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Bandon State Natural Area Exchange Proposal

[Note: information about recent activity inside the park has been added below under "Next Steps"]

In April 2014, the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Commission approved an exchange proposal made by Bandon Biota related to Bandon State Natural Area. Bandon Biota is described as a private "conservation land holding entity" owned by Michael Keiser, owner of Bandon Dunes and other local golf courses. Bandon Biota asked to use part of the land they've requested -- a 280 acre piece of the 878 acre Bandon State Natural Area -- to create a new golf course. After several public meetings, the Commission voted 4-2 in favor of the exchange; in exchange for the outgoing property, Bandon Biota has already:
  • Contributed $120,000 of a promised $300,000 to help combat an invasive plant (gorse) on nearby state park properties. Due through five annual payments of $60,000, two of which have been made as of May 2015. The payments will continue for the full five years if the proposal receives federal approval, but stop immediately if the proposal dies. These funds are not refundable.
  • Contributed $450,000 as match for a federal grant to acquire 13 acres of coast property in Lincoln County known as Whale Cove. This contribution has been made, and was not dependent on the proposal successfully clearing federal review. Whale Cove was acquired from a willing private seller and is now owned and operated as a refuge by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This grant match money is also not refundable, even if the proposal doesn't receive federal approval.
... and will do these additional things if the proposal passes through federal review (see "Next Steps" below):
  • Convey two properties to in the Bandon area into the state park system totaling 208 acres. One is a 111 acres just south of the Bandon State Natural Area, but closer to the beach. The other is a 97 acre inholding onb the Coquille Spit at Bullards Beach State Park.
  • Release $2.5 million from an escrow account to fund future acquisition of state park property.
  • Offer access to property to move the Oregon Coast Trail north of Bandon off a county road.
A news release issued after the April 2014 commission meeting summarizes the result. Read the commission meeting materials in their entirety, or just read the agreement as amended in June 2015.

Any outside proposal affecting state park land must provide "overwhelming" public benefits to the state park system. The system is not a single, unchanging set of properties. Most of the change involves receiving property from willing sellers, but it does sometimes involve allowing property to leave the system. The equation -- what the public gains minus what it is giving up -- has to show this overwhelming public benefit. The benefits are measured by looking at how the deal affects the department's mission to "provide and protect outstanding natural, scenic, cultural, historic and recreational sites for the enjoyment and education of present and future generations."

Deciding whether an idea provides an overwhelming benefit isn't just about looking at numbers (acres and dollars), so it's not surprising people have different views about this exchange. The Commission ultimately decided to approve the exchange proposal because they felt, when viewed as a whole, it met this standard.

Next steps
The state owns the 280 acres Bandon Biota wants, but the land was acquired from the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the 1960s. The BLM placed a restriction on the property when they sold it to the state -- the property must be used for public outdoor recreation. Before the commission can even attempt to transfer the 280 acres to Bandon Biota, the deed restriction has to be addressed.

Because of the deed restriction, OPRD has to submit an application to the BLM to get permission to change the use of the land and transfer this portion of the property to a nonprofit organized by Bandon Biota. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department started the ball rolling with a letter to the BLM, then met with Bandon Biota and the BLM to start the discussion in June 2014.  Before sending the application in, Bandon Biota, OPRD, and the BLM met again in February 2015 (read the notes). After OPRD sends the application to the BLM, there will be a federal process to review and take public comment on it.

In August 2015, state park staff noted ground inside the property boundary had been disturbed. There were signs trees and other plants had been cleared, and two holes excavated. The department sent a letter to Bandon Biota August 6 requesting an explanation, and Bandon Biota replied August 24. The department responded to Bandon Biota's reply August 28.

In short, Bandon Biota appears to have the leeway to enter the property and conduct soil and water tests, among other purposes. The agreement language is being amended to ensure Bandon Biota and department staff coordinate any time the business needs to work on the property. As of late August 2015, the department is examining the disturbed area to determine how natural and cultural resources have been affected, and will have enough information to decide on its next steps in late September 2015.

Other and Older Documents
Bandon-area properties
Resource assessment: Bandon State Natural Area (and an older report from 2007)
Resource assessment: 97 acre Coquille spit property (older assessment)
Resource assessment: 111 acre oceanfront property
Map: Bandon State Natural Area and adjacent incoming property
Map: Coquille Spit incoming property
Appraisal (outdated and obsolete): Bandon State Natural Area
Appraisal (outdated and obsolete): 97 acre Coquille Spit
Appraisal (outdated and obsolete): 111 acre oceanfront property near Bandon SNA
Wildlife assessment
Letter to BLM inquiring about Bandon State Natural Area deed restriction
1992 Letter/Memorandum of Understanding expressing state interest in Coquille Spit property

Whale Cove
Map: Whale Cove property
Whale Cove grant application (a federal grant explains the scenic value of the property)

From public meetings and comments
2013-2015 acquisition priority list
Open houses: agendas
Open houses: meeting notes

Open houses: results of voting exercise
A letter from the Governor to the Commission about Grant County
Written comments BEFORE the November 2013 Commission meeting
Written comments received AT the November 2013 Commission meeting
Written comments received AFTER the November 2013 Commission meeting
Summary of public comments through December 2013, with staff responses
Written comments received between February 5-April 9, 2014

From public record requests
Agency documents related to communications about the proposal: Email system export (124 MB) and scanned documents (27 MB).

Audio from the July 2013 Commission meeting in Coos Bay:
Get Microsoft Silverlight1 hr, 16 min. Click to play. Are your speakers on?

Audio from September 2013 Commission meeting in Condon:
Get Microsoft Silverlight1 hr, 19 min. Click to play. Are your speakers turned up?

Audio from November 2013 meeting in Corvallis. The two beeps you hear represent a break in the audio. The first beep happens after Rep. Bentz's testimony (there was 45 minutes of unrelated meeting material between his testimony and the rest of the recording). The second beep happens during a 5 minute recess as the motions were being written by the Dept. of Justice and the recorder was switched off):
Get Microsoft Silverlight2 hr, 18 min. Click to play. Speakers on!

Audio from the February 5, 2014 Commission meeting.
Get Microsoft Silverlight1 hr, 48 min.

Audio from the April 9, 2014 Commission meeting where they took action:
Get Microsoft Silverlight32 min.