Douglas County resident raises concerns about grant award for sewer at Back Nine development

April 5, 2019

Senior Staff Writer

Denise Backman of Roseburg had some questions at Wednesday’s Douglas County Board of Commissioner meeting about grants to a development where the Hanna family plans to move its Coca-Cola plant.

Backman said she is a former grant writer who conducted a review of public documents about grants given out by the Douglas County Industrial Development Board.

She said a grant to the Roseburg Senior Center should have been approved, while she questioned grants to a Wildlife Safari discount program, a Food Truck Competition and a NUT Cracker Bicycle Event.

And then there was the Back Nine industrial development site near the Interstate 5 exchange off Del Rio Road in Winchester, where Coca-Cola plans to relocate.

Backman brought up the cost to construct a sewer to the area, most recently estimated at $925,000, and the cost of road construction, mentioned at about $1.4 million, and said she was concerned it seemed the county was on the hook for providing infrastructure to this project.

She asked why the funding should be the county’s responsibility.

At the same time, she questioned the strength of commitment to the project from planned major tenants, Coca-Cola and Terra Firma, to locate there, noting that the Industrial Development Board’s minutes reflected that Bruce Hanna only had a handshake agreement with the property owners to move there.

She also objected to the 2018 appointment of Bruce Hanna to the Industrial Development Board, saying it was a “huge conflict of interest.”

She urged the commissioners to behave in a way that’s “above reproach,” and said the citizens “want to know that we all deserve a fair shake, and to ensure that some are not given one special deal after another, that we don’t have a ‘good old boys club.’”

Commissioner Chris Boice said Backman’s information was partly correct, and partly incorrect.

He said that the developers wound up paying for road construction themselves because the requirements placed on the construction by the grant they wanted would actually have made it more expensive.

He said the county did invest in the sewer infrastructure through the Roseburg Urban Sanitary Authority, which was an investment designed to take property that was undeveloped and develop it. The tax impact will be significant, he said.

He said that Terra Firma had to drop out of the project because of state regulations restricting who can move into industrial sites. Terra Firma had wanted to locate its corporate headquarters there, he said.

Hanna is buying a piece of property at Back Nine, and is not an owner of the site, Boice said.

Boice said Hanna being on the board is a great thing because Hanna and his family have been private business owners and developers in the community for a very long time.

All the Industrial Development Board’s work on Back Nine that Backman was concerned about took place before Hanna joined the board, he said. He also said there are several business people and developers on the board and they follow conflict of interest rules to step back when properties they have an interest in are being considered.

Boice said in considering grant awards to events, he looks at things like motel occupancy during, before and afterward to determine the community impact.

As for the senior center, Boice said he understands Backman’s frustration.

“I’m a fan of the senior center. We went through that and we evaluated it against our goals and the criteria, and we felt like it didn’t match,” he said.