Commissioner games deal blow to Pipe Fork sale

The purchase agreement between Josephine County and The Conservation Fund was immediately tabled at the July 3 weekly business session of the Josephine County Board of Commissioners, two weeks after it was initially delayed following a 2-1 vote.
Anne G. Basker Auditorium in Grants Pass was the setting for the July 3 meeting.
Commissioner Herman Baertschiger said new information from the Bureau of Land Management had recently been received, and the board wanted to review it before voting on the agreement.
County legal counsel Wally Hicks pointed out that grant funding acquired by The Conservation Fund for the purchase of Pipe Fork would expire July 15 if the board does not sign off by then, making today’s weekly business session the final opportunity to do so. The Conservation Fund’s offer was $2 million, bolstered by a $300K contribution from the Williams Community Forest Project.
Williams resident David LaVine accused the board of “hypocrisy” for endangering the sale of Pipe Fork over assurances that BLM would not log the property or close it to the public, considering the county intended to use it for timber prior to the Williams community rallying to protect the forest and watershed.
“It seems only at the last minute that suddenly there’s another issue that has to be raised that has the potential to stall this off until the deadline has expired,” LaVine said. “So this does not look like good faith negotiation. It does not feel like a respectful approach to the situation, as these questions could have been resolved a long time ago.”
The Conservation Fund attorney Rich Deitchman commented from Zoom, “I just want to emphasize that we’re ready to go. We’re ready to sign the agreement. At your request we got BLM representatives to join us today at this meeting. They sent a three-page document responding to your latest questions on Monday, which was ahead of the public legal committee meeting that you had yesterday. So if you could just be very specific as to what additional information you require for BLM, that would be helpful because we’re definitely under a time crunch here and we’re ready to sign the agreement. We’re ready to close by Aug. 15, which is only a few weeks away frankly.”
Commissioner Dan DeYoung said he was confident the deal would be completed, and that he personally had no concerns about BLM’s intentions when they acquire Pipe Fork from The Conservation Fund: “They really do want this and they want to do it as a study area, and a study area is for the benefit and the health of the forest. I think that I have no problem with this.”
Baertschiger, who has been vocal about his desire to see Pipe Fork sold at auction as the more financially lucrative option for Josephine County, had no comments regarding Pipe Fork at the meeting.
Board Chair John West, on the other hand, defended the board against allegations of hypocrisy, saying, “The group that wanted to protect this property always had a certain amount of things… They didn’t want it logged and they always wanted it open to the people and now, that’s all I heard, and then now when we’ve gotten down to the last, it’s multiple people comes up here and says they have no problem with it being logged and some people even says they have no problem with it being blocked off to the citizens of Josephine County. So that is different than what I was told the whole time leading up to this.”
West added, “I don’t think the word hypocrisy works with the board necessarily.”
Today, Pipe Fork enthusiasts will see if there’s any merit to their allegations that the board has been intentionally stalling the purchase in order to sabotage it.