No Harm, No Fee
Following what Forest Service staff described as complaints and confusion, the agency quietly decided this week to eliminate a new day use fee at concession run campgrounds on the Deschutes Forest, a supervisor confirmed last week in an interview with the Source.
Ronda Bishop, special use coordinator for concessionaires and resorts on the forest, said that the agency informed Hoodoo Recreation that a newly instituted day fee that amounted to half of the camping fee (roughly $5-6) would have to be temporarily rescinded because of complaints about the policy that was instituted this past spring without public input. Bishop said the Forest Service initially signed off on the fee in order to help Hoodoo cover the maintenance cost at the campgrounds where day visitors use toilets and trash facilities but traditionally have paid no fee for those privileges. The impact of those users adds up for the concessionaire.
"It's a substantial cost to pump toilets," said Bishop, who estimated that the concessionaire pays anywhere from $250 to $400 to pump a 1,000-gallon toilet on the forest.
But complaints and confusion over the new policy forced the agency to back pedal in mid June when it decided to put the fee on hold at campgrounds - at least for this summer. Hoodoo had until July 1 to change all of its signs related to the fee, Bishop said. While the fee did not apply to day use areas where users are required to pay a one-time fee or obtain a Northwest Forest Pass, it did apply to many popular campgrounds, including Elk Lake, North Twin, Little Cultus, Sheeps Bridge and more than a dozen others.
Bishop said the agency's decision does not preclude the possibility that Hoodoo, which took over the Deschutes Forest campground concession contract in the off-season on a 10-year lease, from reapplying for the fee next year.
Don't Touch My Septic Tank
Speaking of unpopular rules and regulations, Deschutes County and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) are setting the table for Round 3 (or is it 12?) of The Great La Pine Groundwater Battle. The county and the local DEQ staff have slated a July 22 meeting in La Pine to jumpstart the nitrate debate after county residents successfully petitioned to have the county's new groundwater/septic rules overturned this past spring in a countywide ballot referendum.
One option is for the DEQ to write a larger regional rule that would take the county out of the driver's/hot seat on the groundwater issue by placing it in the hands of the state, which is where Commissioner Dennis Luke said it probably belongs. Luke said he has already spoken with members of the Klamath County Commissioners whose constituency would be impacted by a regional septic plan. He said Klamath officials are supportive of a state-led plan and are sending a representative to the meeting, which is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the La Pine High School cafeteria.
Luke said the meeting format is not yet determined, but commissioners oppose a wide-open community forum, favoring a set-up with invited testimony.
"The public has spoken down there," said Luke. "We're here to help DEQ in any way we can, but we can't take the lead. [The voters] said no."
While some of the most vocal opponents have insisted that the county and state officials, as well as the USGS nitrate models, have exaggerated the risk posed by aging septic systems over the area's shallow water table, Luke said it's clear that the problem of groundwater pollution needs to be addressed at some point.
"Even people who led the fight to overturn the local rule admit that it's a problem - they just didn't like our solution," he said.
(Come on Baby,) Light My Fireworks
Either the recession is starting to take its toll or people getting more responsible with the personal fireworks displays - at least that's two ways to read the decrease in fireworks-related complaints in Bend and a drop in accidental fires on Independence Day. Illegal fireworks complaints were down 50 percent this year, according to Bend Fire Marshall Gary Marshall, whose agency teamed with the Bend PD to police illegal firework activity over the Fourth.
Marshall said that two patrols working the city handed out four citations and two warnings on Saturday and confiscated about $3,000 worth of illegal fireworks - generally classified as stuff that goes pop or flies over your head.
In all, the department responded to five fires that night, three of which were confirmed to be fireworks related. None of the fires resulted in significant property damage.
If residents are able to show similar restraint with personal pyrotechnics every year, Marshall said he doesn't see the need for additional regulation or an outright ban on fireworks.