CANYON CITY - The Grant County Court is asking the Bates Park and Museum Foundation to turn over the title to the old Bates mill site to clear the way for development of a state park there.

The Court last week voted to send a letter to the non-profit organization asking it to quitclaim the deed.

County Judge Mark Webb said transferring the title is the next step needed "so that we can go forward with the state's plans."

John Bastian, representing the Foundation, said the organization would discuss its next step with any interested former residents of the now-defunct milltown.

"The goal is to get this done for the Bates people," he said.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Commission wants to develop a campground on the 131-acre site at the junction of Highway 7 and County Road 20 (Middle Fork Lane). The Commission in January offered to pay the county either $500,000 or $450,000 - depending on which party has to remove an old dry kiln from the site.

"We're really not in a position to decide which option until we have title to the property," Webb said.

In a letter dated Feb. 19, Cliff Houck, OPRD resource management and planning manager, asked the county to choose an option and to begin discussions with the Foundation about the title. He said he would begin drafting an agreement for the acquisition "subject to Grant County acquiring title from the Bates Park and Museum Foundation."

The Foundation obtained a loan from Old West Federal Credit Union to buy the land for $400,000, with the County's guarantee. The loan comes due with interest next December.

Still undecided is what will become of any money left after the note is paid off and the real estate transaction costs are accounted for.

Webb said he felt the use of proceeds should be discussed later, but Foundation representatives felt it should be addressed before the property changes hands.

Webb told the dozen people attending the Feb. 27 Court meeting that there are two amounts of money at issue.

One is about $20,000 that has been donated by people who wanted to help create a park at the site. Webb said the county doesn't propose to keep that money, and some donors have suggested that the Bates organization use the money to create a tribute to the milltown on the site.

Still at issue are any profits from the sale to OPRD. Webb said that money should stay with the county because the county assumed the risk from the loan and would have had to pay up if OPRD had not taken an interest in the property.

"Only if we defaulted," interjected Bastian.

"Agreed, but if the purchase price had come in at $350,000, the county would have been left to pay the difference," Webb said.

"It's not simply a $50,000 leftover," he said. Both parties agreed that the actual sum would be considerably less than that after interest and transaction fees. Whatever the final amount, Webb said it should be used to help compensate for the county's risk, time and other costs, he said.

"Economically, this county is challenged," said Webb. "We've put a lot of effort into this project."

Lane Burton, county assessor, said the county loses future property tax revenue when properties like this go off the tax rolls, and this is not the only property lately to go that way.

The tax revenue for the Bates site is estimated at about $600 a year, but Burton said it would be considerably higher if the land were developed privately.

"It is an extremely unique property," Burton said. "There's not another piece of property like this in the state of Oregon."

Despite the loss of property tax revenue, the County Court has supported the park proposal.

However, Webb said that neither the county nor the Foundation anticipated getting more money for the property "than we put into it."

Bastian suggested that the Foundation could use the profits to leverage a grant for some of the development at the park site, but Webb contended that wouldn't be necessary.

The OPRD, Webb said, is ready to pour millions of dollars into developing this park, and the balance from the sale could go to the county without compromising the state's plans or the Foundation's goals.

"This park is a priority development for the state," Webb said. "They want to work with us. They don't need that money."

Commissioner Boyd Britton agreed, noting that the main thing is to preserve the site and get the project moving.

Bastian agreed to that point.

"The bottom line is it's got to go through, and we can't miss this opportunity," he said.

Commissioner Scott Myers said the sale balance could be as little as $8,000 to $12,000 and he cautioned against having a dispute over that. Neither side wants "the appearance" that the county and the Foundation are at odds, he said.

Several former Bates residents at the meeting urged the county to move ahead with the project. They also welcomed the idea of a meeting for Bates residents to discuss the plans.

Lana Abarr said she has been worried that something's going to derail the deal "and we're never going to have a park here."

"The state has the means to get this done," she said. "I don't think we were in it to make any money."

Jean Thompson, also a Bates alumni, said the former residents recognized that the park plan would take something from the county's tax rolls.

"We know that's a problem for the county," she said.

She and other Bates people in the audience said they were grateful for the efforts of the former and current County Courts, former Judge Dennis Reynolds, the credit union and others who supported the project.

Britton said that public support is one reason the state agency is excited about the project.

"We need to keep that level of support," he said.

Webb agreed, noting that the park "will prove to be a real gem."

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