Jacksonville green-lights controversial land swap

Jacksonville officials say a land swap with the Motorcycle Riders Association benefits watershed users and city coffers, but opponents say the City Council isn't listening to its constituents.

The council on Tuesday approved the sale of 380 acres in its watershed to the Motorcycle Riders Association in exchange for a 40-acre parcel and $680,000.

The approval culminates a decade of heated debate over off-road-vehicle riding in the watershed. The deal gives 380 acres in the upper watershed northwest of town to the MRA in exchange for the cash and 40 acres adjacent to Forest Park in the lower watershed.

"We get the 40 acres with the parking lot, which is an important asset for the future development of Forest Park," said Mayor Paul Becker.

Riders would unload their all-terrain vehicles 3.7 miles farther up the hill from the current site, Becker said.

"For folks concerned about noise, it's farther away," said Becker.

An MRA official said separation of activities is important. The group owns land adjacent to the 380-acre site.

"The overriding issue has always been the co-mingling of properties with the different uses," said Steven Croucher, MRA president. "It looks like a step forward."

The deal is contingent upon the MRA securing a grant from the Oregon Parks and Recreation All-Terrain-Vehicle Grant Fund to cover the purchase price. The fund is derived from OHV permit fees and gas taxes. A grant from the fund paid for the parking lot.

Council approved the transaction by a 5-1 margin with Councilwoman Donna Schatz casting the dissenting vote. The decision followed a 90-minute public hearing.

"I felt it was a very complicated contract and the city did not have enough information to make a decision," said Schatz, who is an accountant.

"What was on the agenda was a memorandum of understanding that was based on figures I didn't feel were solid," Schatz added.

Former City Councilman Jerry Mathern said Wednesday he was upset that the council did not appear to be listening to the public.

"The main issue is that of the citizens being involved," said Mathern. He told the council that it asked for involvement and input, then didn't listen to the people.

Mathern noted that in 2005, 850 registered voters signed a petition against selling watershed property for OHV use.

Council members could have called for an advisory vote from the public but didn't, despite a letter six months ago signed by 250 people requesting one, said Mathern. An advisory vote still would have left the decision to the council, he said.

Becker said funds from the sale would be placed into an account for capital expenses.

"We get a substantial sum of money in this day and age," said Becker. "I was really pleased with the appraisal value."

Becker thinks some of the money should be used for repair or removal of the reservoir dam in Forest Park.

Another potential use would be for capital repairs on historic buildings the city will accept from Jackson County. The council also approved an agreement Tuesday to take over the structures, including the courthouse.

The land being traded is largely unusable because of its steep grade, Becker said. He estimated cost for helicopter logging would be $10,000 per hour.

Other provisions in the agreement call for establishment of a joint city-MRA stewardship program for the land and limiting MRA competitive events to 250 riders.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.


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