A deal for wheels

Jacksonville watershed land swap will separate motorized, non-motorized uses

A state grant that will allow a land swap between the city of Jacksonville and the Motorcycle Riders Association appears to be the best solution to a contentious debate over off-highway vehicles in forest land adjacent to the city limits.

The MRA has used portions of the city's watershed, now known as Forest Park, northwest of town to reach land it has owned since the 1970s. The riding club also owns 40 acres in the lower watershed where it has developed a parking area.

Under the terms of the deal, the MRA will trade the 40-acre parcel with the parking area in the lower watershed for 380 acres in the upper watershed, and pay the city $684,000.

The money comes in the form of a grant to the MRA from the Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission. The commission's grants are funded through gas taxes paid on fuel purchased for off-road vehicles.

The deal accomplishes two important goals. It separates motorized users from hikers and mountain bikers by moving the motorized users as far from the city limits as possible. The 380 acres is more than three miles from the existing parking area and is steep and not suitable for non-motorized use.

The other benefit is an infusion of cash the city needs to address the issue of its aging reservoir dam within Forest Park. State officials and the city's insurance company want the dam repaired or removed because it poses a flooding threat in an earthquake or an unusually heavy rainstorm.

The city's Budget Committee already has allocated some of the proceeds of the sale for the dam project. Some of the money also could be used to pay off the city's debt on a building it purchased to house the Police Department.

Mayor Paul Becker declared himself "thrilled" with the deal because it addresses the long-standing issue of motorized vehicles in the watershed and consolidates non-motorized uses at lower elevations. The mayor may have been a little over-optimistic, however, when he said "virtually everyone" is happy with the outcome.

A vocal faction of town residents opposed the sale of city-owned land to the MRA, and wanted to put the issue to a public vote. The City Council, however, moved ahead on its own.

That is appropriate and within the council's power. Council members are elected to act on behalf of their constituents. If every controversial issue was put to a vote, there would be no need for a city council.

Not everyone may welcome the land swap, but it appears to be the best way to accommodate all users with the least possible friction.

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