Douglas County government and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians submitted letters of interest to the State Land Board last week saying they would like to buy the Elliott State Forest.
In October, the State Land Board announced it wanted letters of interest from potential public owners of the forest. On Dec. 5, the county and the tribe submitted two of the seven letters of interest received by the Land Board in response.
The other letters were from Oregon State University College of Forestry; Coos County; the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians; the Oregon Department of Forestry; and the Raw Foundation.
Douglas County said it would like to purchase the forest, and the Cow Creek Tribe indicated it would like to purchase the land but doesn’t have enough money without a financial partner.
It’s the latest in a long saga over who should own and manage the forest, which was originally set aside for timber harvests to finance the Common School Fund. The state voted in February 2017 to sell the forest to the Cow Creek Tribe and Lone Rock Timber Management Company, but backed out a few months later and decided to keep the Elliott publicly owned.
Simmering resentment over that decision was clear in both tribe’s and the county’s Dec. 5 letters.
The tribe’s letter, penned by tribal Chairman Dan Courtney and CEO Michael Rondeau, said the Elliott was part of the land base that was taken from Native Americans more than 150 years ago. A purchase by the tribe would have helped restore its homeland and diversify its economic base, they said.
“It is unfortunate and offensive that the public narrative suggested that the Tribe was only superficially involved, serving as a front for a private timber company. That was not the case. We carefully chose a private partner who also has a record of sustainable forest management,” the tribe’s letter read. “There was no other means by which any Oregon tribe could finance a project like this.”
The state’s rejection of that previous proposal left the tribe with few options, the letter read.
“Our interest in the Elliott Forest has not waned. The simple truth is that the Cow Creek alone does not have the capital to purchase the forest. We also remain skeptical about dedicating time and money, as we did once before, to develop a proposal if there is another vision by DSL for how this land would transition to public ownership and management,” they said.
Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice wrote that the county wants to purchase the Elliott for $120.8 million. He wrote that the money would come from a combination of cash and funds accessed through the county’s bonding authorities.
The county, which already manages 4,400 acres of forestland, would manage the forest for sustained yield timber production. It would also preserve conservation values under a Habitat Conservation Plan and preserve public access, he wrote.
The county would be willing to partner with Coos County and the Cow Creek Tribe, and “remains fully supportive” of the tribe’s 2017 proposal, Boice said. He wrote that it’s “unclear why the Cow Creeks’ proposal was ever rejected.”
Local entities should manage the forest because they’ll be proactive and address economic, job and community interests as well as ecosystem health, he wrote.
“Presently, local constituents are very frustrated by the overall lack of management and progress on the Elliott State Forest, as well as its failure to contribute to the local economy. Putting the forest in the hands of local entities will help rebuild public trust,” Boice said.
Sure, it’s been a busy fall for Yoncalla’s 18-year-old mayor-elect, Ben Simons.
But the Umpqua Community College student, current city councilor and volunteer firefighter said he hasn’t been overwhelmed by the wave of national and state media attention since the election.
News of Simons’ win sparked a wave of stories and interviews from Roseburg to the United Kingdom.
The hype of being elected the youngest mayor in Yoncalla’s history has died down, and school has paused for the holidays, Simons said, which has allowed him to think more about how he will lead his town.
His mission is to increase town pride and bring people together, he said. He has ideas to increase transparency within city hall and build trust between the public and local government. He said a key component of that goal is to get residents more involved in the decision-making process.
Simons won by 25 votes over two other candidates. Three-hundred and seven people voted in the town of one thousand people. But residents are confident in Simons.
“He’ll be a good mayor,” said Tammy Eveland, manager of the Yoncalla Deli, as Simons paid for his chicken sandwich, fries and coke a few hours before a city council meeting.
Simons is a regular at the deli, according to Eveland.
“It depends on how busy I am up the street at city hall,” Simons said of his lunch attendance.
Simons is putting Yoncalla back on the map with all the media coverage he has received, Eveland said.
Earlier in the day, Simons participated in a training as a volunteer for North Douglas Fire and EMS in Drain. The department now has two mayor-elects; first responder Justin Cobb was elected mayor of Drain.
“A lot of people give (Simons) a hard time over his age,” Cobb said. “But that kid has a really good sense of city issues. He has that natural charisma about him. I think he’s going to be good for the City of Yoncalla.”
Cobb said he looks forward to collaborating with Simons on issues facing the two towns, which are 5 miles apart.
Despite his age, Simons has public service experience.
When he was in eighth grade he started attending school board meetings with his mother, a high school math teacher. An audit of the Yoncalla High School building, which was built in 1949, revealed it was in urgent need of structural improvements.
The city didn’t have the money to make the improvements. Two bond measures failed to pass. As a sophomore in high school, Simons sat on a planning committee to figure out what improvements to prioritize if the school district did find funds.
“That was the start of my participation in government,” Simons said. “Sometimes there was a lot of discontent with each other over what should be prioritized.”
The district received a seismic improvements grant from the state, which helped support other improvements to the building.
The experience sparked his interest in public service. He said it taught him an important lesson about working with tight budgets: Prioritizing can be everything.
As a junior in high school, Simons ran for school president and won. He also won his senior year. “Usually only seniors are elected school president,” he said.
“My leadership teacher was very adamant about policy and procedure,” Simons said. “We tried our best to make that a real working government even though it’s just at the high school.”
He and the student council followed a constitution and listened to the concerns of his peer-constituents.
“I tried my best to always be accountable to everyone, and I hope that’s something I can carry over into the city,” Simons said.
The default attitude toward local government of some residents has been distrust, he said. After the two school bonds didn’t pass, Simons said people told him they voted no because they weren’t sure the district would spend the money responsibly.
He thinks the best remedy for that skepticism is a commitment to transparency. This summer he was appointed to fill the vacancy of a city councilor who stepped down. He already has some ideas about how to increase city hall’s transparency.
Simons wants to update the city’s website, which he said is half-completed, and make it serve as a hub for all government action. “I’d really like to see advertisements of our meetings going up to more places in town than just the post office and city hall,” Simons said. He hopes he can get them put up at local businesses or noted on people’s water bills.
Residents rarely show up to city council meetings. He said, however, people have been telling him about city issues such as crumbling roadways more frequently since he was elected. He listens, but encourages them to voice their concerns at city council meetings too.
Although Simons’ public service resume continues to grow, he doesn’t foresee a career in politics. After graduating from UCC with an associate degree, he plans to study business administration at the University of Oregon.
He hopes he can show other young people that they too can be elected to public office and be effective leaders. He has been contacted by people his age across the country who either ran for elected office or want to.
“I’ve been really trying my best to do this the best way possible so that this is opened up for people in the future to take my case as precedent,” Simons said. “Who knows where it goes from there.”
The Department of State Lands accepted Jordan Cove’s removal-fill permit application earlier this month, prompting a 60-day comment period to begin.
The agency is the administrative arm of the Oregon State Land Board and is responsible for permitting the removal or fill of material in state waterways.
Opponents to the pipeline say the Department of State Lands accepted an application that wasn’t complete.
“It’s huge, the stuff that’s not complete,” said landowner Stacey McLaughlin.
In a letter to State Lands coordinator Bob Lobdell on Dec. 4, an attorney for the landowners said that Federal Aviation Administration concerns about obstruction hazards should render the review incomplete.
Because the project would need major revisions in regard to the height of structures near the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport, the letter said, the project designs are incomplete.
It also said that because there are sections where landowners aren’t allowing Jordan Cove on their property, there hasn’t been a complete analysis of water and wetland impacts for those areas.
“Mr. Lobdell will not be responding, nor will he be considering your submission as part of his completeness review of the Jordan Cove Energy Project removal-fill application,” said State Lands Director Vicki Walker to attorney Tonia Moro in an email. “Neither Oregon Revised Statutes nor Oregon Administrative Rules allow for the public to comment on a completeness determination before the Department.”
Jordan Cove submitted a revised version of the removal-fill permit on Nov. 7, after the Department of State Lands rejected the original application as incomplete last year, citing the needs for the project’s impacts on recreation in the bay, fill dimensions and volumes, wetland mitigation and fish passage requirements.
Public hearings are scheduled across the state in January, with one taking place in Douglas County. That meeting will take place from 5:30 to 8 p.m. on January 9 at Seven Feathers Resort and Casino in Canyonville.
Comments can also be submitted online by emailing Department of State Lands Coordinator Bob Lobdell at email@example.com, or by mail to Jordan Cove comments, Oregon Department of State Lands, 775 Summer St. NE #100, Salem, Oregon.
The comment deadline is 5 p.m. Feb. 3.