County gets first look at proposed golf course

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer January 31, 2014 08:33 pm

The Curry County Planning Commission last week got its first look at Pacific Gales, an 18-hole golf course proposed to be built by Elk River Property Development Inc. on a small segment of the 1,100-acre Knapp Ranch just north of Port Orford.

The hearing was continued so the applicant can address concerns outlined by the public and conditions the planning department attached to the application.

Pacific Gales’ General Manager Troy Russell said they learned from the lessons of the Crook family, which has spent years fighting environmental groups to build a $44 million, 18-hole course, a nine-hole practice course, spa, restaurant, equestrian center and 175-room lodge. That has yet to break ground.

The Crook Point Golf Course has received approval from the county, but has been waylaid by appeals to the Land Use Board of Appeals since it was first outlined in 2009.

Russell, who hopes to open the course in 2016, said his consortium shouldn’t have the challenges the Crook family faced, particularly because the land is zoned as farming.

“A smart attorney and experienced, professional complainers are probably going to find something we’ve done wrong,” Russell said in November. “We don’t think we have issues — or we think any issues there might be have been addressed. We expect some push back, but we think we’re putting forth a pretty good case. Of course, it could be two years down the road that we’re saying the same thing about our project.”

Three conditions, however, are attached to approval of the project. County officials want the developer to more definitively outline the wetland boundaries, include a setback between two particular wetlands and prepare and submit reports to the Department of State Lands for review and approval, said interim county planning director David Pratt.

“This was never intended to be a boundary for development,” Russell told the planning board. “It’s a rough idea, an overview of what we’re proposing. We may have to move things, twist, shift, like fairways greens and tees. We cannot be restricted to a line that strictly defined.”

Russell asked for leniency from a condition requiring the developers to provide a buffer for two wetlands between which they’d like to place a green. He noted that the 100-foot buffers on both would meet in the middle and preclude construction of a green. Other wetlands, he said, would be avoided and monitored throughout the life of the golf course.

The design crew pointed out they’d addressed a myriad of issues, including erosion from the beach below, water quality to the south and to Elk River and where they would obtain water to maintain the greens.

Other concerns included the natural erosion at the base of the bluffs and the possibility that golfers might walk close to the edge for the view.

Russell also said the project is exempt from the requirement to submit reports to the Department of State Lands as they will not be affecting wetlands.

“We will work with the DSL, the Army Corps of Engineers if we need,” he said. “But both agencies have said point blank, ‘If you do not affect wetlands, you do not even need to step on our doorstep.’”

A crowd of Port Orford residents overflowed from the planning commission room into the hallway, most of them to comment in favor of the proposed development and its anticipated effects on the county’s economy.

“Port Orford is in an economically poor state, like most of Curry County,” said Port Orford Mayor Jim Auborn. “I believe a golf course will provide a number of jobs and business opportunities we desperately need.”

Michael Hewitt, a retired Cape Blanco park ranger, said the developers were “brave” to propose their idea.

“This city needs economic development,” he said. “It needs to move forward. We haven’t since the 1950s, 60s. I believe, that in my experience, that Oregon State Parks would support it, too.”

A few others, however, while saying they admired the attempt to rejuvenate the local economy, warned about water from an unnamed tributary to the Elk River that, if drained for use on the course — particularly in a drought year — could negatively affect coho salmon.

Part of the course would meander north to feature vistas of the Elk River, Humbug Mountain and Cape Blanco Lighthouse. A southern-facing course would feature the valley and coastal range. Both of the courses would finish on bluffs along the ocean at a shared green.

Ann Vileisis, a member of the Kalmiopsis Audubon Society and Port Orford resident, outlined her concerns about water temperatures in the tributary and their effects on cutthroat throat, lampreys and coho salmon.

Fellow Audubon member Tim Palmer asked if agreements regarding herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers and to which the developer is amenable now, can be codified into perpetuity. He was also concerned about non-native beach grass proposed to be planted there, how often water tests would be conducted and the possible liability to the county in regards to the safety of the eroding bluffs.

Penelope Suess of Port Orford questioned the potential benefits.

“There’s no guarantee these visitors would stay in town and provide any economic benefit,” she said. “I question that even if they did wish to linger, if Port Orford could even accommodate them.”

She also warned that such changes to town will ensure it will never return to its natural state.

Chris Hood of Spencer Engineers of Coos Bay rebutted comment on behalf of Elk River Development, saying everything they’re doing is “by the books.”

“You want to condition us to death,” he said. “We want to be good stewards of the land. We want to work with people in the community to the extent we can. But with restriction after restriction after restriction and condition and condition and condition, it’s going to take a potential project and narrow it and narrow it and narrow it — at some junction it will be unfeasible to do.”

He told commissioners it is not their job to “come in and satisfy every whim of every environmentalist,” but to follow the rules and regulations by which the developer is trying to comply.

New information, rebuttals and final arguments are slated through February.

“We’re not going into this to rape the land,” Hood said. “We want this to be something the community can be proud of.”