir; or piping water from the Deschutes Basin. Crook County’s incoming destination resorts are farther west than Prineville, so they will probably be able to obtain water from the Deschutes area.

“They can also work on conservation and demand management, which could reduce their demands maybe 10 or 20 percent,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think there are solutions where the city can continue to meet their future demands without necessarily harming the rivers or the community – I think it just has to be done in cooperation with all the stakeholders to make sure that happens.”

Long-term needs

While Prineville officials are working to meet the city’s short-term water needs with the new well, it has hired a consultant from Portland-based GSI Water Solutions to work on the long-term picture.

The consultant, Jeff Barry, said the city is hoping to add 600 gallons per minute of capacity by this summer, which should be covered by the new well at the airport. He and the city’s public works committee are also working on mapping out needs and sources for the future.

Barry said it is still unclear why the three wells drilled last year – which were located at the Crook County Fairgrounds, a different area of the airport than the new well, and Ward Rhoden Stadium – produced no water or undrinkable water. The current work planning for future demand should provide resources for residential growth and prevent poor water supply putting an effective cap on development.

“That’s one reason that we’re working in a cooperative manner with some of these developments to make sure that the city has the adequate supply to meet those needs,” Barry said. “The city has a mandate to provide services to development within its city limits anyway, so we’ve got to be able to do that.”

Officials say they did not expect the level of population growth Prineville has experienced in recent years, with a more than 20 percent increase in residents between 2000 and 2005, according to the U.S. Census. Steve Uffelman, a current city councilor and former mayor, said during his tenure in the early 1990s and between 2000 and 2004, the water supply was a topic of discussion.

“The water issue has been a longstanding issue for the community, so it’s nothing new,” Uffelman said. “We need to increase the water capacity for the community, but even at that point we didn’t anticipate the growth that we’re experiencing, so it’s just a bigger issue than it was then.”

Residential rumblings on Crook ranch land

57 percent of Measure 37 claims are concentrated in eastern part of county

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: May 17. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – As residential development continues at a torrid pace in Powell Butte and Prineville, smaller lots and new homes could make their way to the traditional ranch land in the eastern part of Crook County.

About 57 percent, or 24,000 acres, of the Measure 37 claims filed so far in Crook County are concentrated around the small town of Post. The claims are on rangeland that falls under the county’s most restrictive farm use zoning.

Combined, the claimants are asking the county for tens of millions of dollars in compensation or the waiver of regulations that prevent them from developing their property.

Jim Wood, one of the applicants and the owner of Aspen Valley Ranch, said his claim stems from concerns about the difficulty of continuing to run his ranch if new homes spring up around his property.

“We applied very late, and the biggest reason why we applied was because the growth that’s gone on in the county is making it increasingly difficult for us to operate,” Wood said. “Given that the county has been fairly flagrant about rezoning areas in the EFU-1, we’re concerned that eventually we’re going to be up against a rural residential neighborhood.”

Despite the huge acreage near Post covered by Measure 37 claims, Crook County Planning Director Bill Zelenka said the scale of future development is unclear. Right now, he said, many of the ranch areas have minimum lots sizes of 1,000 to 2,000 acres, but there were no zoning regulations when some of the claimants first acquired their land.

The claims in question do not include specific plans for building on or subdividing the properties.

“I think they filed just as a precautionary measure,” Zelenka said.

Measure 37 requires the government to waive regulations or compensate property owners for the loss of value to their land when land use rules put in after a person buys property reduces its value.

Wood called filing his claim a “desperate measure,” but added that he probably would not go ahead with subdividing his land if surrounding areas do not develop.

“We’re very pro-land use planning, but Measure 37 took the lid off of Pandora’s box,” he said. “If the trend, I guess, continues that we’re seeing in the EFU-1 with development and non-farm dwelling approvals, then I don’t see how we cannot go forward.”

Possible subdivisions

Post, which had a population of 104 at the time of the 2000 U.S. Census, lies about 30 miles southeast of Prineville and is only accessible via the two-lane Paulina Highway. The claims in the area come mainly from three landowners, Beverly and Oran Wolverton, Miller and Bettie Ann Tweedt, and the Aspen Valley Ranch.

Of the nearly 24,000 acres around Post with Measure 37 claims, the Aspen Valley Ranch owns more than 15,000 of them. Crook County has received a total of 72 Measure 37 claims, Planning Director Bill Zelenka said. They cover about 42,000 acres out of the county’s 1.8 million acres.

In addition to the Post applications, there are two large individual claims to the east and south of Prineville, and a handful of smaller ones scattered around the city and the Powell Butte area on the western edge of the county. So far, there has only been one Measure 37 claim within the Prineville city limits.

Wood said he asked the county to postpone making a decision on his claim until December to give the planning department more time to process all the claims and see if the state Legislature takes any action.

Aspen Valley Ranch’s Measure 37 claim states that Wood, who has owned the property since 1967, is asking for the “waiver of all land use restrictions put into effect after the date of purchase.” The claim sets the loss of value to the land due to the current regulations at $10 million.

The Tweedts’ and the Wolvertons’ claims have already been approved. Although the Wolvertons’ claim says the property has been owned by their family since 1958, Zelenka said the planning department determined that Beverly Wolverton has owned it since 1990, so the county will only waive land use regulations passed since that time. He said that means the zoning on their property would not change, unless the state Legislature creates new rules dealing with the transferability of property and Measure 37 claims.

Both the Tweedts’ and the Wolvertons’ claims state that they intend to “subdivide the property and sell buildable lots as they could have at the time (the lands) were acquired.” The current zoning in the area enforces large lot sizes that can only have one residence each.

The claimants are both represented by Redmond real estate agent Dennis Clark. Reached in his office, Clark said he did not want to comment. Neither of the applicants could be reached for comment.

Challenges of development

Zelenka said there could be problems with development in the area because of the poor quality of the roads. But he added that property owners or developers could still be required to do traffic impact analyses because Measure 37 does not require the government to waive health, safety and welfare regulations.

Crook County Judge Scott Cooper said the county has usually discouraged growth in such remote places.

“I don’t think that that’s an area of the county that we’re looking for a lot of development in,” Cooper said. “It’s certainly far from services (and) it’s not got good access to infrastructure, but Measure 37 is about property rights and if there’s a market for the property and people are interested in living that remotely, I guess more power to them.”

The Riverside Ranch subdivision, which lies near the Wolvertons’ property north of Post, is evidence of the need for planning if people want to develop land in such a remote area, Zelenka said. The subdivision has about 30 to 40 homes, he said, that do not have good access for roads or water. Since 2000, the county has required a minimum lot size of 20 acres for building in Riverside Ranch, but some of structures built before the rule went in sit on six to 12-acre lots, according to the planning department.

“This Riverside Ranch was an example that the state Legislature used on a tour that resulted in the subdivision law being passed in 1971,” Zelenka said. “The only difference today is we only waive the zoning restrictions (through Measure 37) … That’s all we’re waiving, because they have to show that the rules reduce the loss of value. Well, nobody’s proved that having a development properly done has reduced the loss in value.”

Wood also mentioned Riverside Ranch, which he said partially borders his property, as one of the reasons he decided to file a Measure 37 claim. Nearby residential subdivisions, he said, would make it increasingly difficult to operate a large-scale commercial ranch.

“The developers, they’re searching in our valley – they see us as the next best place,” he said. “We do not want to see that, but if happens on our boundaries, if it does happen, I see no choice. We will not be able to continue to operate as a commercial agricultural entity.”

While some of the Post area Measure 37 claims state that the owners intend to develop their land into multiple lots, Cooper said he thinks that many people filed claims without having a specific plan for building.

“Most people that are filing claims right now – not all, but most – are preserving their rights,” he said. “We may see development in years to come. Obviously, this is a one-time opportunity, and watching the Legislature, a lot of people are afraid that opportunity’s going to evaporate, so they’re getting them while they can.”

A market for rural living

So far, Zelenka said, only two of the county’s Measure 37 claims have involved subdividing land to add a single new dwelling. The planning department has received four applications for multifamily subdivisions that could add more than 230 new homes.

Candy Bowerman, the principal broker for Far West Real Estate and the owner of the Paulina Store, said she thinks there would be a market for 40- to 80-acre lots in the area of eastern Crook County.

“I hate to say ‘yes’ because I don’t want to see it happen, but yeah, I think everybody – it’s kind of like Powell Butte now – everybody wants to have some land now and have some horses, but they don’t have 5 or 6 million dollars for their own ranch,” Bowerman said.

Right now, she said, she has seven properties for sale in the Paulina area, but they are generally more difficult to sell than houses in the western part of the county.

Bowerman added that she thinks current residents of the area would not be happy with the changes.

“The old-timers are going to throw quite a fit about it,” she said. “They like keeping it (as) large ranches.”

Zelenka agreed, saying he does not think many residents want to see more development near Post and Paulina.

“At least at the time our ordinances were done, the ranchers didn’t want to have a lot of intrusion,” he said. “They may be very conservative out there, but government rules do help them out sometimes.”

Ultimately, Zelenka said, the difficulty of developing property in these remote areas, coupled with the lower real estate values, means that some of the developments may not come to fruition.

“There’s a lot of speculation going on and when the cost of development figures in, along with the real estate market, who knows what’s going to happen,” he said. “Most people just threw in (their claims).”

Crook aquatic center measures sink

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: May 16. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – Two ballot measures to build and operate a new aquatic center in downtown Prineville appeared to have failed by a large margin, according to unofficial election returns Tuesday night.

The first measure to construct a new $10.7 million, three-pool swim center was failing by a margin of 60 percent to about 40 percent as of 10:30 p.m. Tuesday. The second measure, a levy to fund the pool’s operations, also appeared to fail the same margin.

But the district did appear to have met the 50-percent voter turnout requirement under the double majority rule.

This was the third time the question of building a new swim center in Prineville to replace the city’s aging pool appeared before voters. Similar measures failed in 2002 and in November. For this May’s ballot, officials dropped the price tag on the facility by $1.3 million by eliminating a multipurpose gymnasium that was part of the plans that were rejected in November.

Donna White, the chairwoman of Volunteers in Action, the political action committee supporting the measures, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night. White was also elected to a position on the Crook County Parks and Recreation District board on Tuesday.

The construction bond for the pool would have taxed residents in the Crook County Parks and Recreation District at a rate of 62 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, while the operations levy was set at 37 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value. That meant a homeowner with a house assessed at $200,000 would have paid $198 total a year for both measures.

Unlike the previous two times that voters saw the measures, for this ballot Parks and Recreation District officials decided not to tie the two measures together, so that if the construction bond passed and the operations levy failed it would still have been possible to build the pool.

The construction bond for the pool would have taxed residents in the Crook County Parks and Recreation District at a rate of 62 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, while the operations levy was set at 37 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value. That meant a homeowner with a house assessed at $200,000 would have paid $198 total per year for both measures.

Unlike the previous two times that voters saw the measures, Parks and Recreation District officials decided not to tie the two measures together this election, so that if the construction bond passed and the operations levy failed, it would still have been possible to build the pool.

The plans included two indoor pools and one outdoor pool. The center would have been located in Davidson Park on Court Street in downtown Prineville.

In this election, the measures faced the additional hurdle of the double-majority rule, which require that property tax initiatives garner both 50 percent approval and 50 percent voter turnout. In a May election, the requirement is more difficult to meet because off-year spring elections typically generate lower voting rates.

In this case, the Crook County Parks and Recreation District did achieve a voter turnout of just more than 51 percent, out of a total of 7,884 voters, although the county overall only saw 44 percent voter turnout.

Newcomer Smith takes only contested Crook parks seat

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: May 16. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – Debbie Smith appears to have fended off her two opponents to earn a position on the Crook County Parks and Recreation District board.

As of 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, Debbie Smith was leading the race for Position 4 on the board with 51 percent of the vote. Larry Smith was running second with 27 percent of ballots cast, and Charles Poarch had 22 percent.

Although four out of the board’s five seats were up for election, Position 4 was the only one that saw a contested race.

“I’m honored that the community felt the confidence in me to elect me to that position, and I hope I can do a good job for them,” Debbie Smith said. “I was born and raised here, I think a lot of people know me, I’ve been in a lot of volunteer groups, and I just keep hands-on with this community.”

Debbie Smith, 53, is a member of Volunteers in Action, the political action committee that has been campaigning to build a new aquatic center in Prineville. She has lived in Prineville her whole life and owns ABC Fence Co. with her husband.

Incumbent Larry Smith, who is not related to Debbie Smith, has been a Parks and Recreation District board member for nine years. He was appointed to the board in 1998 and has been re-elected twice.

Poarch, 77, is a former member of the Crook County Planning Commission and Prineville Planning Commission.

The roughly 7,800 registered voters in the Parks and Recreation District chose the board members. In the uncontested races, Jerry Coale, Cindy Hurt and Donna White won seats on the board.

Mark Severson defeats the board chair, Janet Roberts, in race to represent Zone 4

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: May 16. 2007 5:00AM PST

PRINEVILLE – Mark Severson appears to have won the race to represent Zone 4 on the Crook County School Board in the district’s only contested race, according to unofficial election results.

Severson appeared to have defeated incumbent Janet Roberts with 56 percent of votes as of 10:30 p.m. Tuesday. Roberts garnered 44 percent of votes.

“I’m looking forward to adding my experience to the board and hope to improve the quality of education in Crook County,” Severson said Tuesday evening.

Severson, 48, lives in Prineville and serves on several boards in the area. He is the chairman of the Pioneer Memorial Hospital board of directors and sits on the High Desert Education Service District board and the Crook County School District budget committee.

Roberts, 59, is currently the chairwoman of the school board, which she has served on for 17 years. She was first appointed to fill a vacant seat on the board in 1990.

Roberts was out of town Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

As Crook County continues to grow, the school district faces the challenge of keeping up with the increased numbers of students. A facilities committee is currently working on recommendations for replacing or updating the district’s buildings.

The election for the Zone 4 seat, which covers Powell Butte and the southwest corner of Prineville, was the only one contested this year. On Tuesday, newcomer Jeff Landaker won the Zone 3 seat with 99 percent of the vote, and Steve Caraway was re-elected to represent Zone 1 with 98 percent of the vote.

Landaker, 40, is the current chairman of the facilities committee. He has two children who attend Cecil Sly Elementary School in Prineville.

Caraway, 54, has been on the school board for eight years and is the former board chairman.