The Baker County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to leave the Tri-County Cooperative Weed Management Area.
But two of the three commissioners left open the possibility that the decision wouldn’t be final.
The agency includes Baker, Union and Wallowa counties and is designed to garner grants to deal with noxious weeds on private and public lands in the region.
Tri-County works in partnership with state and federal land management agencies, as well as private contractors, to accomplish its goals.
Dave Clemens of Baker County, who helped create Tri-County more than 20 years ago and is a longtime member of the Baker County Weed Board, said the board did not have a chance to discuss the county potentially dropping out of the agency.
“It was not brought up before the weed board ... It would be a disappointment for me to see it end,” Clemens said.
The Baker County Weed Board is separate from the Tri-County agency. Clemens is a member of both the county weed board and the Tri-County board.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Bill Harvey said it is the county’s intention to create a weed coordinator position paid for by grants, “not any county funds,” who would work with the county’s weed supervisor, Arnie Grammon, to implement a county weed-control program that would replace Tri-County.
Last month the commissioners approved a $3,000 contract with Doni Bruland, who will write grant applications.
Mark Porter, a weed management specialist with the Oregon Department of Agriculture who works closely with Tri-County and also is a former member of the agency’s board of directors, said “over the past year there has been extensive energy put into healing” the strained relationship between Baker County and the regional agency.
Porter said the Department of Agriculture’s position is that Baker County should remain a Tri-County member.
Baker County’s break from the weed cooperative is the culmination of issues the county has had with the agency for at least three years.
This spring the county commissioners sent Tri-County a list of issues to address, including transparency with its budget and the bidding process for weed projects, changing the makeup of the agency’s board of directors and personnel issues relating to a past director, Mark Lincoln.
(Lincoln resigned in 2016, but details about his resignation are lacking because both he and Tri-County officials signed a nondisclosure agreement.)
Baker County commissioners have also questioned the decision several years ago to move Tri-County’s headquarters from Baker City to La Grande, even though most of the noxious weed control projects — about 70 percent of the work — are in Baker County.
Harvey said many of those issues have been addressed, but Baker County’s request that Tri-County have an employee based in Baker City hasn’t been fulfilled. That was a major factor in his decision to propose to commissioners Mark Bennett and Bruce Nichols that they withdraw from the agency.
Jon Paustian, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s representative on the Tri-County board, said both parties have worked diligently to address the concerns of Baker County.
“I think we’ve done a very good job of addressing those,” he said.
See more in the Nov. 3, 2017 issue of the Baker City Herald.