EDITORIAL: Rubble has no place in heart of our county seat

The historic Vale IOOF Building, once home to the Golden Slipper night club, collapsed on Monday, Jan. 23, 2017. The city is considering options to clean up rubble. (Adam Tolman special to the Malheur Enterprise)

About the only good news to come out of last week’s collapse of the Vale IOOF Building was that no one got hurt. Emerging from the cloud of dust is the question: Now what?
The building, best known locally as the once-glorious home of the Golden Slipper, has been shuttered for years. County records show an Estacada company owns the property, but was selling it on contract to a woman who now lives in Coos Bay. What’s worse, the company no longer exists.
So, who gets to clear up the tower of rubble? In the short term, it seems, local taxpayers get the duty.
The building caved in on itself, presumably because it could no longer bear the snow weight sitting atop. City officials, alerted by a concerned passerby, had wisely acted quickly to tape off the building just hours before the collapse. And they had little choice, despite some complaints, but to finish the job of leveling the structure. Leaving a half-collapsed building risked the safety of pedestrians and motorists – and would have been irresistible to treasure hunters who would have crawled through what remained.
Left behind is a tangle of bricks, timbers, steel girders. There are concerns about hazardous asbestos and lead. No one wants to have that tower of junk become Vale’s latest tourist attraction. No community should abide such a heap at its heart.
The options for clearing up the lot, assuming the owner of record doesn’t take on the task, are few. The most direct path, though, seems to lie through the county courthouse. Malheur County foreclosed on the property for unpaid taxes. Under the law, the county can take deed to the property in October and then sell it at auction to the highest bidder. Those who had any claim to the property, including a bank with a mortgage and the last buyer, Margaret Stallknecht, would lose any hold.
But waiting until October is too late. State law and county ordinance does allow the county to act sooner if there is a nuisance. This is a two-story nuisance and ought to give county officials all the motivation they need to act now to take title to the property. They should do so.
The county could then sell the property as-is, but in some circumstances could require the new owner to clean it up. The other choice is to get the deed, invest public money — perhaps in concert with the city of Vale — in the clean-up and then auction the land as clear ground ready for development. No private party, though, is going to pay more than bare commercial land is worth. That means recovering cleanup costs would be a challenge if they go above $25,000 or so.
Many issues remain. Where does the debris go? The county landfill faces restrictions on the volume it can take unless state officials waive them. What’s the best use of that property? Can it be part of a redevelopment of Vale to pump economic life back into the community? And what worries are there about the other, old and boarded buildings populating downtown Vale?
For now, quick action by county officials to take control of the property seems the prudent first step. Lining up dump trucks to haul off the mess is the next. Figuring out how to pay and who should pay should focus on how to turn disaster into economic opportunity. — LZ