Conservation District offers free services

City grapples with abandoned RVs and barking dogs

TONASKET – Craig Nelson, District Manager of the Okanogan Conservation District (the District) appeared at the Tonasket City Council September 28 to offer assistance in helping landowners recover from the Okanogan Complex wildfires.

Nelson said the District helped over 300 individual property owners in the Carlton Complex with things like grass seeding and repairing/replacing fencing. The District also protected 14 homes from flash flooding by installing rock dykes, at a cost of about half a million dollars.

Nelson said the District used funding from the Washington State Legislature and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (for the rock dykes) to complete the activities for the Carlton Complex fire.

“We are using some of the residual funds from this account to fund this year’s activities,” said Nelson.

The District also coordinated State Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Teams, woking with the Forest Service and Army Corps of Engineers to assess damage to state and private lands and reporting on areas most severely burned to protect human life and critical public infrastructure. The BAER teams have been working since mid-September to assess severity of soil burns on private and state lands burned in Okanogan Complex, Tunk Block and North Star fires.

“Their analysis will help us all better understand the post-fire risks and evaluate what steps we may need to take to protect lives, homes and crucial infrastructure,” said Kirsten Cook, Okanogan Conservation District Education Coordinator.

Nelson said last year the Washington Department of Ecology installed 14 emergency rain gages with guidance from the National Weather Service and assistance of the District to monitor high levels of rainfall, as the National Weather Service doesn’t reach the area. The temporary rain gauges will remain in place for three to five years.

The District has requested the Federal Natural Resources Conservation Services Emergency Watershed Protection Program to come and do an evaluation to identify homes at risk of flooding.

“The fires this year are a first, in that they have areas burned out up above watersheds,” said Nelson. “We’ll start evaluating the burn areas around October 13. We don’t look at just the burn area, but areas downstream as well.”

Nelson said last year the Benson Creek area had a 10-year rain event that resulted in a 1,000-year flood event.

The District has received over 100 requests for site visits for property owners affected by the Okanogan Complex. There are no charges for the site visits. According to the District website, all district services are provided free of charge without discrimination. The District is a local governmental entity formed as a sub-division of Washington State under RCW 89.08. It formed in April of 1940, the fourth one in the state of Washington.

Tonasket Mayor Patrick Plumb said the conservation district originated in Loomis, and said Nelson’s visit to the city council meeting provided “the opportunity for us to mitigate to have the town join the conservation district.” Council member Scott Olson asked the District consider a different way of taxing landowners. Nelson said that will come up for renewal next year. As it stands now, landowners are taxed at $2.40 per parcel per year and four cents per acre per year, with low income senior citizens exempt. Nelson said the difficulty in structuring variance into the tax assessment was with the county’s software program; but that he would be discussing it with Okanogan County Assessor Scott Fuhrman in the near future.

“The beauty of the Okanogan Conservation District is we are made up of community members,” said Nelson.

Anyone with fire losses is encouraged to contact the Red Cross at (509) 663-3907, then contact a Room One Disaster Case Manager at (509) 997-2050. Next, contact the Okanogan Conservation District to report any natural resource and/or agricultural losses. The District will provide site visits to landowners to help evaluate options for recovery. For more information, visit

The Council discussed Resolution 2015-14, an emergency exemption for the use of recreational vehicles as dwellings for the next two years. It was determined in order to pass, the resolution would have to require RVs to be properly hooked up to water and sewer facilities, and the owners to be paying customers of the city utilities. The RVs would have to be sited in a location that would allow a house, or otherwise permitted as a stand-alone structure; rather than set up next to someone’s house. The RV owners would need validation they lost a home in the fire.

Council member Jill Vugteveen asked why the city was considering the resolution, when no one within the city limits lost a home.

“We don’t have empty lots in the city where people can hook up water and sewer, so this will make people think they can have their friends park an RV on their property,” said Tonasket Police Chief Darren Curtis.

Concerns were also expressed that persons already living within the city in dwellings outside of compliance with the city code where not being forced to comply.

The motion to pass the resolution failed 3-2.

A public hearing on Revenue Sources for the 2016 Budget. The council considered a possible increase in property tax revenues of one percent. No one appeared from the public to offer any input, so the public hearing was closed. The Ad Valorem tax (a tax based on the value of a transaction or assessed value of real estate) of one percent over the amount received in 2015 will be discussed at a Budget Workshop to be held October 14. The Budget Workshop Hearing is scheduled for October 29.

The council voted to approve the mayor’s nomination of Aaron Kester to replace Leonard Hedlund on the Tonasket Civil Service Board.

“We appreciate Leonard for his many years of service and everything he has done for the city,” said Mayor Patrick Plumb. “His will be huge shoes to fill.”

The Civil Service Board is an independent commission set up as an appeals board to handle police issues. Curtis said because the commission can do independent investigations, it allows for protection of police department personnel.

In other council business, Council member Claire Jeffko reported addressing the request of a Fourth Street Business to change the parking on fourth street to diagonal. It was decided the issue had already been discussed at length and was not practical.

Council member Lois Rice reported concerns had been expressed about unoccupied RVs being parked at the Tonasket Rodeo Grounds, as well as horses left there that weren’t being fed. Because the rodeo grounds is outside of the city’s jurisdiction, Curtis suggested the Sheriff’s office could go in to address the problem.

Council member Dan Brown said North Valley Hospital had requested an additional six months to solve the problem of their dumpsters blocking the sidewalks, after already being given a full year to address the issue. City staff was directed to draft a letter stating the council does not approve the request. The draft is to be reviewed by Council member and Mayor pro tem Vugteveen, as Plumb is a hospital employee.

Vugteveen, also a USFS employee, reported the “prescribed burning that we do is critical to restoring our environment back to where it was 100 years ago. But we probably won’t do any prescribed burns this fall,as the public has had enough smoke.” Vugteveen also stated the burned soil “incurs turbidity, meaning the water just runs out, so it can take up to ten years in some areas to grow vegetation again. In some areas it will grow back and be a nice stand of timber, like it was meant to be.” Vugteveen also thanked the city for the use of extra barricades when they had to close so many roads.

Council member Olson reported the Water Ranch at Chief Tonasket Park was finally working wonderfully at summer’s end.

“When the kids found out it was turned on again, they came out and had a lot of fun. We are really looking forward to next spring,” said Olson. “Thank you again, Hugh (Jensen) for all your hard work.”

Jensen reported needing to get quotes for the new pump needed for Well #7; as cost of the pump, along with installation, was going to exceed the $20,000 proposed limit. Concerns were expressed that the city’s reserve funds would be depleted. Plumb suggested the need to build the reserve back up should be included at the budget workshop.

Plumb reported being able to “step down” to Vice Chair of the Long Term Recovery Group meetings. The meetings will still be held at city hall, “but we’ve done a lot, and gotten to the point now where other community leaders can take over,” said Plumb.

Plumb also reported a citizen being given a verbal warning about a barking dog. Curtis said it used to be required to give three warnings, but now it is just one.

“We give them a warning, and if it continues we give them a ticket,” said Curtis. “The nuisance code is written so that it can be any time of day. But we do have to hear the dog barking before we can do anything about it.”