State Parks staff is advising the Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission to take the next steps to seal the Bandon Biota-Grouse Mountain Ranch deal, but also to undertake “a good faith effort” to resolve concerns voiced in Grant County.
The recommendations are included in a memo prepared for the commission’s Nov. 20 meeting in Corvallis. It proposes a slate of actions including an interagency effort to identify surplus public lands within Grant County that could be offered for sale to offset the loss to the tax rolls.
The Commission is expected to decide on pursuing the Bandon Biota deal at the meeting, which begins at 8:30 a.m. in Oregon State University’s CH2M Hill Alumni Center.
Approval would set the stage for development of a new state park on the ranchland north of Mt. Vernon, in the Beech Creek area.
The Grouse Mountain acquisition is part of a complex land exchange proposal that keys on a trade of coastal property to Bandon Biota, owned by golf course developer Mike Keiser. As part of that deal, Bandon Biota would transfer 208 acres on the coast into the state park system and pay up to $2.95 million to help purchase 10 acres at Whale Cove in Lincoln County and at least 6,100 acres of Grouse Mountain Ranch, owned by George and Priscilla Meredith, in Grant County.
If the Commission decides to move forward, OPRD would secure appraisals and negotiate final terms for the deal.
The Grant County proposal has sparked vocal opposition from the Grant County Farm Bureau and the Grant County Stockgrowers about the loss of lands in production. County officials shared their concern about the potential loss of private land from the tax rolls in a county that already has some 64 percent public ownership.
“Taking additional private land out of our tax base increases the tax burden on agricultural landowners who are already being pressured with increased input costs such as feed, fuel, equipment and labor,” Stockgrowers president Jack Johns wrote in a letter to OPRD.
He and others have questioned the need for a state park, and also the state’s ability to pay for operating it, in public meetings since the proposal was unveiled in July.
With approval looming, Farm Bureau president Jeff Thomas reached out to his group’s members to discuss strategy at their next meeting, on Monday, Nov. 18, suggesting they give “serious thought” to litigation as the only real option to stop the project.
A number of county residents are expected to travel to Corvallis or send their comments to the commission.
The OPRD staff report acknowledged the opposition, saying there has been general local support for the coastal proposal, but a mixed reaction in Grant County with those “who support the acquisition of Grouse Mountain and those who do not.”
The report notes that the 6,100 acres is about .6 percent of the private land base.
“Though this may be a relatively small portion of private land in the county, there is coordinated effort among state agencies to identify surplus state lands in Grant County and place those properties on the open market,” the report states.
In addition, the report recommends:
• Working with county officials to determine the method and level of compensation for tax revenue lost though an acquisition by OPRD.
• Forming partnerships with the local schools and educational organizations to develop an environmental education program linked to the property.
• Within 10 years of acquisition, develop a comprehensive park plan, working closely with the local communities.
• Coordinate with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for wildlife management.
• Use and protect water rights deeded to the property; it there are water rights in excess, consider them for lease or sale to the private market.
OPRD officials say the park would not materialize overnight, but would be operated under an interim management plan that would continue some activities – such as hay production and weed control – while long-term plans are made.
OPRD envisions a park that could include camping and cabins in the Beech Creek bottomlands, hiking and non-motorized trail riding on trail loops from the lowlands up Grouse Mountain, a visitor and environmental education center, cabins and equestrian facilities at the base of the mountain, and use of existing buildings along Highway 395 for park offices and housing.
People can still comment in writing by noon on Nov. 18 to OPRD, Attn: Bandon Proposal, 725 Summer St. Suite C, Salem OR 97301, or email to OPRD.firstname.lastname@example.org.