Union and Baker county residents who receive their television signals from the Blue Mountain Translator District will soon be closer to the pulse of emergency situations in Northeast Oregon.

Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill on Thursday that will allow BMTD to send emergency alerts to its viewers about hazards including bad weather, road closures, wildfires and chemical spills. Senate Bill 394 gives BMTD the authority to use technology to make this possible.

“This is really exciting,” said Tim Wallender, a member of the BMTD Board.

BMTD’s secretary/treasurer, Alex McHaddad, said BMTD has a number of options for displaying emergency alerts. BMTD viewers will see alerts across the bottom of the screen. The emergency alerts to be run will come from entities including Union County, Baker County the Oregon Department of Forestry and the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The alerts BMTD will carry will be seen only by viewers in Union and Baker counties. Previously, BMTD has not run emergency alerts because it did not have access to the technology needed to isolate the alerts to Union and Baker counties. For example, because BMTD carries a number of Portland channels, emergency alerts for Union and Baker counties would have appeared on channels like KATU in the Rose City.

Senate Bill 394 will also allow BMTD to create a public service channel that will be able to carry videos of school board and city council meetings, local sporting events, forums, plays and much more. Some of the content may come from La Grande Alive TV, an Internet based TV station.

Wallender said the community service channel will be a valuable service to people who are not able to attend the meetings of city councils or the Union County Board of Commissioners because of hurdles like health problems or finances.

“Some people cannot afford the cost of a round trip to a meeting,” the BMTD board member said.

SB 394 applies to any present or future translator district in Oregon, but currently it impacts only BMTD because it is the only one in Oregon, McHaddad said.

The bill passed 25-0 March 4 in the state Senate and 53-0 in the state House on May 28. Wallender credits the work of Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, as a key reason why the bill had such overwhelming legislative support.

“He was instrumental in pushing in through,” Wallender said. “He made it happen.”

Wallender noted that Bentz asked the BMTD for evidence that city councils, county missions and fire departments in Union and Baker counties supported SB 394. BTMD Board members and McDadded then went to many of the board meetings of these entities to introduce SB 394. The BMTD reported to Bentz that all liked the bill. Wallender said that Bentz, armed with these endorsements, had little difficulty in persuading fellow legislators to support SB 394.

The Blue Mountain Translator District, founded in 1978, has broadcast towers on Mt. Fanny and Mt. Harris in Union County and Beaver Mountain in Baker County. The networks it carries programming from include ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. The BMTD has three translator sites from which the programs, much from Portland and Boise, are rebroadcast. The BMTD carries about 24 channels.

Users are required to pay a $100 annual fee to use BMTD services.

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