What's next for Butte Falls Hatchery?

Jackson County commissioners say they would prefer to see the abandoned Butte Falls Hatchery site stay in local hands as an education center and not become a police training center run by the Jackson County Sheriff's Department.

Commissioners C.W. Smith, Don Skundrick and John Rachor all said in separate interviews Friday they do not support Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters' plans for the hatchery buildings and grounds, saying the land is too remote and likely would cost too much to operate.

The county could not legally take possession of any land without approval from the three-member board, which has not voted on the notion and has not been asked to do so.

"I told the sheriff that I'm not the least bit interested in that," Smith said Friday. "I think I got through to him.

"I'd rather the folks from Butte Falls get the first shot at it," Smith said.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Andrea Carlson did not respond to telephone calls Friday seeking comment.

Only the sheriff's department and a coalition of leaders from the city of Butte Falls and the city's school district filed letters of interest in receiving the former hatchery property, which the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is looking to get rid of it as a cost-saving measure.

Agency leaders are even willing to sell it for less than market value as long as it goes to a public entity and serves a beneficial public purpose.

Butte Falls School District Superintendent David Courtney said being the only one in line for the property now should mean their vision for an education site — for students ranging from middle-schoolers on field trips to college researchers — should be able to move forward.

"If they don't give it to us, they'll have to have a good reason," Courtney said. "We're the only ones who want it."

The 13-acre hatchery grounds include residences and buildings, with some owned by ODFW and the rest by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

ODFW will ultimately decide who gets the land, and state biologists intend to ask the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission in December for authority to sell the property at less than market value, said Russ Stauff, the ODFW's Rogue Watershed Manager, who is overseeing the project.

Being the only one on the list doesn't mean it's a done deal for Butte Falls, Stauff said. His agency may develop some criteria to ensure the property gets used for a beneficial public use, he said.

"We have a few hoops to go through on our side," Stauff said.

Courtney and others in Butte Falls plan to lobby the commissioners at a Tuesday meeting in Medford to get them to officially back away from the property.

Faced with budget cuts, ODFW shuttered the hatchery in September, just seven years after making about $1 million in improvements.

The hatchery, one of nine operated by ODFW, had been under quarantine for four years after a disease outbreak, and it was limited to raising only some rainbow trout for release in an on-site pond stocked for kids. The rest of the hatchery's production was absorbed elsewhere.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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