The nonprofit group Disabilities Recreation Project claims in a lawsuit that Jackson County stopped it from building wheelchair accessible fishing docks at the Expo Ponds in order to construct a for-profit RV park.

The group is seeking at least $410,000. The case is scheduled to go to trial in June in Jackson County Circuit Court, court records show. 

Jackson County Roads and Parks Director John Vial said he can't discuss details of the situation because of the pending litigation.

But the original master plan for The Expo always included plans for an RV park with accessible trails somewhere on The Expo grounds, he said.

A few years ago when the county honed in on the ponds area for the RV park, that newer plan included accessible trails and fishing docks, Vial said.

"Accessible trails and docks have always been in the plan from day one. We built accessible paths to the pond's edge. We wanted to do more and we will do more," he said.

Vial said the county does not yet have a timeline for building accessible docks.

Formed from water-filled gravel pits, the large ponds at The Expo near Central Point were once choked by blackberries and were a dumping ground for garbage.

In 2016, the county finished the recreational vehicle park that had been on the drawing board for 36 years, according to newspaper accounts.

While parking inside the RV park is for registered guests only, the area near the Expo Ponds also includes a public parking area with disabled parking spaces plus a public restroom. A $4 day-use fee applies for the parking.

Paths made with decomposed granite soil — a gritty soil with small rock particles — lead around parts of the ponds. Although the paths have a gentle, wheelchair-friendly grade, reaching most of the fishing spots at the water's edge requires negotiating steep side paths.

Before the RV park was built, Disabilities Recreation Project had envisioned a $3.5 million project with parking lots, restrooms, asphalt paths, numerous wheelchair-accessible fishing docks around the ponds and a long accessible pier extending into one of the ponds, according to drawings on its website and past newspaper accounts of its plans.

Formed in the early 2000s, Disabilities Recreation Project has carried out other accessibility projects with volunteer workers and community and business partners, including building fishing jetties at Howard Prairie Lake and Emigrant Lake.

According to the group's lawsuit against the county, in 2006 the Jackson County Fair Board gave the group permission to develop the north pond at The Expo, which was previously known as the Jackson County Fairgrounds.

The north pond project was to include accessible pathways, fishing piers, restrooms, picnic kiosks, parking areas and other improvements, according to the lawsuit.

Disabilities Recreation Project started fundraising, stayed in communication with various county officials about the project, built water and sewer lines and had grading work done for parking and paths, the lawsuit says.

"On or about September 20, 2012, Jackson County forced a cease and desist of construction of the Expo Ponds handicapped accessibility project onto DRP without explanation," the lawsuit contends. "DRP learned through media that Jackson County thwarted the project in order to build an RV park for profit and usurped DRP's gifted labor and funds and completed phases of the project for its own benefit, and depriving the recipients (people with disabilities) and spirit of the nonprofit project."

In 2015, Jackson County officially announced its plans to build an RV park and make other improvements, including paved walkways and improved bank-side fishing access for those with limited mobility, according to newspaper accounts. 

Richard Anderson, chairman of Disabilities Recreation Project, said he can't say much about the situation because of the pending litigation. But he said the group felt blindsided by the county's demand that it stop work at the ponds.

"We had a detailed set of plans approved by the county, permitted by the county and approved by the Fair Board — and they arbitrarily stopped us," Anderson said.

In the county's written response to the lawsuit, the county said it "has already made payment for materials and services provided."

Anderson called that claim "totally false."

The county also said Disabilities Recreation Project failed to file its lawsuit within the time frame allowed by law and didn't have a valid license issued by the state Construction Contractors Board.

Anderson said the group didn't rush to file a lawsuit because the county said it wanted to work with the group.

He said Disabilities Recreation Project doesn't have a Construction Contractors Board license itself, but it has the support of more than 200 volunteers and companies, many in the construction industry, for its projects. Many of those supporters have their own CCB licenses, he said.

— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.