The Curry County Planning Commission last week approved a conditional use permit for Elk River Property Development to build an 18-hole golf course on 354 acres of a 1,008-acre cow pasture owned by Knapp Ranch just north of Port Orford.

The Curry County Planning Commission last week approved a conditional use permit for Elk River Property Development to build an 18-hole golf course on 354 acres of a 1,008-acre cow pasture owned by Knapp Ranch just north of Port Orford.

Troy Russell of Bandon, the original superintendent at Bandon Dunes, is working on the project with Jim Haley, the managing partner of Elk River Property Development and owner of Highland Golf Services in Omaha, Neb.

The permit hearing was only the second the planning commission addressed regarding the golf course.

Russell said they learned from the lessons of the Crook family of Pistol River, which has been fighting appeals since 2009 to build Crook Point, a destination golf resort between Gold Beach and Brookings.

"We're talking about two different processes," said county Interim Planning Director David Pratt. "The Crook's is a destination resort and, while it's permitted outright, there are certain state and county standards that need to be met. It's different from allowing a golf course."

The Crook resort is proposed to include far more than what would be offered at Pacific Gales.

That $44 million Crook Point project would include an 18-hole course, a nine-hole practice course, spa, restaurant, equestrian center and 175-room lodge.

Most of the appeals filed against the Crook Point course involved the proximity of holes to wetlands and ocean bluffs.

The 18-hole course will be comprised of one nine-hole section that meanders north from the ranch and features vistas of the Elk River, Humbug Mountain and Cape Blanco Lighthouse and a second nine-hole part that faces south and showcase the valley and coastal range. Both courses would finish on bluffs along the ocean at a shared green.


The applicant must abide by 23 conditions, many of which are boilerplate for any conditional use permit and most of which were already being addressed by the developer.

Of note is a 100-person limit placed upon any structure that would be built; the bluff area shall be vegetated with native plants; erosion control measures will be required; and no playable golf surface shall be developed within 25 feet of the bluff edge.

Areas of instability shall be monitored by a geologist prior to and during construction and regularly monitored by a trained golf course attendant weekly and after high surf or rain events. Additionally, irrigation along the bluffs shall be closely monitored to prevent weakening of the hardpan layer, inspections by a wetlands consultant shall be done before development and that report must be submitted to the Department of State Lands for approval.

A 50-foot setback shall be maintained for all the wetlands based on that study and an archaeological study shall be conducted on the property.

Also, long-term gorse management guidelines must be established and twice-annual monitoring must take place to ensure water quality goals are being met. Other conditions address fire protection plans, trash and vermin.

Appeals on the law

The project is far from a done deal, as it now enters a period in which individuals or organizations can appeal the approval.

Pratt said an appeal to the Curry County Board of Commissioners is likely.

"To be truthful, yes," he said. "I've already had an inquiry from ORCA (Oregon Coast Alliance) about how to appeal."

ORCA has expressed its disapproval on its website, citing the beauty of the coastline, salmon runs along the nearby Elk River and historic uses of the land.

"It is stunning land, and has been in the hands of the Knapps, an old ranching family, for four generations," the website reads.

The ranch is zoned for Exclusive Farm Use, and golf courses are an allowed use with a conditional use permit.

"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 and bottomlands of the Elk River, to safeguard its salmon runs; and will provide no sustainable, long-term economic benefit," the website reads. "The residents of Port Orford and north Curry County area deserve better than this for the community's future."

Russell, however, pointed out various documentation regarding environmental studies and protections the developer plans to conduct the protect the area.

ORCA Land Use and Acting Executive Director Cameron La Follette said the organization plans to appeal, primarily based on legal issues the planning commission allegedly didn't address.

"We're most concerned about right off the bat is that the county didn't really deal with the obvious fact that this is high-value farmland," La Follette said. "On high-value farmland, golf courses are forbidden unless the applicant goes through the exceptions process - a much more complicated and detailed process."

While state law on high-value farmland can be obtuse and convoluted, some parts, she said, are "very crisp and clear and basic."

High-value farmland is defined by state statute as "land that's in an exclusive farm use zone or mixed farm and forest zone and as of June 28, 2007 is within the place of use for a permit, certificate or degree for the use of water for irrigation issued by Water Resources Department."

La Follette said the land in question is zoned as farm use and it has had three water rights issued for irrigation - surface, groundwater and reservoir storage - since the late 1990s.

"Knapp Ranch meets the two questions for whether this is a high-value farmland," she said. "And if it's a high-value farmland, golf courses are not permitted without going through the exception process.

"We aren't making any more farmland," she added. "That's why the state set up a strong framework to protect it. Golf courses are one of the problems that keep cropping up, so the state passed a law to protect that directly."

Russell said the planning commission didn't address the issue as it - nor the state - doesn't believe the property in question is of "high value," as defined by law.

The legal questions are what La Follette calls "threshold" issues, but there are other environmental concerns ORCA officials have, as well, including issues with water flow and temperature in the nearby Elk River.

The unanimous approval during the Planning Commission's Feb. 27 meeting came after an outpouring of support from the Port Orford community who waited in the standing-room-only room for hours to speak.

"We recognize we have a lot of work ahead of us and this is an important first step," Esler said. "We are grateful and humbled by the overwhelming support we've received from the folks in the Port Orford area - and we're hopeful and excited to become a vital member of their community."

Pending final approval by the board of commissioners, work could begin as early as mid-summer, which could weather-permitting, open the course to the public by the spring of 2016.

ORCA and any others wishing to appeal the decision on the conditional use permit have until March 18 to do so.

In the meantime, ORCA is waiting to see what the Crook family might do in regards to their proposed golf course, which has now been twice remanded by the Land Use Board of Appeals.

"The ball's in their court," La Follette said. "They can either bring it back to the county and try a third time or, not. We wish the Crooks would propose something that would allow us to work with them. There are many options that would not place development on that fragile site."