South Coast Land Exchange Raises Concerns

A proposed land exchange between a golf course developer and Oregon State Parks is raising concerns among land use advocates along the Oregon Coast. The proposed swap, which would remove land from Bandon State Natural Area for golf course development, is now open for public comment.

We heard from our coastal affiliate, Oregon Coast Alliance (ORCA), about this exchange and have reprinted their description from their recent e-newsletter. For more information on this and other current land use issues on the coast, visit ORCA's website.

Bandon Biota, a company associated with Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, and Oregon Parks and Recreation Department have reached agreement on a proposed land exchange that would give Keiser 280 acres of Bandon State Natural Area (BSNA) just south of the City of Bandon, to build a 27-hole golf course. As in the 2011 proposal, Bandon Biota would give OPRD parcels on the Coquille River and south of BSNA. The major difference between the two proposals is that this time Bandon Biota proposes to provide some funding to leverage grants and donations for purchase of a small but important parcel in Whale Cove, and all the funding for a 6,100 acre ranch in Grant County. ORCA has no doubt both of those parcels are important, would probably be excellent additions to the Parks system, and should be acquired as soon as money is available.

The question is whether this should all should happen at the expense of Bandon State Natural Area. ORCA has several serious reservations about this land exchange.

First, any exchange initiated by others must under Oregon administrative rules, provide "an overwhelming public benefit to the Oregon State Park system, its visitors, and the citizens of Oregon...that is resounding, clear and obvious." The coastal State Parks are the crown jewel of the State Parks system, among the most heavily visited in the state. We must therefore also weigh the balance from a coastal point of view, since the coastal Parks are so important: will the coastal Park system be improved by this exchange? Not only will BSNA be whittled down, but the remainder of it will be compromised by having a golf course at its back, in an area where golf courses are now common.

BSNA provides parks services and recreation that no private owner does -- an undeveloped natural area with many opportunities for solitude and, despite the universal south coast problem with gorse, a relatively undisturbed ecosystem. If the exchange occurs, Mike Keiser's companies will build another (the sixth) golf course in the Bandon area. According to a May 13, 2013 Golf Travel Insider article, Mr. Keiser already owns the land necessary to build a golf course; he wants the BSNA land just to make a "pretty good" golf course "superlative." This is not an equal exchange of opportunities for the coast.

Our second major concern is that this exchange proposal is the first test of Parks' new "overwhelming public benefit" rule that sets the criteria for weighing exchanges initiated by others. Unfortunately, if approved, this exchange will set Parks on the course of expanding the park system by sacrificing one park for others in order to enrich a private business. This is a poor precedent for OPRD to embrace as a guide for future parks management. ORCA encourages Parks to use this new, strong rule instead to expand and maintain the State Parks system without relinquishing or diminishing a major park for another.

A third major reservation concerns BSNA itself. Bandon State Park is designated by ORPD as a "State Natural Area," having been granted to OPRD in 1968 by the US Dept. of the Interior "for parks purposes only." OPRD classified BSNA as a "State Natural Area" in the 1990s, giving it the designation that would protect "outstanding or important portions of Oregon's ecosystems for continued public education, and/or for contributing to larger ecosystem health." On such lands, OPRD prioritizes maintaining longterm resource quality and natue-oriented public recreation. A golf course carved out of BSNA would greatly alter the critical ecosystem values protected at BSNA.

For further information, please call OPRD (503) 986-0707, or email ORCA Land Use Director Cameron La Follette. To provide testimony at the Parks Commission meeting in person, please attend the Commission meeting

Wednesday, July 17
The Red Lion Hotel
1313 N. Bayshore Drive
Coos Bay, OR 97420

 The earliest Parks would decide on this matter will be at its September 2013 Commission meeting in Condon. The public can comment on this proposal anytime between now and mid-September, but OPRD would prefer letters by August 9th. Letters and emails should be sent to Chris Havel, at the Parks Department.

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