- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Add about $450,000 to the price Mike Keiser must pay if he wants buy state parkland on Oregon’s south coast and turn it into a golf course. Then subtract the college scholarships and environmental restoration work he vowed to provide with revenue from the course.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which controls the fate of the 280-acre chunk of the Bandon State Natural area, has included those details in a list of hurdles Keiser must clear in order to buy the land.

“We’ve never dealt with a process like this,” bureau spokeswoman Megan Harper said, so new wrinkles continue to emerge as the agency works through a process to turn the land over to Keiser’s company, Bandon Biota.

The Oregon State Parks Commission agreed in 2014 to give Keiser a chunk of the 878-acre park in exchange for $2.5 million, 216 acres of land elsewhere on the coast and money to control an invasive plant known as gorse.

Keiser hopes to build a 27-hole course on the property, adding to a portfolio that includes five courses at the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort 14 miles up the road.

Keiser and his supporters laud the deal as a chance to make use of idle land while stimulating the local economy. Opponents, meanwhile, argue the decision to shed state parkland at the behest of a private developer sets a dangerous precedent.

The deal is unusual for several reasons.

First, Oregon has never before considered selling active state parkland to a private developer. Second, the parks department did so under pressure from former Gov. John Kitzhaber. It’s rare for an Oregon governor to get involved in state parks land deals. Finally, the state lacks the legal authority to sell the land.

The Bureau of Land Management gifted much of Bandon State Natural Area to the state in 1968, under the condition that it never be used as anything other than a park.

State parks officials and Bandon Biota executives hope to get around that clause by obtaining a so-called change of use permit reclassifying the parcel as recreation land. Bandon Biota would then create a nonprofit entity to own and manage the land for recreational use.

Keiser’s team had expected to finish the permit application this month, triggering a lengthy review process during which the bureau would decide whether to allow a golf course on the property.

The bureau’s requirements have stalled the application process.

Bureau officials told parks staff early this month that in addition to securing the permit, Keiser must pay half of market value for the property, minus a token fee the parks department paid for the land.

The bill is expected to come to about $450,000.

Keiser would also need to drastically alter his business plan to make the deal work.

According to bureau rules, greens fees at the course would need to compete with other nonprofit courses operating on the federal agency’s land. Any money earned in the process would need to go back into the operation.

Both of those provisions contradict Keiser’s plans. He wants to charge Coos County residents $20 for a round of golf, while requiring tourists to pony up the expensive resort rate. Profits would fund college scholarships for local teens and invasive species removal projects on the coast.

Keiser’s lawyer, Steve Corey, could not be reached for comment. Last week, he said Keiser’s team is reviewing the information to determine how it affects their plans.

If nothing else, it’s likely to cause the parks department and Bandon Biota to miss their self-appointed June 2016 deadline to close the deal.

Harper said given the delay in receiving an application, it’s unlikely the bureau could decide by June whether to permit Keiser’s golf course.

“It will take a year, minimum, for us to get through this process,” she said.

Oregon Coast Alliance director Cameron La Follette, the land swap’s most vocal opponent, argued the new requirements weaken Keiser’s case for buying the land.

“This exchange was never a good policy move from our point of view,” La Follette said, “and now the justification Bandon Biota has always used for this golf course - that it would give back to the local community - is gone.”

While Keiser’s team digests the new information, Parks officials continue to assess the damage inflicted when Keiser’s crews entered the park in the spring of 2014 to look for groundwater.

In the process, they blazed roads into sensitive forested dunes and drilled deep, cement-lined holes in the ground. They never notified parks officials, who learned of the disturbance last month after a ranger wandered across the construction site.

That triggered an investigation into the extent of the damage, which is expected to wrap up within days.

The parks commission discussed the damage during a meeting last week, but made no decisions about who should pay to clean up the mess.


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

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