Knife River property a stepping stone for SH

The New Era

Since Commissioner Roger Nyquist urged the Sweet Home Economic Development Group Board of Directors late last summer to ask the Linn County Board of Commissioners for the Knife River property, we’ve been all for it.

What an exciting opportunity, and it’s exciting to see SHEDG rise to the challenge.

Our community has been kicking around the idea of building a permanent home for the Oregon Jamboree since the days when Dan Desler was the public face of Western States Land Reliance Trust, which owned that property along with former Willamette Industries-Weyerhaueser property.

SHEDG discussed that possibility with Desler, and then when WSLRT was unable to pay a half million dollars in property taxes that had accrued over six years, the county foreclosed and took over the property almost exactly four years ago. Since then, county officials and SHEDG officials have flirted with the idea of developing a county park, possibly managed as an events site by SHEDG.

County officials grew cold toward the idea of developing a park inside the city limits – for good reason: they operate a lot of parks around Sweet Home, but the dream never ended for many. Meanwhile, the county continued working with property owners previous to WSLRT to clean up environmental damage on those properties.

The Knife River property is just about there. That’s the section along the south bank of the South Santiam River, north of the mill property, between about 22nd Avenue and Clark Mill Road.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is expected to provide a letter requiring no further action on the property; and then the county can get rid of it.

It’s beautiful land – or it will be with a little development. Our instinct is to make sure that property is available for private development, the kind of thing that could start increasing property values and funding public services like police and fire as well as provide good jobs for the folks of Sweet Home.

Some folks seem to think that Sweet Home will never see those kinds of jobs again. We’re too far from Interstate 5, they say. We can rest assured this is the case if we ensure that industrial or large commercial employers have nowhere to go. We think it’s a bad idea to tie up all of our open land and deny that possibility entirely.

Still, a portion of it dedicated to the tourism many see as Sweet Home’s future will also help fund the private organization that is dedicated to development of Sweet Home’s economy, SHEDG, the organization that may one day help bring a major employer or many smaller employers to the remainder of the property, which was unfortunately zoned out of industrial during WSLRT’s tenure as property owner, something that could be fixed if necessary.

With it, the Oregon Jamboree would likely be in a much stronger position as a fund-raising event; and new events, along with parks and camping facilities, would be one more way to strengthen tourism in Sweet Home.

This property, formerly a gravel pit, is a gem right in the middle of Sweet Home. It is scenic and peaceful.

We commend the SHEDG Board for taking its time on this, considering the long-term implications, from paying property taxes while it remains in development to potential additional environmental issues. The board members have considered this property from just about every angle.

We appreciate the caution the board has exhibited and, although we’re for this move, that appreciation extends to the two members who voted no because they wanted a little more time to consider it. It’s a big decision, with big implications and consequences for this board and organization. The decision should not be light.

As SHEDG board member Rob Poirier indicated at the board’s meeting last week, further research would provide seriously diminished returns. The board pulled the trigger and decided to ask the commissioners for the property.

The commissioners were scheduled to discuss it Tuesday morning, immediately after The New Era went to press.

We support SHEDG’s request and urge the commissioners to give the property to SHEDG. Later, the SHEDG board will be looking for community input about the property.

Our two bits on the subject: Conceptually, we really like the ideas already kicked around between SHEDG and Desler and then between the county and SHEDG.

Let’s make this thing an amazing concert venue with a public park and camping. It could even be more than that. We can’t wait to hear ideas from around the community.

It’s an amazing opportunity for our community if we seize it, and we hope that this community can turn it into an amazing asset that helps Sweet Home break out of its economic doldrums.