A10 News Blue Mountain Eagle Wednesday, February 7, 2018 Oregon lawmakers weigh in on need to bridge digital divide Letter requests $40B for broadband deployment By George Plaven EO Media Group Members of Oregon’s congressional delegation are joining the call to close the so-called “digital divide,” extending high-speed inter- net access to citizens in rural parts of the U.S. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden joined 16 colleagues from across the country in sending a letter last week to President Donald Trump, re- questing at least $40 billion in infrastructure spending for rural broadband develop- ment. “In an increasingly inter- connected world and global economy, we must include in our discussion of infrastruc- ture not just roads, bridg- es and waterways, but also high-speed internet access,” the letter states. According to the Federal Communications Commis- sion, 39 percent of Ameri- cans who live in rural areas, or roughly 23 million people, lack high-speed internet ac- cess, versus just 4 percent of Americans in urban areas. “While the vast majority of Americans have access to high-speed internet ser- vice, there is a stark dispar- ity between urban and rural America,” the letter contin- ues. “This digital divide puts many rural Americans at risk of being left out of critical technological advancements and economic gain.” Oregon’s lone Republican congressman, Greg Walden, has also honed in on the dig- Contributed photos Sen. Ron Wyden D-Oregon Rep. Greg Walden R-Oregon ital divide, leading a hearing on broadband solutions last week in Washington, D.C. Walden, who is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, rep- resents most of rural eastern, central and southern Oregon. He stressed the need to re- duce what he described as “unnecessary roadblocks” to siting new broadband in rural areas, saying the envi- ronmental review process to build on federal lands is es- pecially burdensome. “I run into this issue all the time on siting,” Walden said. “We’re trying to get broadband out there, and we’re trying to get three- phased power in some of our communities that have wait- ed three years to get an (envi- ronmental impact statement) to get four power poles on BLM land. So I think there is an issue here with siting.” Closing the digital divide has made headlines early in 2018 after Trump signed a pair of executive orders in January to cut red tape for rural broadband deploy- ment. Both orders are in- tended to make it easier for private companies to build broadband infrastructure, such as radio towers, on federal property. A coalition aimed at bridging the digital divide, called Connect Americans Now, also launched in Janu- ary and is focusing on new technologies to deliver high- speed internet in rural Amer- ica. Specifically, the group is pressuring the FCC to make TV “white spaces” available as part of the solution. When asked about TV white spaces, Walden said he thinks they could be har- nessed by internet providers, but he wants to make sure they do not interfere with ex- isting users. “You don’t want to create unintended consequences,” Walden said. Last year, the National Association of Broadcast- ers opposed TV white space technology under develop- ment by Microsoft, saying it would threaten millions of viewers with loss of TV pro- gramming. Both the Oregon Farm Bureau and Oregon Cat- tlemen’s Association have joined the Connect Ameri- cans Now coalition, saying internet is crucial for farmers and ranchers to use precision farming tools and remain competitive in the market. T HE L AW O FFICE OF D ONALD J. M OLNAR A General Practice Law Firm • Wills, Trusts, and Estates • Divorce and Family Law • Contracts, Real Estate, Business • Personal Injury • Criminal Defense Born and raised in John Day, Attorney Donald Molnar is honored to return home and serve the residents of Grant County. Mr. Molnar is a graduate of Grant Union High School, Lewis and Clark College, and Lewis and Clark Law School. He has been an attorney in private practice since 2005. The Law Office of Donald J. Molnar 118 S. Washington Street, Canyon City, OR 97820 Telephone: (541) 620-5127 • ww.molnarlawoffice.com 36437 39424 A Bell Huey helicopter hired by the Grant Soil & Water Conservation District sprayed weeds on 7,776 acres in the district since 2014. Conserving water and soil, protecting habitat By Richard Hanners Blue Mountain Eagle Protecting water quality and habitat for threatened or endangered species is part of the mission of the Grant Soil &Water Conservation Dis- trict, the Grant County Court learned from District Man- ager Jason Kehrberg Jan. 24. Kehrberg thanked the court for its support as he present- ed an update of past activities and future plans. Established in 1956, the Grant Soil &Water Conser- vation District operates un- der the state Department of Agriculture with no taxing or regulatory authority. It pro- vides technical, financial and educational resources to assist landowners conserve soil, wa- ter and related resources. The district’s 4,031-square mile service area is divided into three zones and encom- passes 89 percent of Grant County, of which 60 percent is public land. The district’s staff of 10 includes engineers, technicians and a program as- sistant to handle the numerous grants it depends on, along with two full-time and two part-time workers in the weed program. The district’s mission is divided into four primary programs — rural landowner risk management; landowner conservation clearing house for financial, technical and education assistance; noxious weed control; and the federal Conservation Reserve En- hancement Program to help landowners protect riparian habitat by fencing, replanting riparian areas, weed control and alternative livestock wa- ter storage. The district re- ceived $28.6 million in fund- ing for these four programs over the past 15 years. “I expect to get more CREP money in the future,” Kehrberg told the court. In 2017, the district re- ceived $1.7 million in funding from 12 sources, including Grant County and various state and federal agencies. A quarter of its funding came from the Oregon Watershed After a concrete diversion dam was removed from Beech Creek, the naturally flowing stream no longer blocked fish passage, but the irrigation headgate remained. Enhancement Board. The Bonneville Power Adminis- tration was the second largest source, providing 18 percent. Landowners provided 7 per- cent, and Grant County pro- vided 5 percent. Weed control The district’s weed con- trol program alone received $2.5 million in funding from 2011 to 2017. That includ- ed $610,821 from the Grant County Road Department and $905,205 from the Title II Secure Rural Schools pro- gram. During that time, 6,613 acres of roadway and ease- ments received bare-ground weed-control treatment in Grant County and a small por- tion of Wheeler County. A total of 9,129 acres were treated by the district for noxious weeds from 2013 to 2017, including 2,493 private acres. Another 7,776 acres was treated since 2014 using a Bell Huey helicopter. Dis- trict staff also average 10 to 15 biological-control releases per year. “If left untreated, we could be seeing $84 million in state- wide impacts per year, based on the top 25 weeds alone out of 128 on the list,” said Matt Wenick, the district’s nox- ious weed program coordi- nator. “Every dollar invested in weed control gives a $34 return.” Noxious weed infestations often can be human-caused, Wenick noted — spread by contaminated seeds used by ranchers to seed rangeland, contaminated hay eaten by livestock, or contaminated gravel used on roadways. “We have no regulatory tool to prevent theses types of infestations,” Wenick said. Wenick said plans have been made for weed control in the wilderness areas. The district, which began weed spraying on the Malheur Na- tional Forest in 2016, works with Forest Service botanists and invasive-species manag- ers in developing projects, Wenick said. In related work, the dis- trict has treated 6,320 acres of juniper and seeded 2,264 acres of private rangeland. A total of 137,800 pounds of seed was used to restore 4,100 acres of private land burned by the Canyon Creek Com- plex fire. The district provided de- tailed maps and data to the incident commander during the fire to assist in planning for access, evacuation and deployment, Kehrberg said. District staff also assist Grant County’s Firewise program by updating maps and sup- porting fuel-reduction work in the Pine Creek area. In a collaborative effort with a number of agencies, the district has begun to restore grass and protect aspen stands in the Phillip Schneider Wild- life Area near Dayville to pro- vide wildlife habitat. This has included about 7,000 acres of seeding and 4,413 acres of rangeland weed spraying. Stream projects As part of its mission to protect fish in area streams, the district enhances ripar- ian habitat by fencing out livestock and promotes fish migration by improving irri- gation diversions. The district installs 20 to 30 miles of ri- parian fence each year. It also restored stream and floodplain function to Alder Creek by re- claiming a 25-acre wet mead- ow. “We used small impound- ments to create this riparian areas,” Kehrberg said. To enhance local fisher- ies, irrigation infrastructure that present a barrier to fish migration are replaced with flash-board or rock-riffle di- versions. In the Berry Creek drainage east of Canyon Creek, four adjacent diver- sions were consolidated into one connected to a pump sta- tion. “We’ve done several of these,” Kehrberg said. The district also has in- stalled an alternative live- stock-watering system in Logan Valley that included 3.5 miles of pipeline to 20 troughs. Solar-powered pump systems for livestock have been installed in the McClel- lan Creek and Izee areas. Kehrberg said district staff must deal with difficult legal hurdles at times when making changes to streams, including water rights claims and the Endangered Species Act. Monitoring the success of stream improvements can be difficult and require addi- tional funding, Kehrberg said — especially when monitor- ing fish. Gage stations can be set up in streams to measure streamflow, or vegetation growth can be measured with LIDAR — an advanced aerial surveying method that uses la- sers instead of radar. Using LIDAR on a three- mile long section of the main stem of the John Day River upstream from Prairie City, the district found that vegetation volume increased 188 percent from 2004 to 2017 following riparian restoration work. Looking forward to 2018, the district plans to spend $183,000 on two irri- gation diversions, $74,000 on maintaining eight diver- sions, $205,000 restoring natural streamflow in Big Creek impacted by mine tail- ings, $450,000 installing 30 miles of riparian fencing and $198,000 on four livestock watering systems. The dis- trict also plans to spend about $450,000 on the first year of a five-year juniper thinning project.