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Deschutes commissioners OK new marijuana rules


Deschutes County commissioners spent Wednesday making decisions on marijuana regulations, public safety and a controversial Sisters Airport taxiway.

The debate over recreational marijuana grow regulations in the county is over, for now.

Commissioners finalized the new, stricter rules for marijuana production and processing facilities on rural lands.

They’ve been fine-tuning the proposed regulations for more than a year, making sure there’s no room for any confusion on what’s expected from growers.

One change commissioners said is worth noting is the jump from one inspection allowed per year to three. They said having just one inspection created trouble, because if production facilities were checked during the wrong season, there was nothing to inspect.

Commissioner Phil Henderson said all these months of debate were about striking a balance between the needs of a growing marijuana industry and preserving the quality of life in rural communities.

“We put a lot of thought and we worked hard to try to hear the different parties involved,” Henderson said. “I mean, there’s going to be disappointment by people who wanted us to remove more regulations, there’s other people who want more regulations. But there are people who have been real vocal on how much they’re impacted, and we’re trying to balance that out.”

Henderson said there is a chance of appeals or legislative changes but he’s not expecting any.

The new rules go into effect Nov. 23.

Moving forward, commissioners are turning their attention to regulating medical marijuana growers in the county.

They’ll have to figure out which of their decided regulations can apply to the hundreds of medical marijuana production facilities in the county, making sure there’s a level playing field for all growers in the industry.

Commissioners also gave public safety agencies the go-ahead for their Public Safety Campus plan.

NewsChannel 21 reported back in August that four agencies are working together to consolidate their facilities off of Highway 20 in Bend and make them more efficient.

Officials say that as Central Oregon continues to grow, so will the safety needs of the community, and safety agencies need to keep up before the need exceeds what they can provide.

The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, Parole and Probation, Juvenile Justice, the 911 Dispatch and Deschutes County Behavioral Health are all on board.

They want to update the campus’ buildings, consolidate services, and put together a new agency specifically for health services, which will be called the “Stabilization Center.”

Commissioners approved the project with the condition those agencies come back with more thorough ideas on how to finance the facility.

“Today is a terrific day,” Sheriff Shane Nelson, said. “It is so responsible of the county commission to look at this the way they’re looking at it. They have been responsible about putting money in reserves so we can use it on building projects. And I’m just thrilled we’ll be able to move forward with the stabilization center as well address issues within the Public Safety Master Plan.”

The near-term plans,include expansion of the Parole and Probation Center, then creating a space for the Stabilization Center and building a community service garage.

That phase is estimated to cost about $7 million.

It’s not yet clear when the community will see the first changes to the Public Safety Campus, but the people involved are certainly motivated to get things moving.

In addition, commissioners made a decision that will allow a controversial taxiway at the Sisters Eagle Airport to remain in place, at least for now.

NewsChannel 21 has been following that dispute from the start.

The airport wants the 30-year-old taxiway removed, but neighbors at the Eagle Air Estates want to keep it there. Airport officials tried to prove the taxiway violates an open space rule, arguing it wasn’t approved in the final layout of the airport 30 years ago.

This summer, a hearings officer supported that claim, but on Wednesday, commissioners overturned that decision.

All three commissioners agreed that having the taxiway does not violate the open space rule and it should be allowed to remain there because people have been using it for decades.

“i think it was important to the homeowners in that Air Park subdivision to have access to the runway, because they’re hangar houses.” Henderson said. “They have airplane hangars at their houses, they roll their planes out onto the runway and take off. They’ve been doing that for 30 years.”

Henderson said their decision allows homeowners to keep their access to the runway, rather than picking apart the technicalities of a decades-old agreement, looking for something wrong.

That said, no final decision on the taxiway has been made. Commissioners simply overturned the appeal and could be faced with another one in the future.

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