KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. (AP) — Klamath Falls' newest solar farm could be in the backyard of Eternal Hills Cemetery, which continues to struggle with real estate disputes in federal bankruptcy court.

On April 20, Eternal Hills owner Robert Gordon signed an easement agreement with Cypress Creek Renewables, of Santa Monica, California, that includes the southernmost portions of the cemetery and 40 acres of agricultural land directly to the east.

On Tuesday, Gordon attorney Diane Cady said only the agricultural land is slated for a potential solar farm and the cemetery itself will not be part of the project.

"The solar farm will not be located on the cemetery property, therefore, there will be no impact on the cemetery or any interruption or interference with family members' access or use of the cemetery," she said.

Cady referred questions about the specifics of the proposed development to Cypress Creek. A company representative did not immediately respond to the Herald and News .

Land in dispute

Eternal Hills has been in the spotlight since the former funeral home, Gordon and funeral director Tim Lancaster lost their licenses in 2016 for numerous violations of state regulations. Gordon retains ownership of the cemetery grounds and the adjacent farmland and efforts are under way in federal bankruptcy court to force the sale of the cemetery to a licensed funeral service provider.

The state forced Eternal Hills into bankruptcy Sept. 13, 2017, for failure to pay $59,562 in fines and fees related to the 2016 sanctions. Gordon said the business has no assets, but the state hopes to force the sale of land previously owned by Eternal Hills to satisfy outstanding debts.

As of Tuesday, 246 claims totaling $11.1 million have been filed by those who believe they are owed damages by Eternal Hills.

The agricultural land in question was transferred from Eternal Hills to Gordon in 2002, and then to Robert Allen Gordon Trust in 2015. It is not part of dedicated cemetery land.

When asked if the farmland could be included in a forced sale, Cady suggested speaking with parties involved in the bankruptcy. Gordon attorney Rex Daines said he had no comment, while Trustee Candace Amborn did not reply to a request for comment before deadline.

Regulations unclear

Whether Cypress Creek could access the cemetery grounds, as allowed in the easement, was unclear. Erin Haag, executive director for Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery Board, said Tuesday the board was just learning of Gordon's intent for a solar development.

Haag referenced state law that said a dedicated cemetery must be used exclusively for cemetery purposes unless designated status is removed or amended by the county. She did not reply before deadline regarding whether or not utility easements could be granted on dedicated cemetery land.

Development steps

As far as a potential solar development, Gordon would need to receive a conditional use permit from the Klamath County Planning Department to move forward with the project, according to Planning Director Mark Gallagher. And if the solar farm exceeded 20 acres, Gordon would need to apply for an exemption, said Gallagher.

When asked if either a permit or exemption had been applied for, Gallagher said he was not aware of one associated with Gordon's property. He said owners of other properties near Eternal Hills had recently begun inquiring about solar development.

Cypress Creek is also looking elsewhere in Klamath County for potential solar projects. On June 4, the business agreed to purchase 160 acres of property just west of Bonanza from Dogwood Creek Land Holdings for $1.5 million.

According to an article in October from the Statesman Journal, Cypress Creek operates seven solar sites in Oregon and has invested nearly $1 billion into new sites including projects in Polk and Marion counties.

___

Information from: Herald and News, http://www.heraldandnews.com