2021 Oregon Legislature wrap up: Wildfire policy and new resources
July 15, 2021 | View PDF
The 2021 Oregon Legislature convened in early February. Among its first orders of business was the formation of two wildfire committees; one in the House and one in the Senate. The House Committee was a “special” committee, with its only charge wildfire related issues. It was chaired by Representative Brian Clem and was exempt from regular committee rules, meaning that it was allowed to stay open long after most of the other House committees were shuttered. The House Committee had representation on it from any Lane County members of the Legislature. The Senate Committee was combined with the Senate’s normal committee on Natural Resources, and chaired by Senator Jeff Golden. Senator Floyd Prozanski sat on the Committee.
Early on in session, both Committees met jointly. They focused on receiving public testimony, and then began to address and evolve certain priorities informed by that early testimony. Later in session, both became very involved in the issue of hazard tree removal. Their respective roles in creating funding packages was never very clear, but eventually the House Committee clearly became the lead in that effort. Unfortunately, the funding bill they evolved was not a traditional budget bill that leads to late session complications, and as a result some of the projects across Oregon’s seven counties that had been impacted by wildfire were left unfunded.
Lane County Priorities
Lane County went into the 2021 session with several clear priorities for these Committees:
Allow the Blue River Water District to automatically assume the duties of a wastewater district, which could have benefits for the residents of Blue River as the community receives resources for a community system. SB 745, which would allow an existing water district to establish itself as a wastewater district, under certain conditions, accomplished this outcome. SB 745 was signed into law by Governor Brown.
Ensuring that rebuilding of destroyed and non-conforming structures could occur outside of the statutory 12-month window. SB 405 extended that window to five years. HB 2289 establishes other process related efficiencies. Bills were signed into law by Governor Brown.
• FUNDING PACKAGES
Lane County worked with Senator Prozanski to submit $451,000 in fire related requests as part of HB 5042, the “rebalance” bill (an early session funding bill that finalizes spending for the 19-21 biennium). Two Lane County Departments, both McKenzie Fire Districts, EWEB, and the McKenzie Chamber of Commerce received a share of this funding.
Lane County worked with six other counties to make a joint request for building department capacity and fee waiver resources. The counties jointly signed a request for $27.5M, which was submitted to both Chambers’ wildfire committees by Lane County Commissioner Heather Buch. Ultimately the Legislature passed HB 5006, which provided Lane County with some $755,000 for capacity building in the Land Management Division of the Public Works Department.
Lane County worked with EWEB and the University of Oregon to make a pitch for eight discreet recovery projects, totaling $48.8M. These were initially all listed in HB 3172, which did pass from the House Wildfire Recovery Committee to the Joints Ways and Means Committee (JWM). JWM completely reconstructed the mea-sure and funded some parts of it via HB 5006. More discussion of that measure is contained later in this document.
KEY WILDFIRE BILLS:
SB 405, effective date 5/12/2021
• Amends ORS 215.130 to allow for the restoration or re-establishment of a non-conforming use in a wildfire impacted region to commence not later than September 30, 2025. Additionally this measure addresses impacts to non-conforming uses interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and eliminates federal, state, or local emergency orders from being considered as an interruption that would otherwise jeopardize the continuation of a non-conforming use allowance (significant for certain fairs, festivals, and recreational camps).
SB 745, effective date 6/11/2021
• Allows certain established special districts (for drinking water services) to provide wastewater services when certain criteria are met. This measure will allow the Blue River Water District to establish itself as a wastewater district, without having to evolve a new special district for that service in accordance with ORS Chapter 198.
SB 762, pending signature by Governor Brown
• Considered to be the “omnibus wildfire measure” of the 2021 session, this measure is mostly focused on wildfire prevention activities, defines the wildland-urban interface, and appropriates certain funds.
• Prevention Activities Requires utilities to have and comply with a risk-based wildfire protection plan (filed with the PUC by 12/31/2021) that requires input from local, state, and regional entities. The plan must address de-energizing power lines, promote the safety of the public and first responders, and preserve health and communication infrastructure.
Requires ODF to develop state wildfire risk mapping by 6/30/2022, granular to the individual property level (and with an appeal program for landowners).
Requires State Fire Marshall (OSP) to establish minimum defensible space standards for each risk category (derived from the ODF-produced map). Note the formal role for local governments in Section 8a (pages 4-5) of the measure. See also section 30b the office’s role in readiness and response, including contracting with local entities for fire prevention and response.
Requires Department of Consumer and Business Affairs to adopt wildfire hazard mitigation building code standards from within the wildland-urban interface.
Requires Department of Environmental Quality to develop and implement a program for supporting local communities to mitigate the impacts of wildfire smoke.
Requires Department of Human Services (in coordination with the Oregon Health Authority distribute grant dollars to local governments to establish emergency clean air shelters or otherwise filter air into public buildings.
Requires Department of Forestry to develop long-range fire resiliency programs and practices and to evolve the Oregon Conservation Corps Program, for youth aged 13-26 and focused on wildfire risk reduction activities.
Requires Counties to ensure all lands outside forest protection districts have baseline fire protection by January 1, 2026 (see section 28-29).
Requires Department of Forestry to enhance wildfire detection activities, including an expanded system of smoke detection cameras.
Creates the position of State Wildfire Programs Director appointed by the Governor.
• Appropriations: $3.32M for DEQ for wildfire smoke programs (including a $1.5M grant program).
$54M for ODF to develop statewide wildfire risk (five categories) mapping
$100.5M to OSP for State Fire Marshal to increase wildfire readiness capacity, $25M of which are for the Community Risk Reduction Fund (mostly to develop and maintain defensible space).
$4.5M to ODF for assistance to non-governmental units for wildfire response capacity.
$5.19M for DHS as the lead agency for clear air shelter operations and $4.7M to OHA for local government grants for clean air shelters and building air filtration systems.
HB 2272, pending signature by Governor Brown
• This measure was sought by Lane County as a tool to ensure negotiations between the owner of the USA Basketball Academy and the Federal Emergency Management Administration would be restarted after talks broke down over the long term use of FEMA provided water, sewer, and site infrastructure. This measure guarantees that Lane County will approve an application for a limited RV Park on that site, provided certain stipulations are met. Lane County will need to continue to collaborate with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to ensure the facility does not fall out of compliance with its on-site septic permit as that permanent use is implemented.
HB 2289, effective date 6/11/2021
• This measure was considered to be an omnibus rebuilding bill focused on the challenges faced by business and homeowners impacted by the Labor Day fires of 2020. It streamlines the local permitting process by eliminating it altogether (non-residential uses) or mandating approval (dwelling replacement), depending on the pre-fire situation on the property. These provisions exist if an application is made by September 30, 2025, and allows an additional five years past that date to commence development. The bill also provides direction to the Department of Environmental Quality with respect to repairs or replacement of subsurface sewage disposal systems, provided the owner does not receive any state or federal government for that repair or replacement.
HB 5006, pending signature from Governor Brown
• This measure is one of the end of session spending bills, and formally appropriates money to the Emergency Board for interim funding decisions. It is informally referred to as the “Christmas Tree Bill” as it usually is the vehicle for a variety of specific projects that individual members want to bring home to their districts. HB 5006 in 2021 was particularly large because of the influx of the American Recovery Plan Act, a congressionally approved measure that delivered some $2.6B in relatively flexible dollars to Oregon. This measure is evolved mostly behind closed doors, and moves quickly through the Joint Ways and Means process and through both Chambers.
• It has a number of specific funding allocations that will assist in the recovery from the Holiday Farm Fire:
$1.8M, McKenzie Valley Wellness (for Orchid Health Clinic temporary clinic and permanent rebuild
$903,520, McKenzie Fire and Rescue, Disaster Relief Logistics Center
$2.1M, Upper McKenzie Rural Fire Protection District equipment and facility replacement
$15.5M, Lane County, for drinking water and wastewater system replacements
$755, 319, Lane County, for staffing building and planning departments due to impacts from the 2020 wildfire season
$4M, Eugene Water and Electric Board, for restoration and acquisition of high-priority riparian properties
$325,000, Eugene Water and Electric Board, for Finn Rock Restoration Project (from Rep Paul Holvey’s district investment)
$1.4M, Blue River Community Library, rebuild project