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Talent applies for fuels-reduction grant for Bear Creek

Lynn Newbry Park is one of the areas targeted in grant applications for the removal of wildfire fuels along Bear Creek in Talent. [City of Talent photo]

A $1.2 million grant to reduce burnable fuels along Bear Creek has an excellent chance for approval, a consultant told Talent City Council.

Flammable vegetation along the Bear Creek corridor played a major role in spreading the Sept. 8, 2020, Almeda fire into Talent’s residential and business areas.

Krause Wilson, who is working with the city to secure grant money, said the state’s Office of Emergency Management approached Talent about applying for money that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had originally granted for the Mosier Creek fire. If the state did not spend the funds, they would have been returned, but regulations also allow the transfer of the money to other projects.

“The state is very favorable toward Talent right now. I’ve never seen anything like this in my career. It gives you a lot of latitude to do a lot of different things,” Wilson said at an Aug. 18 City Council meeting. “Bear Creek was kind of a slam dunk with FEMA. It’s the kind of stuff they approve all the time.”

The council authorized City Manager Jordan Rooklyn to act as agent for the city, although the full grant application had been submitted Aug. 1 at the request of state officials to avoid returning the money.

“We would have some more planning involved if we receive this grant money. The goal would be to start work as soon as possible to reduce the risk,” said Rooklyn. “But we need to work with partners and collaborators to see that they benefit from the work.”

Project work would include hazard fuels reduction, reseeding, advance landscaping, debris disposal, equipment rental and local operations and maintenance planning. Administrative costs such as management, environmental review and a contingency fund for completion are included. A 25% match is required for the grant, but Business Oregon had indicated it would likely provide the money, pending review, leaving no costs for Talent.

Two areas along Bear Creek would be treated. One is 26 acres, north of West Valley View Road. The second is 95 acres, south of West Valley View, and includes Lynn Newbry Park. City officials would coordinate efforts with Jackson County and other jurisdictions along Bear Creek, Rooklyn said.

Less flammable grasses, trees and shrubs would be substituted for more flammable species that would be removed by the project. More mature trees several years old, rather than seedlings, would be planted to provide wind breaks and erosion control, said Wilson.

Wilson & Associates specializes in emergency management. The city has been working with the firm this year to secure disaster relief. Interim City Manager Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who served from January through June, applied for a number of grants working with the consultant, including the mitigation project.

Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood thanked McLeod-Skinner for her “shotgun approach” in applying for grants to aid the recovery.

Preapplications were also submitted by the city to the state for four other mitigation projects, and full applications will be due in January 2022. These include weed abatement and defensible space measures in Talent, $1.84 million; creation of Wagner Creek defensible space and hazardous fuels reduction, $525,000; public building defensible space measures, $1.6 million; and public works defensible space measures, $105,000.

Another $25 million will be available from FEMA in the January round, although Talent’s applications will be considered among requests submitted by other jurisdictions also.

Several city councilors raised questions and offered input at the Aug. 18 session on the Bear Creek project. They also said they hope there would be a chance for councilors and the community to review the proposed work. An environmental review will be done and would come before the council, Wilson said.

“A lot of what is needed in ecological restoration is long-term maintenance and maintenance of what you have invested in,” said Councilor Jason Clark. “There’s tremendous ecological value in those standing snags. It may be kind of a knee jerk reaction in getting all the dead wood out of there.”

A City Council study session on grants received, grants applied for and letters of intent submitted by the city will be held at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 29.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.