2 Blue Mountain Eagle PROGRESS 2019: PRAIRIE CITY/CHAMBER OF COMMERCE Wednesday, June 26, 2019 Emergency grants will fund new well in Prairie City Downtown boasts new, renovated businesses as new homes are being built By Richard Hanners Blue Mountain Eagle Prairie City took a hit in 2009 with the closure of the Prairie Wood Products mill outside of town and a general decline in timber produc- tion during the past decades. But the small city with expan- sive views of the Strawberry Mountain Range has proved resil- ient — upgrading critical infra- structure, updating the storefront look on Front Street and continu- ing to host major events for the county. With about 900 residents, Prai- rie City is surrounded by agri- cultural land and offers a fairly complete suite of local services, including a supermarket, dining, lodging, gas, general merchandise and a senior home. Public services include a fire department and pub- lic K-12 school. According to Johnson Econom- ics’ May 2019 Economic Opportu- nities Analysis report, most of the city’s 250 jobs are in the forest, agriculture, education and health care sectors, with additional jobs in retail and tourism. Prairie City is a gateway community for surround- ing outdoor recreation. The Eagle/Richard Hanners The Dewitt Museum, once the Sumpter Valley Railway Depot, is in Depot Park in Prairie City. Water problems Water shortages in drought years have plagued Prairie City for years. A water emergency was declared in 2017 after a lightning storm knocked out electronic con- trol systems, and an emergency was declared the next year after the water level in the city’s mil- lion-gallon reservoir tank dropped to 1.5 feet. Low snowpack in the moun- tains and continuing drought con- ditions were blamed for the 2018 emergency. Dixie Creek, a major source of water for the city, had dried up, and the city’s wells were unable to keep up with demand despite water restrictions. A new well site at Fainman Springs offered a solution to the water problem, but the city had taken on significant debt installing a $2 million slow-sand filter sys- tem in 2008 and was facing diffi- culties in lining up financing for the new well project. With a top estimate of $1.5 mil- lion for the Fainman Springs proj- ect, the city learned in August 2018 that the state would provide a $550,000 grant and a $950,000 loan at 1.7% to pay for the project. By that time, the city had begun hauling water in tenders from John Day in an attempt to keep up with water usage. Mayor Jim Hamsher said he was concerned about main- taining a safe level in the reser- voir for firefighting purposes. He was also concerned about residents The Eagle/Richard Hanners New businesses and facelifts are changing the look of downtown Prairie City. who continued to violate water restrictions. The city received more good news on Dec. 21 when the USDA Rural Development office in Port- land notified the city it had been awarded a $1 million emergency grant. The funding could be used instead of the low-interest state loan to pay the costs of the well project and water hauling. The Fainman Springs project dates back to 2005. Marciel Well Drilling conducted tests on the three wells in 2018 and was able to produce 475 gallons per min- ute — sufficient water to meet the city’s demand. Hamsher said he expected to see the project com- pleted sometime this summer. Other projects Meanwhile, the city was putting $2 million in loans and grants from USDA Rural Development to work upgrading Prairie City’s sewer col- lection system and treatment plant. A force main along Highway 26 west of town had been leak- ing, and lift pumps, controls and check valves were lined up for replacement. Cracked collection pipes had been found using remote video, including on North Johnson Avenue. The new variable-speed sewer pumps were expected to reduce electrical usage by 30%, but a major power outage following a winter storm in 2019 caused spikes that damaged some of the new con- trol equipment, Hamsher said. The mayor has also been in negotiations with U.S. Cellu- lar for a new cell tower in Prairie City. Neighbors opposed the ini- tial location proposed by the com- pany, and Hamsher directed them to city-owned land near the closed Prairie Wood Products mill. The city would receive about $1,500 per month, which would be used to pay for upgrades to one of the city’s older wells. “To me, it’s a win-win — good cell coverage for Prairie City res- idents with a lease that provides income to the city,” he said. The city is also making changes to Depot RV Park that will pro- vide much-needed revenue. Instal- lation of frost-free water connec- tions and higher capacity electrical service at each site will help the county-owned park remain open into the shoulder seasons and even winter. The city earns revenue by oper- ating the RV park. The daily fee was recently increased by $2, with $1 going to the water fund and $1 going to the sewer fund. Homes and stores After years of slow growth, Prairie City is seeing some devel- opment. Three new single-family homes were built in the city limits last year, and two more are under construction — one in the city limits and one in the city’s urban growth boundary. One more may start this year, City Recorder Bob- bie Brown said. “We’re seeing vacant homes from past economic downturns being put to use again and being renovated,” Hamsher said. The people coming to Prairie City seeking homes are working people, often employed by the For- est Service, Brown said. “It’s getting hard to find a place to rent,” Brown said. “There’s no homes on the market right now.” Improvements to Front Street are a result of grassroots efforts, starting with the Madden broth- ers’ Prairie Pub restaurant, which opened to the public in Septem- ber 2018. That was followed by the Eagles in Flight motorcycle shop, which Rob and Trish Tygret opened in the renovated Prairie Drug and Prairie Hardware & Gifts building. Now, the Huffman’s Select Market store is undergoing a major facelift. Brown said only one vacant storefront remains on Front Street. Volunteer efforts to maintain flow- ering plants along Front Street have been organized, now under the city’s Beautification and Revitaliza- tion Committee, she said. Prairie City hosts two major annual events in Grant County. The Fourth of July parade and eve- ning fireworks display is a main draw for residents and visitors alike from across the county, as is Christmas on the Prairie. This year will see what will be a major inaugural event of regional interest. Fiber Fest will feature nine fiber arts workshops and doz- ens of vendors on July 26-28. The event will be set up at the Prairie City Community Center, the Teen Center and the city park across from City Hall. Chamber of commerce forecasts tourism increase Volunteers working to remove roadblocks in state building inspections By Scotta Callister For the Blue Mountain Eagle This year is shaping up to be a banner year for tourism in Grant County. The Kam Wah Chung State State Heritage Site and the John Day Fos- sil Beds National Monument both report they are drawing a steady stream of visitors, with the numbers exceeding past years’ totals even for May. Despite some unusually damp spring weather, local motels and restaurants also report busy ear- ly-season tourist traffic. And at the Grant County Chamber of Com- merce office in John Day, Office Manager Tammy Bremner and her cadre of volunteers have been greet- ing a steadily growing parade of vis- itors to the county as summer nears. The Tesla car-charging station outside the office has been a great convenience for some travelers, as evidenced by occasional lineups there. As a side benefit, the folks charging up have time to visit local businesses and stock up on tips about local attractions from cham- ber volunteers. Several factors seem to be boost- ing tourism here. The state’s “Seven Wonders of Oregon” tourism cam- paign a couple of years ago spot- lighted the Fossil Beds as one of the state’s star attractions, and the 2017 solar eclipse mania also sparked Eagle file photo A cameraman from Yiping Media Group films Professor Zhao Zhongzhen from the School of Chinese Medicine in Hong Kong at the historic Kam Wah Chung store in John Day on Aug. 1. interest in the area — even among folks who didn’t travel here to see the event, but merely heard about our clear skies. In addition to the expected vaca- tioners and outdoor enthusiasts from across the state and region, there’s been an intriguing uptick in Dutch visitors — a boost attributed to “The Mole,” a reality game show that filmed in Oregon two years ago and gained acclaim in The Netherlands. Here at the chamber, we’ve been doing our best to promote the beauty, recreational opportunities, cultural attributes and history of Grant County. The chamber board of directors has developed a mar- keting approach that includes ads in regional travel publications; an app for travelers coming our way; tar- geted outreach to groups including snowmobilers, cyclists and motor- cyclists; and even a new billboard promoting Highway 26 as the best route through Oregon. But the chamber’s role is not just to bring tourists in, but also to help local businesses connect with and benefit from that influx. The cham- ber board is committed to help- ing communities and businesses throughout Grant County achieve those benefits as it fits their goals. One new program in the works is a coupon book for visitors. Mem- ber businesses will be able to sub- mit a coupon offering to include in the booklet, with the savings of their choice and at no charge to the business. The coupon books, dis- tributed to visitors at local lodg- ing outlets and the chamber office, will be a new way to encourage vis- itors to stop in local businesses and communities, rather than just pass- ing by. We’ll also include a survey in the booklet, so we can glean more facts about what draws visitors to Grant County and their experiences here. This is in addition to our Grant County Greenbacks program, which also supports local spend- ing. Here’s how it works: Busi- nesses and individuals can buy the greenbacks as gifts or incen- tives and rewards — for employ- ees, friends, grandkids, visitors and more. The recipient can use them at any chamber member business just like a coupon; the business then redeems them from the Chamber on a dollar-for-dollar basis. It’s a great way to encourage people to shop locally. Since the program started four years ago, the chamber has redeemed more than $20,000 in greenbacks — essentially a no-cost program that keeps dollars right here in Grant County. The chamber board is constantly looking for new ways to bolster the local economy. For example, the board recently approved becom- ing a platinum sponsor for one of our county’s signature events, the Grant County Fair. We look for- ward to helping promote this great event! In the coming year, we will be expanding our support for other events countywide. Our budget for fiscal 2019-20 proposes new fund- ing for sponsorships of city-sanc- tioned events throughout the county such as the Fourth of July celebrations in Dayville, Prairie City and Monument. These kinds of events are terrific for the com- munities, and also great reasons for people to visit from out of county. In addition, the chamber contin- ues to offer grants for tourism-re- lated events and economic devel- opment through the countywide Transient Room Tax. Taxes paid by lodging customers are used to help promote events that bring in more tourism, which benefits our restau- rants, motels and other businesses. More information on the applica- tion process is available from the chamber office. While tourism is usually job one for the chamber, we are also on the lookout for improvements that will help our economy in other ways. For example, over the past year, chamber President Bruce Ward and other board members have been in touch with state leg- islators and agency heads to seek solutions to the delays in building inspections that hamper our ability to build structures, open businesses and upgrade our commercial areas. We’re hopeful that solutions can be forged to remove this roadblock and help Grant County grow. These are just a few of the exciting developments underway now at your Grant County Cham- ber of Commerce. If you want to learn more about these programs and the goals of the chamber, con- tact our Office Manager Tammy Bremner or any of the volunteers who serve on the chamber’s board: Bruce Ward, Jerry Franklin, Taci Philbrook, Scotta Callister, Shan- non Adair, David Driscoll, Greg Armstrong, Sally Knowles, Amber Wright, Sherrie Rininger, Didgette McCracken and Kim Randleas. Scotta Callister is a director of the Grant County Chamber of Commerce.