At its final meeting before hosting its first fair and rodeo, the Eastern Oregon Trade and Events Center board was focused on last-minute construction at the facility. After all, the fair is set to begin in less than two weeks.

But that wasn’t all the board had to deal with.

Heather Cannell, EOTEC’s business manager, resigned and will take a job as the general manager of the SAGE Center in Morrow County. Cannell will stay on through the fair and rodeo and will start her new role August 14.

Cannell said she did not apply for the open EOTEC general manager position.

“The position wasn’t offered to me,” she said. “I figured they had me, but if I wasn’t good enough for the position why bother applying?”

But overall, Cannell said working with EOTEC had been a good experience.

“I’m proud to have been a part of the project and see it grow over the last couple of years,” she said.

Cannell said she provided information on maintenance, scheduling and client files, in order to make the transition easier for her successor and the board.

The board met in executive session after the meeting to discuss steps for hiring a general manager, but took no action.

The board also heard complaints from a resident of the neighborhood surrounding the facility in south Hermiston.

Chris Waine, a resident of Southeast Airport Road, discussed issues with dust and water rights in his neighborhood, some of which EOTEC board members said was not related to them.

Waine showed board members a video taken by one of his neighbors.

“It shows a truck traveling north to south on Ott Road, and the cloud of dust that came behind it,” he said. “It’s hard to understand unless you’re standing out there. They did 25 to 30 feet of dust abatement, but you’ll see it has little to no effect.”

Waine said while the recently passed state transportation bill was supposed to allot $1.1 million to fixing those roads, he did not think it would be enough.

“I did some research, and to take a gravel road to paved is between $2 and $3 million per mile,” he said. “I think it’s safe to say that, if the bill is ever signed, it won’t be enough to do anything substantial. And I’d guess the priority would be the entrance.”

He asked that the EOTEC board and the county find a long-term plan for addressing the issue. Board members said there will soon be more efforts to improve the dusty conditions.

Waine also said he and some of his neighbors have formed a group called the Hermiston Airport Road Neighbors Association. He said they have hired a lawyer and are communicating with the EOTEC board.

Waine also said he would be pursuing legal action with the state on water rights issues, which might affect EOTEC property. Waine said he had not been able to access the full extent of his water rights in the last two years.

“I can’t use my water right,” he said. “The water just simply isn’t there.”

Waine said he would be filing a claim for damages with the state of Oregon. If the state approves it, they could begin reducing some of the more recent water rights in the area — which could include EOTEC. He acknowledged that EOTEC may not be the cause of his water issues, but said the state shouldn’t have issued them a water right if it would cause damage to surrounding right-holders.

Ryan Murray, another Airport Road resident, said he has also been having water issues in 2017, the first time since his family had purchased the property nearly 30 years ago.

Byron Smith, EOTEC board member and Hermiston city manager, said the water issues were not due to EOTEC’s use.

“We’ve pumped no water out of those wells,” he said.

Smith said while the state may choose to pursue that action, it won’t hinder EOTEC operations.

“Our (Hermiston) city water system is here on site,” he said, adding that the system wouldn’t be affected.

He said the city is also putting a pump in place to access the Stanfield irrigation system.

The board also heard from County Emergency Manager Thomas Roberts, with the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Department, who presented an event security and emergency operations plan for EOTEC. The 23-page packet reviewed different types of emergencies, who would be in charge, and how different people in the chain of command would respond in different situations.

“Seeing what happened at the Ohio State Fair brought to light for me the importance of having a plan,” Roberts said, referring to an incident in Ohio this week where a person died while on an amusement park ride. “We’re very proud of the fact that we’ve got a foundation in place.”

Overall, EOTEC board members said they were excited about the upcoming events.

“I’ve often said, there’ll be rough edges,” Smith said. “But we’ll have a fair and rodeo here, and it’ll be good.”

Important upcoming dates for EOTEC include:

• A work party, Saturday, July 29, 8 a.m. to noon

• EOTEC Ribbon Cutting, Monday, August 7 at 5:30 p.m.

• Fair opening, Tuesday, August 8 at 9 a.m.

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Contact Jayati Ramakrishnan at jramakrishnan@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4534

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