By SCOTT GRAVES
State park officials seeking approval of a draft master plan for parks in Curry County were rebuffed Thursday by planning commissioners who had too many concerns.
At the top of the list of concerns was the potential impact on the local economy and traffic in and around specific state parks.
"I'm surprised that economic and traffic impact studies haven't been done before getting to this point," said Commissioner Robin Itzen.
Commissioner Karl Nettgen said, "We have a responsibility to our residents and business owners, and we need to know how this will impact them."
"I think we need to go through this (master plan) more than just what we're doing tonight," added Commissioner Phillip Pfaendler
The commission unanimously agreed to postpone making a decision on the draft master plan until they could review the document more and come back with recommendations at a special public hearing June 20.
Thursday's meeting began with a overview of the draft master plan presented by Oregon Recreation and Parks Department planner Kristen Stallman.
The plan, in the works since 1999 and based, in part, on comments from city and county officials, residents and members of a special steering committee, outlines strategies aimed at balancing recreational demands with resource protection.
There are 17 state parks in Curry County, ranging from undeveloped sites such as Winchuck Wayside to fully-developed campgrounds at Harris Beach and Loeb state parks. The parks take up approximately 9,000 acres.
The draft master plan includes proposals such as building a welcome center at the Winchuck Wayside, expanding Cape Blanco State Park campground, relocating the parking lot at Otter Point State Park and establishing tent camping along Pistol River. The projects, if approved would be done over the course of 20 years.
The plan, she said, also gives state park officials an idea of the significant natural and cultural resources at each park, and what areas can be developed safely and those that should be left alone.
"The plan is a blueprint for the next 20 years," she said.
The main goal of the plan, based on public input, is to protect and enhance the natural scenic and cultural resources, and to maintain and improve existing parks, she said.
Proposed plans to improve the Winchuck Wayside, and possibly build a welcome center there, elicited comments and concern from commissioners worried about the impact on Highway 101 traffic.
"Without specific traffic information, I have a problem with this," Itzen said.
Stallman said the state has been working with the Oregon Department of Transportation about the issue and has hired an engineer consultant to do a traffic study this summer, when the highway is busiest. The results of the report would be available sometime in September.
"We may find out that it's not possible, or that it's too expensive and nothing will be done," Stallman said.
A proposal to add additional campsite loops and relocate the horse camp at Cape Blanco State Park also sparked concern among commissioners.
"Will more RV spaces impact the private sector? Has anybody looked at that?" Nettgen said. "Will motels lose customers? Will private RV parks be negatively impacted?"
He added, "I can see how these improvements may create more of a draw to our area, but I also see them saturating the area."
Stallman said state parks appeal to a different type of camper than most private RV parks.
"We don't offer as many services and amenities as private campgrounds do," she said.
However, private RV park owner Roger Thompson said he already experiences too much competition from state parks.
"We're not on a level playing field," Thompson said. "We can't have an $11 rate during the winter like state parks do and survive. If the state parks expand, it will impact my business."
Nettgen said some sort of economic impact study needs to be done before he could approve the master plan. Other commissioners agreed.
Nettgen also was concerned the master plan may give the state too much leeway in future development of the parks. "Are we giving the parks a huge advantage? What control do we have at at later date?"
County Planning Director Grant Young said the master plan is simply a blueprint for future development, providing guidelines for what can and can't be done at a future date.
"What is listed in the plan and only listed will be considered," Young said. "And the plan can be amended."
He said most developments and improvements proposed in the draft master plan would still have to go through a variety of permit processes and be approved by various agencies.
Young added, "We've already identified some issues tonight that need to be looked into."
Stallman told the commissioners she understood their concerns. "You are just doing your job. That's why we're here tonight, to get your input."
She said the state will consider doing some type of economic and additional traffic studies to address the commission's concerns.