The Arnold Irrigation District is interested in selling a lava field in Deschutes River Woods, worrying neighbors about who might buy it.
At a board meeting Tuesday, the district said it had been considering selling the property for the past six to nine months and had it appraised for an undisclosed amount. The 86-acre lava field is located on Comanche Circle between DRW and Newberry National Volcanic Monument land and has been privately owned by the irrigation district since April 2004. It had planned to put a maintenance building there.
Shawn Gerdes, the district’s manager, said it received an offer about a week and a half ago from Kevin Peterman, who owns the Bend rock quarry Able Supply. On Monday, Gerdes said the district needs to formally look at the offer and no decisions have been made.
About 10 Deschutes River Woods residents attended the meeting Tuesday and expressed their concern about whom the lava field is sold to. Resident Candi Calihan said because neighbors do not know what Peterman’s intentions for the land are, they are concerned the property will be developed into a rock quarry if sold.
“We understand being in your position of having land you can do nothing with and we don’t know what your plans are,” she said. “We’ve heard rumors Able Supply might be an interested buyer, but the purchase of this land with the intention to do anything besides conserving it will have a devastating effect on our neighborhood.”
Calihan said neighbors have reached out to several land conservation groups such as Deschutes Land Trust and The Trust for Public Land that have shown interest in purchasing the site, ultimately donating it to Newberry National Volcanic Monument.
Brad Chalfant, Deschutes Land Trust executive director, said the nonprofit acquires land and its development rights and holds on to the land permanently. He said it is not unusual for land like the property Arnold Irrigation District owns to be privately owned.
“There are a whole lot of different steps involved in any sort of acquisition, but it all starts with if the landowner is interested in working with you,” he said.
If the irrigation district did have an interest in selling the lava field, Chalfant said, Deschutes Land Trust would have to find money to purchase the property, which is not an easy process. The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit focusing on saving land to donate to public agencies, could work with the U.S. Forest Service, but that could be a long process.
Nelson Mathews, Northwest land conservation manager of the Trust for Public Land, said he began working on the case Friday and has been talking with DRW neighbors, but has not heard from the Arnold Irrigation District at all.
“I’m looking into it, and it’s just very preliminary at this point,” he said. “We would wait to hear more from Arnold Irrigation before I do much more with this. I don’t want to get in the way of any existing agreements.”
This is not the first time DRW neighbors have fought to prevent the lava field from being developed, said Thomas Powell, another concerned DRW neighbor.
According to documents from Deschutes County, Arnold Irrigation District was initially denied a permit request in 2005 for a sewage treatment system on the property. But after a review by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Deschutes County in 2006 granted approval to the district for a bottomless sand filter treatment system.
The district also dug a path going to where it intended to put a maintenance building.
Powell said DRW neighbors teamed up and were able to stop the district from developing the lava field any further for 11 years, and were not any more proactive because neighbors did not think it would be necessary.
“Neighbors and myself are worried if (the lava field) was to develop into a gravel company, it would disturb the ecosystem and would be devastating to our properties,” he said. “We would lose our property value and would have nothing.”
Although Able Supply’s offer is the only one on the table, board members said during the meeting the district would be open to considering other offers including one from DRW, but ultimately has to do what is best for the irrigation district and its 800 patrons. Board members also said the district is looking at whether by law it would have to put the property up for bidding because it is a public agency.
DRW residents did not make an offer Tuesday and told the district they were unsure of the kind of offer it was looking for. Arnold Irrigation District did not provide numbers during the meeting.
After the board meeting, DRW residents said it was hard to gauge how they were perceived by the district, but they remain hopeful.
“We wanted to go to the meeting first to see what kind of reception we got,” Neil Hauser, a concerned DRW resident, said. “I’m hoping they’re going to pick with their heart. If it’s in your heart, and you want to do something right, come to us and work with us so we can find a happy medium.”
— Reporter: 541-382-1811, ext. 408,
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. In the original version, the outcome of Arnold Irrigation District’s request to install sewage treatment was incorrect.
The Bulletin regrets the error.