Liberty Grange near Joseph hosted a County Commissioner candidates forum on April 15. Four candidates and more than 30 people attended.
Candidates for position one included Shelley Curtiss, Dale Potter and incumbent Mike Hayward, the current chairman of the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners.
Jim Walker, who is running for Ben Boswell's seat, was present, though Boswell himself was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict.
Each candidate was allowed two minutes for an introduction before fielding a series of questions from event facilitator Diane Snyder. Candidates were only allowed two minutes to respond to each of four questions that followed.
When asked about the major issues facing agriculture and forestry in Wallowa County, there was general agreement on seeking ways to revitalize the timber industry and ensure the robustness of agriculture. Jim Walker mentioned the repair of the Wallowa Lake dam as vital and argued for the increased harvest of timber.
Potter agreed, noting out that "as much as 38 million board feet is put on each year" by the existing forest and said that harvesting should reflect this. Hayward pointed out that the county had only one sawmill remaining and stressed the importance of keeping it operational. Curtiss said she didn't consider herself an expert and still had a lot to learn about the issue.
On land use issues the candidates had varied positions. Curtiss argued that land use needs to seek a balance between public and business concerns, and that public concerns too often take a back seat to business.
Hayward mentioned the problems that arise upon the subdivision of large ranches into "ranchettes" by farmers seeking to stay financially afloat, with state law making zoning problematic and the needs of agriculture, such as crop spraying, having a negative impact on residences abutting farmland.
He also pointed out that land use discussions were by their nature contentious, with strong feelings on all sides, and described land use as "a balance between property rights and protection of the resource." Walker and Potter argued strongly for property rights and against "strangling" regulations. Potter suggested that, while some spots, such as the moraine, do need protection, owners may need to be compensated in some instances.
On the Wallowa Lake dam, all the candidates agreed that it must be repaired, though all but Hayward were strongly against taking federal money for the project. Dale Potter mentioned he would consider a sales tax to pay for dam repairs.
Hayward left the door open to the possibility of federal involvement, saying that the repairs are vital, and that it will take considerable funds. He went on to say that whether federal, state or local in origin, getting the funds would be the challenge.
When asked about economic development, all the candidates stressed the vital nature of agriculture and timber within the county.
Potter said he would seek to bring existing jobs to the county through tax incentives and possibly free sewerage as well as through a revitalized timber industry.
Walker suggested improving facilities at Dug Bar, including access and the construction of a 4000-foot airstrip. Curtiss pointed out the necessity of communication and suggested generating a vision statement to involve the public more directly and to help county industries better sell and market their products within the state.
Hayward praised the Business Facilitation program and said the county needs to concentrate on building jobs one at a time rather than seeking a single large outside employer as a quick fix. As far as the future went, he listed forest management and telecommunications as areas of interest for the County.