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Permit process changes



State building codes officials were finally equipped to answer local stakeholders’ questions at a meeting Tuesday evening, where they assured local contractors that the state building codes division would operate as similarly to MCCOG as possible.

The building codes division of the Mid-Columbia Council of Government (MCCOG), which is disbanding and will no longer provide plan review, inspection and permitting services at its Kelly Avenue headquarters after January, was officially taken over by the state building codes division Feb. 1.

The Wasco County Commission discussed the issue during its meeting Jan. 17 and took input from local contractors about the transition process and concerns about the new management, but due to a lack of known information and a plethora of unanswerable questions, state building official Rex Turner asked for another meeting before the Feb. 1 takeover date to give the state more time to gather the information needed to answer stakeholders’ concerns.

That second meeting was held in the Wasco County Courthouse Jan. 30, where Turner and Shane Sumption, policy and technical services manager for the building codes division, answered MCCOG stakeholders’ questions concerning the transition. Though slated to last two hours, the meeting was adjourned after just 45 minutes due to a lack of questions.

“We’re trying to fill the void and buy some time,” Sumption said. “We’ve been asked by the county to help them out while they figure out what to do long-term, so we’re responding to that need.”

The state building codes division has made a few hires, but will primarily staff the local office with personnel from the Pendleton office until they can fill the rest of the open positions. Sumption claimed the local office will hire at least equal to MCCOG’s employment.

Another immediate issue is that MCCOG’s system shut down at the time of closure on Jan. 31 and doesn’t reboot for 12 days, leaving the state building codes division adrift until Feb. 12.

“We’re going to have to get through the next couple weeks,” Sumption said of the transition.

Contractors expressed concerns about the transfer of long-range permits that started with MCCOG but are still ongoing. The state will receive a print-out of the division’s status-quo at the time of MCCOG’s closure Jan. 31, Turner and Sumption said, assuring that continuity of information shouldn’t be a problem, though they did ask contractors to be patient with new staff while they get up to speed and await the system reboot.

E-permitting will be available for contractors once the system reboots Feb. 12. “It’s awfully convenient to do it that way,” Turner said, adding that moving the system online will increase the department’s transparency, as anyone in the community should be able to look up information on sites through the system.

The state insists that the state taking over building codes is only a temporary solution. “The reality is the state operating a local program from Salem is not the best” since state officials aren’t in the community and don’t have up-to-date knowledge on local climates and issues like a local program would, Sumption said. “They’re [the contractors’] programs, that’s the way I look at it” he added, encouraging contractors to reach out to their specific counties directly as they each work on a long-term building codes solution.

Wasco County currently has no long-term plans for the building codes program, said county Administrative Officer Tyler Stone. “We’re currently focused on keeping the program running and available,” he said, “once we get over that hump, we’ll start looking at the program on a longer-term basis.”

After the meeting two weeks ago, Stone responded to a letter from the City of The Dalles that MCCOG will likely be unwinding itself until July.

The state agreed to keep the program for a 12-month period to allow MCCOG to unwind and give the counties time to come up with a permanent program.

All four counties served by MCCOG are in the same situation, Sumpton said, and that a longer conversation of what the programs will look like is still in progress.

As far as an interim solution goes, the state is ready and able to fill the gap left by MCCOG. Since the last meeting, they have acquired phones and a fax machine, hired several employees and set up operating procedures to be followed until the Feb. 12 system reboot.

The state building codes office is open Mon-Fri 8a.m.-12p.m. and 1p.m.-4p.m. at 2705 East Second Street, The Dalles.

The office can be reached at 541-506-2650, or they accept faxes at 541-506-2651. For e-permitting information, go to BuildingPermits.Oregon.gov and for more information, go to the building codes website at bcd.oregon.gov.



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