In defense of a dune.
Residents of the coastal community of Florence often feel marginalized by Lane County government. County commissioners recently reinforced that perception by considering the sale of an 80-acre parcel that includes an iconic dune across the Siuslaw River from Old Town.
The fact that the county even broached the idea of selling one of Florence's most visible expanses of dune-scape suggests there is indeed a weak linkage between Lane County's Public Service Building in Eugene and its fourth largest city, a winding hour's drive to the west.
Lane County Commissioner Anna Morrison bears some of the responsibility for this unhappy and unnecessary situation. As the elected representative of the board district that includes Florence, Morrison should have understood how important the landmark dune is to city residents and flagged county officials away from any consideration of selling it to developers.
Instead, the county now finds itself wearing a big black mustache and cast as the villain who is conspiring to sell Aunt Lil's family farm, even though commissioners have yet to make a decision and are having second thoughts.
Florence residents have formed a group called the Save Our Dunes Alliance and have besieged commissioners with phone calls, e-mails and petitions. To make certain there is no mistaking local sentiment, some enterprising soul recently scrawled the message "No Sale" across the face of the dune.
The county's predicament stemmed from a policy approved last year by commissioners. It called for transferring tax-foreclosed properties to the county's parks division for sale and then using the proceeds to offset ever-rising park maintenance costs.
This creative and reasonable policy should help bolster the county's chronically underfunded parks. Like most policies, however, it shouldn't be applied with too broad a brush. To their credit, commissioners have since discussed narrowing the program's focus to smaller parcels rather than large, big-ticket properties such as the dune tract.
As Register-Guard reporter Winston Ross noted in his coverage of the controversy, this story could have a happy ending. The Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation is considering buying the site, which borders a 120-acre piece of state park property that is now occupied by a school for juvenile offenders. The state has lottery funds available for such acquisitions, and the Florence dune site would make a logical and valuable addition to the state's system.
Such a transaction could bring in much-needed revenues for county parks, while leaving the dune site intact and in public ownership. Perhaps most importantly, it would leave Florence residents feeling as if their county government was responsive to their needs and wishes.