ORCA Works to Protect Oregon's Coastal Beauty and Integrity

The newest affiliate to join 1000 Friends’ land use advocacy team, the Oregon Coast Alliance (ORCA) was founded in 2009 to protect the ecologically complex, vulnerable Oregon shoreline from unnecessary development.

ORCA Logo“The Oregon coast is about 368 miles long, and we are responsible for the land use advocacy along the entire length,” land use director Cameron La Follette explains. “We have the largest territory in the state—the coast and about a mile inland of beaches and woodlands—of any affiliate outside of 1000 Friends itself.”

Prior to her work with ORCA, La Follette lent her talents to the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition, primarily focused on issues of land use. However, many instances of land use litigation can take years to come to a conclusion, and La Follette felt her passion and energy could best be utilized working on land use advocacy for the Oregon Coast full time.

“One of the problems is that when the counties made their plans, they zoned much of the area along Highway 101 as rural residential,” La Follette said. “Many of the spots around there are kind of junky. We are doing what we can to prevent greater density in rural areas.”

Beyond this basic mission, the organization delves much deeper into the technical, specific aspects of certain cases related to coastal protection.

For example, ORCA opposed a proposed new firearms facility in Tillamook County, a 25-acre parcel of land carved out of an 85- acre plot of farmland that needs to be rezoned as forestland for the county to approve the zoning change. Shooting lands are not allowed on farmland, but are allowed conditionally on forestland.

ORCA opposed the zoning change because they believe the land is better suited as farmland than forestland, the threat to the dairy industry that firearms may cause, and the potential for lead to enter the soil and water from spent shells.

“Proponents of the facility were smart to pit environmentalists against farmers, two groups that often work together,” La Follette explains of the tradeoff to restore 75 acres of marshland near Tillamook Bay for the right to rezone the farmland.

In February 2010, ORCA’s efforts paid off, when the Tillamook Board of County Commissioners rejected the zoning change in a 2-1 vote.

Photo of Curry County Coast. Credit: ORCAORCA has also participated in the process around a proposed destination resort in Curry County (photo, right, from the ORCA website), voicing opposition and concerns about the 443 acre resort. The Crook Point Destination Resort, halfway between Brookings and Gold Beach, would contain two golf courses, a shop, a spa lodge, cabins, an equestrian center, and a small subdivision.

In May 2011 (after our interview with La Follette), the Land Use Board of Appeals overturned Curry County’s approval of the resort, due to concerns about geologic instability and impacts to wildlife, following an appeal by ORCA, the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition, and the Crag Law Center.

Another sensitive coastal area that the organization continues to monitor is the Sand Lake Estuary in Tillamook County—one of only five natural estuaries left in the state. In the recent past, there have been plans to develop a golf course and a resort on the plot of land, with Oregon Coast Alliance strongly opposed to such ideas.

“I don’t even want to think of hearing this awful thing!” La Follette says. “It’s on our watch list, and if something happens, we will put out a full red alert.”

It’s important to put all the work into perspective though, maintaining a sense of humor for the often wonky, time-consuming land use advocacy entails.

 “The phrase ‘with an ocean view lot’ is just about at the top of the list of words I hate the most,” La Follette said with a laugh.

With upwards of 400 miles of shoreline to protect, there are a lot of ‘ocean view lots’ to preserve from unnecessary or environmentally insensitive development. 1000 Friends welcomes ORCA’s dedication and advocacy in helping to protect the beauty of the Oregon Coast.

Profile by Kevin Pozzi, 1000 Friends Communications Intern, June 2011.