Last October, in our editorial endorsing John Sweet for another term as a Coos County commissioner, we wrote this:
Here's a thought: reelect Sweet, then draft (challenger Don) Gurney to be special advisor to the commissioners on O&C and wagon road lands. ... That's where his passion and expertise lie. Let's take advantage of it.
Well, this week it happened, sort of.
The commissioners held a work session with Gurney on Tuesday. And while it was in no official capacity, Gurney gave the commissioners strong advice on a new and bold approach the county should take regarding Coos Bay Wagon Road lands and the payments we receive from the federal government.
Basically, it’s this: We estimate the value of the timber on those lands — which, by the way, has never been calculated in federal payments before — and send the U.S. government a bill.
Up to now we’ve simply waited for the Bureau of Land Management to send the county funds every year based on what it thought the land itself was worth. Timber was always valued at zero. But Gurney has always maintained that the original 1939 bill establishing the wagon road lands required that the timber be valuated, too.
Some timber valuations thrown around during the work session Tuesday ranged from $1 billion to $3 billion. That would result in annual payments to the county ranging from $10 million to $30 million.
The valuation is not as important, though, as the fact that the discussion is finally taking place. Up to now we’ve been relying on sending letters to our Washington, D.C., representatives urging new timber legislation or some other assistance. Nothing’s come of that.
Following this new path may be just as frustrating. There are still many unanswered questions and there’s no telling exactly how the U.S. Department of the Interior will react to getting a bill from little ol' Coos County.
The government could make a counter offer. Or, we could end up in court.
But anything is better than the fiscal calamity facing the county now.
If necessity begats invention; then desperation begats resolve. It can also mean joining forces with a former opponent who shares that desperation and resolve.
Good to see you back, Don.