LA GRANDE — The Union County Board of Commissioners voted Friday at an emergency meeting to reinstate the non-financial portion of the county's new right-of-way ordinance.

This means utilities and people doing work projects in right-of-ways of Union County have to apply for permits.   

The vote on Friday came two days after the county board voted to suspend the ordinance, after representatives of two utilities expressed concerns about it.

The board voted 2-1 to reinstate the non-financial portion of the ordinance. Commissioners Donna Beverage and Matt Scarfo voted for the motion, and Paul Anderes voted against it.

Anderes said the new ordinance does not need to be revised because the county took all the proper procedural steps before adopting it. He noted the county board held public hearings on the proposal and took input from county staff.

"We did everything we should have. To re-evaluate it so quickly makes me feel a little uneasy," Anderes said  

The county board passed the local law in December 2019. The utility representatives at the board's Wednesday meeting said they were concerned about the major increase in fees for working along right-of-ways of county roads. The previous fees were $40 for utilities and non-commercial users. The new ordinance jumped that to $100 for non-commercial applications and $500 per application for projects by utilities. Money from the fees is used to maintain Union County's rights-of-way. 

Steve Vincent, Oregon regional business manager for Avista Utilities, spoke at Wednesday's meeting about the company's concerns with the higher rates. He said Friday he supports the board's decision to re-evaluate the fee portion of the new ordinance.

"This is something we can work together on," he said.

Vincent last week told the board the county's new ordinance, 2019-2, appears to conflict with Oregon Revised Statute 785.010, which authorizes utilities to construct, maintain and operate utility facilities along pubic roads free of charge. 

Vincent said Avista Utilities is asking the county commissioners either to suspend enforcement of its new ordinance until it complies with the state law or another court hands down a ruling.

Mike Pommarane, director of operations for Oregon Trail Electric Co-Op, did not speak at Friday's meeting, but on Thursday he told The Observer the new ordinance's financial elements need clarification.

Union County Public Works Director Doug Wright said at Friday's meeting OTEC applied for seven permits for work projects in Union County's rights-of-way in 2019 and that Avista Utilities applied for 11. Wright said on Thursday the ordinance helps the country protect its roads and rights-of-way because it requires the submission of plans when applying for permits and this allows the county to coordinate projects for safety and ensure they are done in a proper manner.

The county board plans to discuss the fees at its Feb. 12 work session. Board chair Anderes said commissioners later will vote on whether to change the fees, which remain suspended, following a work session. 

General assignment reporter

Beats include the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

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