The Parks Department got an ugly surprise in August 2015: Bandon Biota, their partner in the Biota exchange, had undertaken massive construction activity in the 280-acre exchange area of Bandon State Natural Area — and never notified the Department at all, neither before or afterwards.
Secret Construction Activity in the State Park
In April 2014, the Parks Commission gave Bandon Biota the green light for continuing on to the next step of the so-called Biota exchange, an application to the federal Bureau of Land Management. The Parks Department agreed to selling 280 acres of Bandon State Natural Area to Bandon Biota for a golf course. In return, Biota would give the Parks Dept. $2.5 million, a couple of small pieces of land, and some money for gorse control. Because the 280 acres was donated to the State of Oregon by the BLM, which retained a reversionary interest in the land if it were no longer used “for public parks purposes only,” OPRD and Biota had to apply to the BLM for a change in use before any transfer for a golf course could be completed.
Throughout 2014 and 2015, Biota presumably was working on the application for the joint submittal with Parks to BLM. What the Department did not know, and did not discover until August 2015, is that in May and June 2014 Bandon Biota went into the 280 acre exchange area with heavy equipment and bulldozed three loop roads, cut trees and drilled two deep geological bore holes. They hired Bandon Well and Pump, a local company, for the work. The destruction was discovered by Parks staff, and came as a complete surprise to the Department. That Bandon Dunes/Biota was the culprit became clear upon investigation of the required Water Resources Dept. filings for the bore holes. Bandon Well and Pump had sunk a 234 ft. uncased “temporary” hole, and a 169 ft. cased permanent hole.
Did Biota Have Authority for the Bore Holes and Bulldozing?
How did Biota think it had authority to take such destructive activity in Bandon State Natural Area, a cherished state park which they did not own? The November 2013 agreement between the Parks Department and Biota states, in Section 7, “Possession of the real property exchanged under this Agreement will pass to the other party [i.e., Bandon Biota] upon Closing. Notwithstanding, pursuant to this Agreement, Biota, at its expense, may conduct non-intrusive testings on the Bandon Parcel in connection with its project, including without limitation golf course layout, environmental testings, soil suitability testings, water well testings, and wildlife habitat testings, necessary for land use and other regulatory permitting as required by the county, state, and federal governments.” (emphasis added).
In subsequent correspondence, Bandon Biota gave its opinion that the Parks Department gave full permission for the construction activity: “The words ‘non-intrusive testings’ were not meant to mean Bandon Biota could not do the testings…but to remind State Parks and Bandon Biota that the testings should occur in a reasonable fashion without undue disturbance of the terrain.” (Biota August 24, 2015 letter to OPRD). This is an absurd interpretation — leaving aside the obvious, which is that “undue disturbance” and far more than that did indeed occur. Biota appears to advocate that only their misinterpretation of the agreement with Parks was valid.
The area of destruction contains some of the highest habitat values in all of Bandon State Natural Area, as the 2013 OPRD vegetation assessment of the area makes clear. Silvery phacelia, a rare dune plant, is found in this area; there are also wetlands, dune habitats and pine forests.
Biota Could Have Learned All It Needed Without Intrusive Activity
Biota could easily have found what they needed to know without any intrusive activity at all, as ORCA described to the Parks Commission in September 2015. They would have begun with a literature search of soil and geological surveys completed long ago by the federal government. They could have then read the well logs for all the wells drilled in the vicinity, to determine that the water level is always found at about fifteen feet in this area. Finally, if a geological core sample was needed, Biota needed only walk in to the area and, using hand augers, take a small core with minimal disturbance. Instead, the company opted for massive and cavalier construction activity — and didn’t even notify Parks afterwards, much less request permission in advance.
Oregon Coast Alliance is appalled by Biota’s offhand and ruthless actions on public lands. In September 2015, the Biota exchange collapsed as a result of additional BLM requirements placed on the proposal. Bandon State Natural Area is no longer in jeopardy of harboring a golf course on its borders. ORCA called on the Parks Department to require full restoration of the damage caused by Biota, including removal and abandonment of the two geological bore holes.
Restoration of the Damage
OPRD released its Damages Assessment in November 2015. Restoration work, jointly paid for by Biota and OPRD, began shortly thereafter. As of February 2016, OPRD reported the restoration project was going well — and Bandon Biota was cooperating in rehabilitating the damage they so cavalierly caused. The restoration requires both removal of gorse tracked in on the wheels of the well-drilling equipment and replanting native trees and ground cover.