Economic development projects proposed over the years are coming to fruition, the Curry County Board of Commissioners said at a recent special meeting outlining the progress of those ideas.
The meeting, held earlier this month in Brookings, attracted about 50 citizens interested in updates on the Internet redundancy loop, the Healthy Forest Collaborative, ReHome Oregon, wind energy, biomass and efforts to attract new businesses to Curry County.
The Internet redundancy project, in the works since 2002, will likely be the first to go online, Jan. 1, said Chris Burns of Charter Communications, which was instrumental in getting the loop strung around the southwest corner of the state.
"There are businesses that would've relocated here that have not," said Commissioner David Itzen of the absence of that last link. "Now I think we'll see tremendous economic development in Curry and Del Norte counties. It all depends on how we market it and let people know we have it. It's a tremendous achievement. It's unbelievably significant for our county's economic development."
The Healthy Forest Collaborative is about to unveil its work, winding up more than a year of meetings among numerous groups - from loggers to environmentalists - who outlined a skeleton of a strategy to improve both the economy and forest health.
The first part of that strategy is loosely tied into federal legislation to reopen federal lands to logging. It would also entail making the forests less prone to wildfires by removing dead snags, unhealthy stands of trees and duff from the forest floor.
"We are in real danger of another Biscuit Fire," Itzen said. "This is the urgency we face."
Not only would it make the forest healthier - a much less expensive proposition than extinguishing wildfires - it would bring material to a new pyrolysis plant north of Gold Beach. That facility, 3-Dimensional Timberlands, originally planned to turn wood chips and similar organics into char for agricultural uses, but has since shifted its focus and will make wood pellets and bricks, a more financially lucrative endeavor, Itzen said.
That, in turn, will help those who are trying to eradicate Sudden Oak Death in tanoak trees in southern Oregon - and possibly gorse, a noxious weed growing rampant in the northern end of the county. Tanoak could provide fuel for existing pellet stoves and those soon to be manufactured by a new company in Harbor. Tests are underway to determine if a biological agent can be created from gorse to kill the invasive plant.
WiseWay Pellet Stoves, which will employ about 20 residents, has a patent on equipment that eliminates the need for electricity to drop pellets into a stove. The owner, Gary Wiseman, who has a plant in Central Point but a home in Brookings, hopes to manufacture the stoves here.
Commissioners are also awaiting news to see if they have obtained a grant for ReHome Oregon, a new group that plans to help repair or replace aging manufactured homes in Curry County. That group debuted this summer, almost three years after its inception.
More than a third of residences here are manufactured elsewhere, and most are more than 30 years old and either not healthful nor energy efficient.
"We have the largest percentage of manufactured homes in Oregon, and more than half are in poor condition," Itzen said. "If the grant is approved, we should have enough money to replace 25 to 29 homes, and we'll have the money to repair about 30 to 60 homes."
Energy savings alone - Itzen noted one homeowner pays more than $200 a month in electricity in her single-wide manufactured home and another's home only has half a roof - would go toward the 30-year, 3 percent USDA loan to pay for replacement or repair of those homes.
Officials involved in that program, however, are still working out issues relating to ownership of the land on which the homes are situated. If the homes are in a park and the homeowner pays lot rent, they are not eligible for grant funds - and those people represent the majority of such homes in Curry County.
However, obtaining loans to pay for repairs is easier and through the program can be extended to houses other than manufactured homes, Itzen said.
Itzen has been talking Damon Dickson, regional vice president of homebuilder Clayton Homes, of Maryville, Tenn.
"He read about this on the Internet and called me, and said, 'I'm interested in your program,'" Itzen said. "By the time I got done explaining it, he said, 'Now, I am more than interested.' We're exploring ways we can work together. They like the idea."
The scope of the homebuilder's support has yet to be determined, but the plan is to have the program, administered by NeighborWorks Umpqua, in place by January or February.
Commissioner David Brock Smith is also excited about a wind-energy project that has taken off since he ran into a friend who had access to towers from which wind speeds can be tested. Smith envisions placing wind towers and monitors along the valley from Port Orford to Langlois and, with the county operating as the utility, sell the electricity or green credits.
Earlier studies indicate winds speeds average 21.9 miles per hour at Cape Blanco, the windiest point on the coast, and 17.5 miles per hour in-valley.
Smith secured the tower rental for $1 a year from Sherman County, and Coos-Curry Electric Coop has agreed to spend $10,000 to erect test towers and gather data.
Another economic development project commissioners believe holds great potential is the inaugural Cape Blanco Country Music Festival, scheduled for Aug. 1 to 3, 2014.
Sponsored by Bi-Mart and organized by BootsNBeach, the inaugural event will host - for starters - country stars Brad Paisley and Randy Houser, and attract an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 its first year.