DEQ managers visit Harney County, discuss local development and recycling challenges

Mural of Dream Big, Burns, Oregon

Sprawling pastures and desertscapes pop with various shades of spring green outside Burns in eastern Oregon’s Harney County—the state’s largest county by land mass but one of the smallest by population, at 7,515 people.

DEQ’s Eastern Region management team traveled from The Dalles, Klamath Falls, and Bend to meet with representatives from the cities of Burns and Hines, the Burns Paiute Tribe, and Harney County on May 23.

“I travel a lot over the mountains in my role,” said Harney County Judge Bill Hart, referring to the Cascade Mountains that spilt eastern from western Oregon. “I want people to come over here too—to see Harney County.”

The county is working with the two cities on a recycling program under Oregon’s Recycling Modernization Act. They’ve also partnered on a redevelopment project that recently received Brownfields funding from EPA to clean up contamination at Harney County School District’s old junior high school—the Lincoln Building in Burns. After the building’s lead paint, asbestos and underground heating oil tanks are removed or sealed, the county plans to develop it into a new justice center.

Both Burns and Hines are also working on master plans for upgrades to their wastewater treatment facilities, which would require permit work from DEQ wastewater staff. DEQ’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund may also provide low-interest loan funding to support these infrastructure upgrades.

The group then toured Rimrock Recycling – a volunteer-run nonprofit and the only recycling facility in Harney County. The facility also takes recyclables from neighboring Grant and Malheur counties.

Rimrock Recycling’s Becky Cunningham and DEQ’s Laurie Gordon lead a tour of the recycling center.

Becky Cunningham has been running the recycling operation since 1989. “No one was doing it,” she said, when asked why she does this work. “It’s always just been: someone’s gotta do it. So it falls to us ladies over 70.”

Cunningham works alongside a team of other volunteers to collect, sort, bale and find buyers for paper, cardboard, metal, plastics and electronics. Managing the community recycling center is just one of her jobs: she also runs a ranch and pack llama business, is a massage therapist, and has an herb business.

Becky Cunningham, Rimrock Recycling

Cunningham is hopeful Oregon’s new Recycling Modernization Act will provide Rimrock Recycling with more resources and support to continue their operations. In the meantime, community volunteers contribute significant time and effort to keep the facility operating.

DEQ thanks Cunningham and all the Rimrock Recycling volunteers for providing this important service to eastern Oregon communities.

–Laura Gleim, public affairs specialist

Published by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

DEQ’s mission is to be a leader in restoring, maintaining and enhancing the quality of Oregon’s air, land and water.

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