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Bear Creek golf course owners default

The Bear Creek golf course is for sale again. The 160 acres includes 11 buildable lots.

The developers of the Bear Creek Golf Course in Winthrop have defaulted on their $2.2 million loan with Cashmere Valley Bank and the bank now owns the property that once had been slated for a resort development, according to bank loan officer Greg Oakes.

The bank will offer the 160 acres, which includes 11 buildable lots, for sale on the open market, Oakes said. He added that the land’s value is “probably half” of the $2.2 million loan amount extended by the bank to developers Bill Sygitowicz of Bellingham and Mike McCormack of Santa Barbara, California, principals in Vineyard Partners.

Sygitowicz told Methow Grist that he intends to try to buy the property back but will not develop it. Rather, he said, he wants to add nine holes to the golf course and put the rest into a conservation easement and re-allocate the water rights to environmentally beneficial uses. The present golf course takes “100 percent of the water in Bear Creek and that’s not good for the fish,” he said.

Asked if a conservation easement agreement will cover his expenses in re-purchasing the property, Sygitowicz replied: “Let’s hope so.”

A local group that opposes development of the land, Friends of Bear Creek, is drafting a letter to Cashmere Valley Bank explaining their concerns with the development and exploring whether the bank might be willing to work with a coalition of local buyers who want to preserve the environmental values of the property, said the group’s spokesperson, Sam Owen.

“We don’t have an interest in what type of buyer it is,” said Oakes.

The state already has bought from the developers 264 acres of adjoining property north and east on which they originally held options. But “the state has not approached us” about buying the remaining parcels, Oakes added. As late as 2008, state park officials expressed interest in acquiring the property for expansion of Pearrygin Lake State Park. But now, with a $100 million budget cut for state parks, the agency will not buy the land, said assistant parks director Larry Fairleigh.

The state parks system had the land and golf course appraised prior to its 2007 sale by the Court family but concluded that the asking price was too high, added Pearrygin Lake State Park managing ranger Rick Lewis.

Shortly before the bank obtained the property, the developers redrew boundaries so that the present golf course can remain intact regardless of whether the 11 lots are sold, Oakes said. The developers had submitted a request for an easement that would have allowed them to build six of the proposed new nine holes on state park land, but Lewis said the application was returned as incomplete and has not been resubmitted.

The land comes with water rights coveted by varying constituencies, especially those engaged in fish restoration. Sygitowicz said his plan is to build bigger pipes to pump water into Davis Lake during winter and spring, then draw water for use on the expanded golf course from that lake in late summer and early fall. The original owners, the Courts, had voluntarily pumped excess water into Davis Lake at the state’s request, he said. Sygitowicz added that with the new pipe and pumping system, he expects the lake could be permanently filled just once and remain filled year-round without much fluctuation in water level from then on.

Sygitowicz said he’s been in “significant and extensive” talks with the Methow Conservancy and Trout Unlimited about having those organizations enter into a conservation easement agreement but that no decisions were reached.

Methow Conservancy executive director Jason Paulsen said that while “we’re not formally engaged” in talks with the developers, “we’re certainly interested in any win-win proposals for the community, the golf course and conservation that secures a long term future for Bear Creek Golf Course.”

Sygitowicz said Chris Johnson of Okanogan, president of the Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation, should get credit for coming up with the idea of putting the property into an easement and re-allocating the water rights to environmentally beneficial uses. Johnson, who said he had worked in an unpaid capacity to help explore conservation easements for the developers, said he was unaware of the default on the property.

Bear Creek has not been as high a priority for study for fish recovery as other creeks in the Methow drainage, Johnson said. The developers may have been trying to obtain the easement too soon in the ongoing fish recovery process, he said, adding: “Timing is everything in the conservation world.”



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