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    Sheila Oliver

    Three Rivers Board of Directors Temporarily Closes Pit to Debris Dumping

    On March 14th, the Three Rivers Board of Directors made the difficult decision to close the common area pit to dumping of tree trimmings and other wildland fuel mitigation debris. This was a difficult decision but one that was necessitated by comments made by Lake Chinook Fire and Rescue Fire Chief Don Colfels at the fire district’s Board meeting on March 12th. At that meeting, Don told his Board he would no longer issue burn permits to the Association unless it hires outside contractors to conduct the burning. He also handed Three Rivers Board President Randy Panek two notices of violation and said that any further violations would result in criminal citations.

    All of this centers on the Big Canyon clean-up project March 5th, 6th and 7th. Dozens of volunteers from the Three Rivers community spent days with saws and heavy equipment removing and burning the dead trees from the fire two years ago. The work these volunteers did made a significant improvement in the canyon’s fire safety and visual appearance. One would think our fire chief would do everything he could to support these efforts. But no, he chose to issue notices of violations instead.

    So, what were the “violations”. One was for a burn in Big Canyon on March 6th for burning after 1:00 pm. Don Colfels required that fire to be out (cold to the touch) by 1:00 pm. This is very unreasonable and unnecessary for fire safety. To make matters worse, he did not give permission to do the burn until 11:00 am that day. The volunteers working the Big Canyon project did stop adding material to the burn by 1:00 pm.

    The second “violation”, again in Big Canyon on March 5th, was for burning at night. By that time, it was nothing more than a warming fire, surrounded by numerous people, with 900 gallons of water at the location in case there was a problem. Basically, a campfire.

    At no point during the weekend did Don Colfels meet with those conducting the burns to express his concerns or order the burning to be discontinued. Instead, he waited until the next Friday to issue the violation notices.

    The Three Rivers Board is deeply concerned by the fire chief’s stance. First, he now expects the Association to pay an outside contractor to do the debris burning that Association volunteers have been doing successfully for years. Second, even the slightest violation of an open burning rule would subject one of these volunteers to criminal penalties. Contrary to the statement by Don Colfels on the fire district’s Facebook page, a criminal citation must be issued to the person committing the violation of rule, not the Three Rivers Association president.

    Given these threats, the Association Board felt it would be irresponsible to continue to allow material to accumulate at the pit without a plan for its disposal. It could create a fire hazard far greater than the one we’re all trying to solve. The Association Board is also working closely with staff from the Oregon Department of Forestry to develop a solution. ODF is being very cooperative. The Board would like to reopen the pit sooner than later.

    It’s unfortunate that the fire chief has been an obstacle to the good work being done by Three Rivers landowners rather than an advocate. The Association Board has tried to work with Don Colfels but has had no success. The Board hopes this can change in the future.

    The Association Board is happy to see that the fire district has provided an alternative, though less convenient, debris dumping site and will take responsibility for debris disposal. The site is located 1.6 miles west of the fire station. Contact the fire district for more information.

    Nick Gross

    Sounds to me like the3R’s board (Randy Panik) and the 3 Rivers Fire District ( Don Cofels) are having some kind of pissing match. Facebook probably isn’t the best venue to air our dirty laundry. First, I didn’t know you could have campfire and a public gathering in the pit. Have to remember that when I plan my next party. Second The 3 Rivers Fire District is just that, a Jefferson county entity. It’s not the 3 Rivers Landowners Fire Department. It’s funded by everybody that lives in it’s service area through property taxes. Where I live I have an agricultural burning permit. I still have to call the fire department to find out if I can burn that day and what the restrictions are. Sometimes I don’t agree with them, but I’m not a fireman so I think they know more about it than me. That’s what we pay them for is to keep us safe from guys like me that want to burn on my schedule not theirs. As an aside I feel like the current leadership of 3R’s is kind of leaning to the authoritarian side of leadership. I hope I’m wrong, if not it might be time for a change. (also posted this on Facebook)

    Ryan Oliver


    Thanks for the comments. If you don’t like what you’re seeing from the current 3 Rivers Board, I strongly suggest you run for one of the several open positions in the next election. Or get involved with any of the committees or volunteer projects.

    The Board meetings are always open for public comment as well.

    Best regards,

    Ryan Oliver

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