The Blue Mountain eagle. (John Day, Or.) 1972-current, June 26, 2019, Page 2, Image 20

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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.