The nonprofit Oregon Coast Alliance (ORCA)has filed a notice of appeal with Curry County, stating that the planning commission erred in granting approval to a proposed golf course north of Port Orford.

The matter will be discussed in a yet-to-be-scheduled meeting of the Curry County Board of Commissioners.

At issue is Pacific Gales, a golf course proposed to be built by Elk River Development overlooking the ocean and Cape Blanco lighthouse on the Knapp Ranch. The developers of the 18-hole course say they studied that challenges that face a destination golf resort proposed by the Crook family of Pistol River and that has been tied up in appeals since its inception in 2009.

Troy Russell, project manager of Pacific Gales, said ORCA is merely splitting hairs.

"We feel we're being transparent in this process," he said. "It's frustrating."

At issue

Attorney Sean Malone of Eugene cited 11 parts of the master plan ORCA believes are not in compliance with either state or county law.

The first is the "failure of the developer to get an exception" to develop a building that can hold more than 100 people - specifically, the golf course building.

Russell said the intent of the law is to prevent the construction of behemoth structures, and he noted that, while there could be 100 people on the course on any given day, they circle in and out of the building and aren't all in there simultaneously.

Malone also notes the golf course will exceed 150 acres in size and, under administrative rule, an 18-hole course is typically 120 to 150 acres.

He said in the appeal that the county erred in authorizing food and beverage service outside the primary building, that the county should have determined that the project would require mitigation, and didn't require the developer to obtain an exception to build on "high-value farmland."

Devilish details

Russell said some points addressed in the complaint are merely splitting hairs, including wordage that the developer shall provide a "meaningful" archaeological mitigation plan is not "clear and objective" as required by state law.

"We're certainly not surprised by the Oregon Coast Alliance's appeal because that's what they do - fight perceived issues based on principle rather than fact, even when it may be in the best interest of Oregonians," he said. "Here you have an organization nowhere near Curry County trying to shoot down a project that will have both short-term and long-term economic benefits for Port Orford and the Southern Oregon Coast, where tourism is the key economic driver after the devastation suffered by losses in the fishing and timber industries."

The developer, Malone writes further, does not demonstrate that the golf course either maintains or improves the quality of air, water and land in Curry County.

He also alleges that, as a condition of their groundwater right, the landowner, Knapp Ranch LLC, was required to enroll in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and that has yet to be done. He said no beneficial use for the water rights has ever been proved, and the county cannot approve a development in which the applicant has failed to show beneficial use.

Additionally, he wrote that Curry County failed to take measures to protect groundwater that would lead to a loss of stabilizing vegetation and loss of water quality. Therefore, Malone wrote, the developer hasn't met their burden of proof regarding hydrological impacts of the development.

Malone also noted that Curry County cannot authorize conduct that threatens the struggling coho salmon, but did so by not requiring the developer to provide hydrological studies and proposed mitigation to protect the fish.

Russell disagreed.

"We are able to build a world-class golf attraction with sensitivity to the environment as one of our top priorities," he said. "That should be celebrated by environmental groups like the Oregon Coast Alliance, not demonized."

The appeal now goes to the Curry County Board of Commissioners to override or correct; at that point, ORCA and others could agree the corrections are sufficient or take the issue to the state Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA).

"For most, if not all of the errors, (ORCA) asserts they are accompanied by inadequate findings not based on substantial evidence," Malone wrote in summary. "Because the findings are inadequate and not based on substantial evidence, the planning commission's decision was in error."

Russell said that, if ORCA officials have a better idea for the use of the farmland, he'd like to hear it.

"They say Curry County 'deserves better,' but does not offer solutions or alternatives," Russell said. "They need to come to table with solutions, not just throw firebombs at the process.

"Meanwhile, we're willing to invest millions of dollars to not only boost the local economy and create jobs, but also help Curry County become even more of an attractive Oregon tourism destination."