City, SHEDG to share Knife River property

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home City Council last week voted to move forward with a partnership with the Sweet Home Economic Development Group to develop the former Knife River quarry property.

During the regular council meeting on Nov. 22, the council directed city staff to negotiate an agreement and the transfer of the property from Linn County to the City of Sweet Home. The council voted 5-0, with Diane Gerson abstaining because she is a member of the SHEDG board. Voting yes were James Goble, Greg Mahler, Mayor Jim Gourley, Dave Trask and Jeff Goodwin. Ryan Underwood was absent.

The property, a 220-acre rock quarry operated by Knife River (formerly Morse Bros.) is owned by Linn County as a result of foreclosure on more than 400 acres against Western States Land Reliance Trust, the previous owner, for nonpayment of property taxes. The property is located west from the northern end of Clark Mill Road.

About two years ago, Linn County and SHEDG began discussing the transfer of the property to SHEDG, which had hoped to use the property as a permanent concert venue for its annual Oregon Jamboree, a camping and country music festival used to raise funds for economic development projects.

Since then, the county and Knife River have completed environmental assessments and cleanup on the property and received a notice of no further action from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. SHEDG has been completing its due diligence on the property at the same time, spending money and time trying to make sure it’s a property SHEDG would like to take.

SHEDG approached the council in October with an offer to partner on the property.

The council held a work session with SHEDG prior to the regular council meeting to discuss the proposal with SHEDG.

“We have come to the consideration that it might be better, probably would be better, actually, to have a partnership consortium with the city,” Joe Graybill, chairman of the SHEDG Property Committee, told the city Administration, Finance and Property Committee meeting prior to the regular council meeting.

“After even further evaluation, it would be worth the city’s while to be the recipient of the property from the county, which is interested in releasing it. SHEDG would like to participate or join with you in the management and operations of that property.”

Graybill said the committee would like to develop the property as a multi-use park, with trails, campsites and other features, such as a wedding pavilion, that could provide revenue.

The property has 6,000 to 7,000 feet of riverfront, he said. It has five ponds and 120 acres of land. Camping could be modeled on Linn County parks, and other features could resemble Cheadle Lake in Lebanon, with athletic fields and other features.

“I’ve had a lot of interest from community members about the advantage of having larger baseball diamonds,” Graybill said. “The Roy Johnston field is limited in size. It’s also limited to the type of players. High school and adult players don’t play on there because it’s too easy to hit too far.”

At some point, professional architects and designers would need to get involved, Graybill said, and plans will need to provide more access than Zelcova Street, which is the only access and runs west from the north end of Clark Mill Road into the property.

The city and SHEDG may be able to pursue grants to help fund development there, Graybill said.

“People are using it right now,” Goodwin said. “They’re not supposed to be. It’s closed. There’s nasty signs down there – don’t come in. From my perspective this makes sense to do. The partnership makes sense to do. As soon as the county could deed the property to the city, I don’t see any reason it can’t open as a park. Even with no further improvements to what’s there, there’s no reason people couldn’t go down there and go fishing on the river or walk around. It’s just a question of how much we can improve it and how long that takes to do and do it right. From what I see this is a useful property that would be a beautiful place to be able to go and fish on the river or hike around right now. We can just make it better and better as we’re able to do that.”

“Right now, it’s a pretty nice, natural wildland park, he said, adding that the property includes a wetlands area on the west and a “pretty deep forested, fern grotto”-type feature on the east.

“There’s a lot of potential.”

Under the arrangement, the city would own the property and enter an agreement with SHEDG to manage it.

Either organization could improve the property, Goodwin said.

“The benefit to the people in the city is the city owns the property, and the people can use it because it’s a park, and it’s getting improved whether the city’s able to do it as we’re able to or whether SHEDG is doing it directly because they want to make use of something or they’ve gotten some funds to be able to do that.

“The sooner we can open the property up to the public, the better. When you close it to the public, the law-abiding citizens don’t go down there, and only people who are willing to go past a ‘no trespassing’ sign do.”

Mahler said he thinks it’s a good idea as long as liability is covered in the agreement.

The Administration, Finance and Property Committee voted 3-0 to recommend moving forward to the City Council. Members of the committee include Mahler, Gourley and Goodwin. The council’s action was the first formal vote on the proposal.