Borax Development: Mothballing the Project for Many Years

Boardman State Park. Courtesy OPRD

U.S. Borax proposes 1,000 houses and associated commercial on its 550-acre Lone Ranch property on Highway 101 opposite Sam Boardman State Park, in Curry County. The Borax property, though it is fairly far north of Brookings, is part of the City now, so planning for this huge development is overseen by the City of Brookings. Development here has always been controversial, because it is a nearly untouched forested hillside fronting Highway 101, directly across from one of Oregon’s finest state parks.

The Master Plan for the entire Borax development was approved in 2006. In January 2011 the City of Brookings approved Borax’s application for Phase 1 of the development for about 165 houses, a clubhouse, and probably a 500,000 gallon reservoir as well. Borax took no action under this approval through 2012, but received a one year time extension from the City of Brookings that expired in February 2014. Right on time in January 2014, Rio Tinto, Borax’s parent company, requested of Brookings a further two-year time extension for developing Phase 1.

Then in late 2015 Borax asked for, and received from the City of Brookings, a massive time extension for both the Phase I development and the overall Master Plan of the development. Borax received a twelve year extension for the entire Master Plan, and an eight year extension for the Phase I development. How does Borax justify such large time extensions? Mainly by the poor housing market, which continues to be much weaker since the 2008 market crash. This project always targeted potential second home owners, especially from California, and this market has essentially disappeared.

To undertake this project, Borax will ultimately have to receive a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for removal fill, because the property contains wetlands and is one of the few healthy population sites for the Federally-endangered Western lily. Presence of an endangered species will also trigger consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) at the time the Corps begins processing a permit application. The Corps is aware of this project, and has notified Borax of the needs for consultation on grounds of effects from removal-fill activities on “waters of the United States,” which are subject to Corps jurisdiction.

ORCA opposes the Borax housing development: it would be a massive, unnecessary development in a fragile, critical coastal habitat. It would also ruin a crown jewel of the coastal state park system, Sam Boardman State Park. Is this project still viable? Certainly the second home housing market in Brookings is no longer vigorous, and probably never will be. Time extensions for more than a decade seem to indicate that the project’s vitality is, slowly, ebbing away. ORCA will keep you informed as the situation changes.

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