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Wind helps Sherman County meet needs

SHERMAN COUNTY Historical Museum is using Strategic Investment Program payments to repair and improve its walls.

SHERMAN COUNTY Historical Museum is using Strategic Investment Program payments to repair and improve its walls. Photo by Mark Gibson.

— When the wind industry arrived in Sherman County it brought with it new resources and opportunities for the county’s residents.

Strategic Investment Program payments from wind farm owners in lieu of property taxes have helped fund schools, been distributed directly to citizens and paid for a variety of infrastructure upgrades and other projects.

One example of how wind money has benefited the county is through the Sherman Development League, a nonprofit founded in 2000 to “enhance the social, cultural and educational environment of Sherman County.” Its loan and grant programs got a major boost when the organization was chosen to receive hundreds of thousands dollars from the enterprise zone of one of the Klondike wind farms.

“The Sherman Development League has done so much for Sherman County,” said Patti Fields, director of the Sherman County Historical Museum, which was awarded one of this year’s grants.

“Everybody in the community tries to spread the grants around and make sure everyone gets help when they need it. I think it has had a positive impact on the community having it as a resource.”

The museum is using its grant to repair the cracks in its aging plaster and cover the walls with a textured finish, improving the museum’s appearance and keeping moisture out.

The Development League’s board chair Melva Thomas said, since 2007, the nonprofit has distributed $879,486 in grant money in addition to the $176,500 in new grants it announced recently.

“Our goal is to improve the quality of life of residents of Sherman County,” she said.

Those grants have touched just about everyone in Sherman County, from seniors who use the county’s senior center to children in the public school system. Thomas said the board of directors who make the decisions come from a variety of cities and backgrounds.

“We don’t really see each other as individual towns anyway. That’s why people say they are from Sherman County, not Wasco or Grass Valley,” she said. “We try to be as fair as possible, and we try to support projects for things. We don’t like to provide dollars for personnel or operating costs.”

One of this year’s grant recipients is the Sherman County Senior and Community Center, which is using the money in conjunction with private donations to build a handicapped-accessible gazebo on the property for community use.

“Without their help it would be a long time before we could get it done, but it is something the community apparently wants because they’re behind it with donations,” said Jan Byram, manager of the center. “They [the Development League] have been very supportive, easy to work with and wonderful.”

The City of Rufus was another recipient of this year’s awards. The money will be used to build a solar carport at the Rufus Community Center and expand parking there. Jaclyn McCurdy, city administrator, said the solar power will help offset utility costs for the community center and is the first step in the city’s plans to turn the building into a renewable energy visitor center.

She said the city’s volunteer fire department also got grant funds from the Development League to purchase an extra vehicle to transport the Jaws of Life and other life-saving equipment to the scene of accidents.

The City of Grass Valley is using their grant to renovate a wooden pavilion built in 1914. The money is helping cover the costs for things like new roofing and restrooms.

Most of the money is going to structures, but at Sherman Preschool teachers will use the money to do art projects with the children.

“This is the first time I applied,” said director Carrie Somnis. “I wanted to use it for something that could go directly for the kids’ learning and enjoyment, and arts and crafts get pretty spendy. I’ve heard of this grant before and know it helps a lot of nonprofit organizations.”

Other organizations that received grants in 2013 are Columbia Gorge Arts in Education, Sherman County Ambulance, Sherman County Child Care Foundation, Sherman County Fair, Sherman County Health District and Sherman County Public-School Library. Organizations can also apply for loans.

Thomas said people need to remember that the Sherman Development League does have a finite amount of money and won’t be able to continue giving grants at the same pace forever. The board put a chunk of the wind money aside in 2007, planning to use the interest to continue the program, but exceptionally low interest rates have lessened the amount of money available.

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