VALE – Malheur County Planning Director Eric Evans will resign his position at the end of December, capping a 19-year career that began when he was hired to be an environmental health specialist.
For the past five years Evans worked as the planning director and, for the past 18 months, he pulled double duty, also serving as the Malheur County environmental health director.
The Malheur County Court accepted Evans resignation on Wednesday, Dec. 6.
“I have decided to resign in order to pursue a new opportunity that will allow me to continue to grow and develop my career,” Evans wrote in his resignation letter.
Evans said he will go to work for the Oregon Health Authority as a software consultation and training officer and work from home.
“I am leaving Malheur County with a heavy heart, but I am excited for the next chapter of my life,” he wrote.
Evans said he is looking forward to his new post with the state but will miss his colleagues at the county.
“I’ve raised my kids as I’ve worked with the county. It will tough and it will be sad,” he said.
Evans will depart just a few months after the county agreed to pay him an extra $2,500 a month for his added duty as the county environmental officer. The pay boost, though was set to sunset in June 2025. With the pay hike his salary was about $108,000 a year.
Evans said he will initially take a pay cut at the state.
“Short term it is a very big cut but long term it will be better pay,” he said.
Evans, 43, was born in Ontario and said he initially wanted to go into medicine before he went to work for the county as an environmental health specialist in 2004. He said held that role for 14 years before he was appointed to the county planner position in 2018. He replaced Alvin Scott.
The county planner is one of those often unsung, but vital, jobs. In a state where land-use planning is often a trigger point between rural and urban residents, a planner provides a kind of equilibrium between the possible and impossible regarding zoning and construction.
“From the planning perspective we administer state law and county law for any development within the unincorporated areas of Malheur County,” said Evans.
That means any plan for a new building, land transaction, zoning issue or change or construction passes through Evans’ office.
“I am also the flood plain administrator. So, any development in a flood plain has to be reviewed by me,” he said.
Major projects such as the proposed Grassy Mountain mine 20 miles south of Vale or the 300-mile-long 500 kilovolt electric transmission line steered by Idaho Power between Boardman and Idaho, also are reviewed by Evans. That’s because the Hemingway-to-Boardman transmission line slices through 178 miles of Malheur County. The Grassy Mountain project is a chemical-process gold mine, the first in the state, that must be reviewed by host of state agencies and by Evans.
Evans mentioned several highlights in his career, including working with the Eastern Oregon Border Economic Development Board and state Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, to help pass two key pieces of legislation that opened up rural, non-viable farmland for residential housing. Under the concept, land can be rezoned for housing if it has been farmed in the past three years and doesn’t have high-value acreage with premium soils.
Initially, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 16 in 2021 that cleared the way for the new proposal but it contained a glitch in the language of the bill. A new piece of legislation – Senate Bill 70 – changed the definition of “high-value farmland and was passed by the 2023 Legislature. The new bill also required the county to design its own ordinance regarding new zoning regulations for residential housing on non-viable farmland.
The new housing law is significant, said Evans.
“We have the potential to build 100 new homesites in rural Malheur County that were not available before that. I am hoping within the next few months we can see homes start up. Part of all that was adopting a code, which we’ve done in the last couple of months,” he said.
As part of the law, a new county board was created to review each request to rezone a parcel of land.
Evans said the first meeting of the new boarded is set for Feb. 22.
“I’d like to say I’ve made my mark,” he said.
Evans said his job as environmental health director included licensing and inspecting facilities such as pools, restaurants, motels and hotels and RV parks.
“We also run the county landfill and the onsite wastewater treatment program for the DEQ,” he said, referring to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
Evans said a big part of his job as the planning director was offering good customer service. Helping people, he said, was an important goal.
“We are very community-focused. We want to provide people with a ‘yes’ answer to allow them to develop their properties,” he said.
Sometimes, because of state law, furnishing the “yes” was a challenge, he said.
“But we go the extra mile to think about what opportunities they have to get done to do what they want to do,” he said. “I am most proud that we put customers and the community first.”
Evans said throughout his career the best thing was always “the people I work with.”
Evans said his time as county planner taught him a lot about people.
“I’ve learned that people experience life differently and if you recognize those differences it is a lot easier to communicate with them,” he said.
He is the father to a son and daughter who attend Ontario High School.
Evans, who was a member of the Ontario School Board for six years, said the reality he will be leaving hit home recently.
“I was cleaning out my desk a little bit and I was like, it’s been almost 20 years. There are a lot of memories there,” he said.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
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