Keiser Completes Land Swap for Sixth Course at Bandon Dunes

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has signed a letter that allows the developer and owner of Bandon Dunes, Mike Keiser, to proceed with another course at the famed golf destination along the state's southern Pacific coast.

The proposal involves a complicated land swap. Under the agreement, Keiser's company, Bandon Biota LLC, will provide $2.5 million to help the state parks department buy much of the Grouse Mountain Ranch in Grant County. The 6,100-acre parcel in eastern Oregon contains rangeland and about 1,000 acres of Ponderosa pine forest.

Also part of the deal is Keiser's transfer of 208 acres to the state park system - 111 acres next to the Bandon State Natural Area and 97 adjacent to Bullards Beach State Park. Bandon Biota also will spend about $300,000 on gorse control in the Bandon area, and pay as much as $2.95 million to help the state buy a 10-acre parcel known as Whale Cove in Lincoln County. The Grant County parcel, part of the 6,300-acre Grouse Mountain Ranch, will be turned into a state park.

In exchange, Bandon Biota will receive 280 acres of the 878-acre Bandon State Natural Area along the coast. On that property, Keiser will build his sixth course, Bandon Links.

The walking-only layout - with no motorized carts allowed - will contain 27 holes. It will be a links-style and affordable municipal course. Keiser has identified Gil Hanse as the architect. The Pennsylvania-based designer is currently completing the new course that will be the site of the golf events for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Two of the three Grant County commissioners favored the Grouse Mountain Ranch deal, which was needed to move the land transfer proposal to the state for additional approval.

In the letter, Kitzhaber directed staff to develop a plan to return some public land in Grant County to private ownership within five years. He's also asked staff to study the impact of non-farm uses on the economic sustainability of agriculture.

The Oregon Farm Bureau and other groups came out in opposition to the land exchange. Jeff Thomas, an orchardist and president of the Grant County Farm Bureau, said tourism and park activities won't replace the value of cattle, hay and timber operations on the Grouse Mountain Ranch property.

But Oregon Parks and Recreation Department staff recommended the commission approve the trade. To do so, the commission had to agree the deal provides an "overwhelming public benefit" to the parks system that is "resounding, clear and obvious."

The OPRD's Chris Havel wrote that the commission agreed the exchange provided that benefit to the public, but that further information must be gathered regarding the two properties. "While they approved these two proposals in principle, the commission has asked for additional information from staff and will not issue its final decision on either project until staff return at a future meeting with proposed final orders on both properties," Havel wrote in a press release.

"For the coastal properties, the commission has directed staff to provide more information about a recent change in the exchange parcel boundary, potential impacts on endangered western snowy plover and nature resource conditions on all the involved properties. For both sides the commission has directed staff to produce more documentation, such as appraisals and environmental reports."

In his early December letter, Gov. Kitzhaber also directed OPRD to continue a "good faith" effort to address local community concerns in Grant County.

Final state approval of the land swap could occur as early as February 2014. Once that occurs, the project will still need to go through local permitting processes before final construction permits for the new golf course will be issued.