CORVALLIS — A letter from Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber pledging to protect and enhance Grant County farmland apparently sealed the deal as the state Parks Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to proceed with a land swap with Bandon Dunes golf resort developer Michael Keiser.
Under the agreement, Keiser’s company, Bandon Biota LLC, will provide $2.5 million to help the state parks department buy the Grouse Mountain Ranch in Grant County, a 6,100-acre spread with rangeland and about 1,000 acres of Ponderosa pine forest.
Bandon Biota also will receive 280 acres of the 878-acre Bandon State Natural Area on the southern Oregon coast. On that land, Keiser will build his sixth course, Bandon Links, a walking-only course — no motorized carts allowed — that the company describes as a championship, links style, affordable municipal layout.
In return for the state land, Bandon Biota will pay money to help buy the eastern Oregon ranch, turn over 111 acres adjacent to the natural area and 98 acres next to Bullards Beach State Park, provide $450,000 as a matching grant to protect Whale Cove, $300,000 to control gorse plants on state parks land and trail easements to two other beach areas.
Two of the three Grant County commissioners favored the deal. County Judge Scott Myers said the governor’s Nov. 19 letter offered assurances about the loss of county property tax revenue if private land is turned over to a public entity, and about such issues as wildfire control, and water rights assigned to the ranch.
In the letter, Kitzhaber said he’s directed staff to develop a plan to return some public land in Grant County to private ownership within five years. He’s also asked staff to study the impact of non-farm uses on the economic sustainability of agriculture.
The Oregon Farm Bureau and other groups oppose the land exchange. Jeff Thomas, an orchardist who is president of the Grant County Farm Bureau, said tourism and park activities will not replace the value of cattle, hay and timber operations continuing on the Grouse Mountain property.
Staff with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department had recommended the commission approve the trade. To do so, the commission had to agree the deal provides an “overwhelming public benefit” to the parks system that is “resounding, clear and obvious.”
Parks staff will answer commission questions in documents prepared for final approval at a later date. Public comment will be accepted until Dec. 6.