- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A local judge in Oregon suggested this week that armed militia members occupying a federal wildlife refuge should pay as much as $75,000 a day to make up the cost that their standoff is imposing on the surrounding community.

Harney County Judge Steve Grasty estimates the armed occupation led by cattle rancher Ammon Bundy has cost the community $60,000 to $75,000 each day for the first week of the standoff, the Guardian reported.

Those estimates include the costs of law enforcement overtime, school closures last week, setting up and operating a special command center, keeping county building open late and buying extra supplies and food for country workers.

“We’re going to send Mr. Bundy the bill,” Judge Gratsy said at a meeting with local residents, the Guardian reported.

The costs to the county will grow if the militia continues to stake out the wildlife refuge, despite please from local residents for them to leave. If the standoff drags on for another week, the expenses could add up to more than $1 million, the Guardian reported.

“Harney County is not a wealthy county,” county spokeswoman Laura Cleland said Tuesday, adding it was “on a very strict budget.”

Judge Grasty said he is exploring whether the county could pursue civil litigation to force the Bundy militia to pay the costs. At the least, he said he intends to send Mr. Bundy an invoice when this is over.

“I really want people aware of the costs that these folks are giving all of us,” he told the Guardian, noting that his estimates don’t include expenses outside law enforcement agencies are also incurring. “There is justification in sending them a bill if for no other reason than letting everyone know what this is costing taxpayers.”

The group of occupiers has been holed up in the Malheur national wildlife refuge near Burns, Oregon, for 10 days. The group stormed the refuge to protest the federal government’s land regulations and the imprisonment of two Harney County ranchers in an arson case.

A spokesman for the militia said Tuesday the group planned to hold a community meeting Friday to explain why the group took over the building and when they plan to leave.

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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