- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 12, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department wants the owner of the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort to explain why his crews last summer cut a road across state dunes, sunk three test wells, and left behind a large storage tank.

A park ranger last week discovered the intrusion into the Bandon State Natural Area.

The Parks Department has agreed to sell 280 acres of the parkland to Chicago golf developer Mike Keiser, but the deal has yet to close. Regulatory hurdles remain before Keiser’s company, Bandon Biota, can take title.

Parks officials said Keiser, who intends to build a 27-hole course on the coastal property, didn’t consult the agency or get permission for the construction work.

The sales contract allows only “non-intrusive testings” on the site before the property is transferred. Even then, the work has to be mandated by government regulation.

State Parks Director Lisa Sumption sought an explanation for how the construction work could be considered “non-intrusive” and what regulation required the actions. She did so in a letter last week to Keiser’s attorney, Steve Corey.

Corey on Monday confirmed the site work but contended the contract provides for such access and that it was necessary to comply with county requirements.

The well work renews controversy over a deal that has drawn critics from the start. It has coastal watchdogs calling upon parks leaders to reconsider their sale to Bandon Biota.

“We have always opposed this project, and now we oppose it even more firmly because it’s clear there is a substantial lack of responsibility and transparency on the part of Bandon Biota,” said Cameron La Follette, executive director of the Oregon Coast Alliance.

In an unprecedented move last year, the state parks commission agreed to sell nearly a third of the 878-acre Bandon State Natural Area to Bandon Biota for $2.5 million and two other coastal parcels, plus money to control invasive plants on the south coast.

Environmentalists and local residents argued the deal sent a message that Oregon’s public lands are up for grabs for the right price.

Others worried about the way the deal evolved under pressure from then-Gov. John Kitzhaber. The agency pursued the sale without public bidding and with questionable authority to sell the land.

The sale hasn’t closed in part because of unresolved questions about restrictions put on the property when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management deeded the ground to the state. The contract with Bandon Biota allows for limited work to proceed while that issue is addressed.

Corey said the drilling was part of Bandon Biota’s “due diligence” process to obtain Coos County land use permits. A Coos County planner said neither Keiser nor his company have any current applications on file with the planning department.

Corey said that no public agency required Bandon Biota to do the work.

“We have to take certain steps to make sure the project site is going to work for us, and this is part of the steps,” Corey said.

As part of the process, the commercial well driller who drilled the holes at Bandon State Natural Area reported the test wells to the state Water Resources Department, listing Keiser and Bandon Dunes as the owner of the park property.

Diana Enright, spokeswoman for the Water Resources Department, said agency inspectors would have acted if the report had accurately listed the state as the owner.

“We would have talked to them,” Enright said.

That would have alerted the state parks agency earlier to the construction work.

Jim Mack, whose Bandon Well & Pump Company drilled the test holes, said one of Keiser’s employees assured him the parks department had approved the work. He said he intended to correct the ownership information he filed with the state.

La Follette, the Oregon Coast Alliance director, wants more than a corrected form. She argued the construction amounts to criminal trespass and vandalism of public land. Bandon Biota should face charges, she said, and the state should call off the sale.

“This is highly secretive behavior, not in the least transparent and boding very ill for this project in the future,” La Follette said.

The Parks Department is awaiting the developer’s response before considering any action.

“That’s the discussion we’ll have after they give us an explanation,” spokesman Chris Havel said. “All we have right now are questions.”

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Information from: The Oregonian, https://www.oregonlive.com

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