Golf Course Proposed North of Port Orford on Coastal Farmland

Knapp Ranch stretches for 1,100 acres along Curry County’s magnificent coast, just north of Port Orford. You can see Cape Blanco lighthouse in the distance. The Elk River, a famous salmon fishery, borders Knapp Ranch to the north. It is stunning land, and has been in the hands of the Knapps, an old ranching family, for four generations. Now, however, the Knapps are hoping to cash in on the example provided of Bandon Dunes golf resort some miles to the north, and have a golf course of their own. They propose to put a golf course on 330 acres of the ranch, on lands overlooking the ocean.

The developer of the so-called “Pacific Gales” golf course at Knapp Ranch is Troy Russell, a native of the Coquille Valley and a former employee of Bandon Dunes, and one or more golf company partners, doing business as Elk River Property Development (ERPD).

The Golf Course Will Harm the Coast and the Community

ORCA opposes this golf course proposal. It takes a big chunk of coastal farmland out of production; fails to protect important natural resources in the area, such as the riparian areas, hydrology and bottomlands of the Elk River; fails to safeguard its salmon runs, including Federally-threatened SONCC coho, and the fragile estuary; takes no account of geological hazards on the property, including the swiftly crumbling cliff edge, which retreats up to 2.5 feet a year; raises many questions about groundwater contamination of nearby residential wells; and will provide no sustainable, longterm economic benefit for the community.

After appeals by ORCA to the Land Use Board of Appeals, and a revised application by the developers to remove the High Value Farmland, Curry County approved the new application in January 2015. ORCA appealed this approval as well, but ultimately Curry County’s permit for the golf course (with modifications) was affirmed.

The Proposal Expands: Vacation Homes and Irrigating with City Effluent

After finalizing their permit, the developers began expanding their proposal. They requested, and received, a lease of County-owned property nearby for associated vacation housing. Both ERPD and the County ignored the fact that the parcel is in the monitoring area of the now-closed Port Orford landfill, and that groundwater contamination is likely to become a serious issue. The developers are also seeking Port Orford’s wastewater effluent for golf course irrigation. Though wastewater reuse is generally beneficial, not so in this case — since it would “benefit” a golf course on farmland located on sandy, porous soils. The land would be much better served by remaining in farm use. The developers submitted an application to DEQ for the permit the golf course needs to pursue the reuse of wastewater for irrigation. Port Orford has also, under ERPD’s influence, agreed to amend its Wastewater Facilities Plan to allow effluent reuse for any applicants who have the necessary permits.

The ERPD plan would require a 4-inch pipeline at least three miles long, in addition to a secondary treatment facility at the golf course that includes a large holding pond. It would traverse the city limits and the UGB, crossing over an arm of Garrison Lake, which is a secondary water source for Port Orford. The proposal is to irrigate at least ninety acres of the golf course, using thirty million gallons of water per year. The recycled water would be stored onsite in a seven-acre irrigation pond.

Discovery that the Golf Course Permit Expired a Year and a Half Ago

At a Fall 2017 Curry County Planning Commission hearing on the proposed effluent pipeline, some Commissioners noted that the approved Curry County golf course permit, dated January 15, 2015, had expired by its own terms a year later. The first condition of that permit stated that it was valid for one year only, unless the applicants applied for and received a time extension. The Community Development Department verified that ERPD had never applied for or received an extension. Thus, the permit had expired January 15, 2016 — two years ago.

Curry County ordinances give decision-makers the authority to require additional oversight by requiring time extensions. Failure to do so was fatal in this instance: the Planning Commission in November 2017 denied approval for the proposed effluent pipeline. ERPD appealed to the Board of Commissioners. All interested parties are watching closely to see whether the permit expiration causes the project to collapse, or whether ERPD will apply for a new permit, which will need to describe the project as it has expanded over the years.

If this project goes ahead, Port Orford will have unwisely tied its financial liability for infrastructure repair and replacement to an unproven business venture with no prior history of success. The project, if successful, will also encourage development on the city’s fringes, adding infrastructure burdens the city can ill afford. This is not fiscal prudence.

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