Legislation Benefits UEC, Rural Oregon

July 16, 2019

With the end of the Oregon Legislature, bills of special interest to Umatilla Electric successfully passed the finish line and will become law.

SB 408 will allow counties to subdivide Exclusive Farm Use (EFU) land for utility facilities necessary for public service. The bill, which received bipartisan support, will assist UEC and other utilities as they continue to serve their growing communities.

The issue came to light when Morrow County attempted to subdivide land into a smaller parcel for an approved UEC substation on EFU property. It turned out there was no law or rule that allowed it to divide such land into a smaller parcel for utility facilities necessary for public use.

As it stood, either the landowner had to continue to own the property and lease the land back to the utility, or the utility would need to purchase an adjacent parcel to place the structure. The former is problematic because the landowner retains the liability of owning the land under a substation, and the latter results in more EFU being taken out of production.

The situation is not isolated to northeast Oregon. Hood River Electric Cooperative testified the new law will help it improve reliability of the electric grid in the Columbia Gorge.

SB 408 only allows decision makers to subdivide EFU into smaller parcels for utility facilities necessary for public service. It does not give land use planners new authority to approve new conditional uses on EFU.

HB 2896, the Manufactured Home Preservation Act, passed in the closing moments of the legislative session. It is anticipated Gov. Kate Brown will sign the bill and it will take effect Jan. 1.

The bill includes $9.5 million for a manufactured home park acquisition, $2.5 million for home replacement (including disposal grants and new home loans), $3 million for infrastructure for a new manufactured home park in Springfield, and establishment of an Advisory Council on Manufactured Housing with Housing and Community Services.

An array of social services and business groups advocated for the bill, including the AARP and Network for Oregon Affordable Housing, with Sen. Bill Hansell and Rep. Greg Smith among the bipartisan co-sponsors.

UEC helped encourage support for the bill, since manufactured homes built before energy efficiency codes were adopted can have especially high monthly bills. UEC expects to be involved in rulemaking as the program gets developed.

Local legislators Hansell and Smith and Rep. Greg Baretto worked on a variety of policy and budget bills throughout the session.

Senate Bill 290, introduced by Hansell, makes farmers, ranchers and volunteers immune from civil liabilities resulting from wildfire fighting efforts.
Blue Mountain Community College received funding for a facility that will include an indoor rodeo arena and classrooms for veterinary science, unmanned aerial systems, and other agricultural education.

Among nearly 400 bills passed by the House, Rep. Smith highlighted the following of local interest:

Future Farmers of America (FFA): Requires the Oregon Department of Education to coordinate with Oregon’s FFA to increase student achievement and improve graduation rates, college preparation, and career placement for students enrolled in secondary agricultural courses. The bill increases funding for FFA.

Early Childhood Education: Supports expansions and investments in Hermiston Head Start and at the Port of Morrow’s Early Learning Center.

Expansion of the Umatilla County Jail: Provides $1.6 million for renovation and expansion to include space for mental health care services.