Time is ticking for Butte Creek Mill to buy water rights

EAGLE POINT, Ore. – A surprising announcement from the Butte Creek Mill Foundation, as it could lose its historic status as a water-powered mill.

Three years after the Butte Creek Mill Foundation purchased the historic Eagle Point mill, it announced Thursday the water-powered mill has no water rights. This wasn’t a deal gone wrong. The Butte Creek Mill Foundation knew it didn’t own the water rights when it purchased the mill in 2018.

However, now there’s another potential offer on the table for the water-rights and that organization won’t partner with the historically water-powered mill.

In 2018, owner Bob Russell sold the property to the Butte Creek Mill Foundation, a non-profit that’s now raised $2 million to rebuild the historic mill.

While Russell sold the property he kept the water rights, hoping one day to sell it back to the mill.

“Five years ago, I said [to the foundation] we need to start saving your pennies and looking at buying this water right because I fully intend to sell it,” said Russell.

But time ticked on, and now Russell has another opportunity.

“I got an unsolicited offer for the water right. I thought I’m 70 years old this might be the chance I can just move on,” said Russell.

Now, Foundation Board Chair Jay O’Neil is hoping to do more fundraising. He needs a quarter of a million dollars, to buy the original 1872 rights.

“To the foundation and I’m sure to others it was unclear how readily those water rights could be sold,” said O’Neil.

The foundation has 1 to 3 months before Russell’s deal with the other buyers is complete.

O’Neil told NBC5 News he hoped the foundation could partner with that third party, and lease some of the rights. After all, when the mill uses water from the creek it returns it right back. However, he said it’s not possible.

“The new potential owner of the water rights that they will be sold to says they have no way of reselling, sharing, leasing, or working out any time of arrangement with the Foundation,” said O’Neil.

There doesn’t appear to be a conclusive answer as to why the Foundation didn’t purchase the water rights in the first place.

However, now that Russell has an offer on the table, the clock is ticking for O’Neil and his foundation. If it can’t purchase the water rights the mill will have to rely on electricity it will cost the mill its historic status as a water-powered mill.

The Butte Creek Mill Foundation is asking for any possible donations so it can purchase the original water rights, as well as water rights experts to help. It’s still fundraising to complete the rest of the rebuilding efforts.

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