Nearly a decade after the co-founders of a prominent Bend biotechnology company inadvertently purchased a private home located on public land, the situation is approaching a conclusion.
In 2008, Chuck McGrath and Jennipher Grudzien, co-founders of Bend-based Grace Bio-Labs Inc., bought a remote, two-story log home southeast of Prineville. The duo conducted a title search on the house, which was originally built in the 1990s. But later that year, when McGrath did some mapping ahead of planned improvements, he encountered a problem: The house was technically on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management.
What followed was an aggravating problem that is only now close to resolution.
“It’s a bureaucratic nightmare. It’s like trying to get through the Oregon Caves with the lights off,” said Greg Lynch, attorney with Bend law firm Lynch Conger McLane LLP, which represents McGrath.
In June, the Bureau of Land Management sent out a letter requesting public input, the first public step toward resolving the situation. The federal agency will prepare an environmental assessment that examines the benefits of three different options: leaving the land as is, removing the house and other structures, or selling the land to McGrath and Grudzien. Jeff Kitchens, field manager for the Prineville district of the Bureau of Land Management, said he’s hopeful the agency can issue a decision by the end of the year.
“We’re going to try to get this done, for our sake and the sake of the individual involved,” Kitchens said.
McGrath could not be reached for this story, and Grudzien declined to comment on the process.
Kitchens said situations where private property accidentally reaches public land are common, happening weekly on BLM-managed land. These situations, known as trespasses, are often small, with the owners of adjacent property placing driveways or conducting surveys on federal land. This trespass, which involves an approximately 2,500-square-foot home, with utilities, an access road and support structures sitting on 18 acres of land, is more complicated.
In situations like this one, the Bureau of Land Management will sometimes exchange parcels of land with private landowners under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. Lynch said McGrath owns thousands of acres near the Prineville Reservoir for cattle ranching purposes but added that the federal agency was not interested in a land swap initially. By the time Kitchens came to the Prineville district in 2015, the process was far enough along that starting over and including a new option — like a land swap — wasn’t feasible, Lynch said.
“There are land exchanges that can take 10 years. There are land sales that can take just as long,” Kitchens added.
McGrath grew frustrated with what he felt was a lack of movement from the Bureau of Land Management, Lynch said. The large amount of turnover at the federal agency would kill momentum for McGrath and Grudzien, Lynch said.
“It was a stop-and-start (process),” he said. “There was a big effort, a lot of movement, and then it just sort of died.”
However, Lynch praised Kitchens for his responsiveness and said the project has moved forward significantly since Kitchens came to the Prineville district.
Lynch said McGrath’s preferred outcome would be for the federal agency to sell the land. Kitchens said public land that is sold to private buyers is appraised and valued like any other piece of land, once the public process is over. If the BLM decides to sell the parcel, Lynch said he expects McGrath to buy it outright by next spring.
While trespasses are common, Kitchens urged people looking to buy property near public land to do their due diligence before building.
“It’s really, really important to know where your property lines are,” Kitchens said. “I’ve seen sales of homes fall through.”
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