COOS BAY -- Would-be developers on the South Coast have long faced a dilemma when considering building on Coos Bay.

Forego a potentially lucrative development, or risk the potential legal, environmental and financial consequences of building without vital data?

The Partnership for Coastal Watersheds is trying to solve that dilemma by building the first working inventory of the estuary's natural attributes.

Organizers say the project is long overdue.

"The land use plan for Coos County hasn't been updated in over 30 years," said partnership committee member Jon Barton.

Craig Cornu, the South Slough's monitoring research coordinator, said the partnership originally grew out of the Coos Watershed Association's "coffee klatches" -- informal neighborhood meetings with residents of the bay's lowland areas held to gather input for restoration projects.

"We realized we could take that coffee klatch concept and bump it up," he said.

Assembling a group of stakeholders ranging from landowners to scientists, the partnership completed its first assessment of the state of the South Slough in 2012.

Cornu said the project was a little broad in what it tried to accomplish, but those efforts were more than enough to win the 2013 Land Board Partnership Award from the Department of State Lands.

In the process, the group re-focused on a new challenge. Individual agencies have conducted thousands of pages of peer-reviewed research on everything from salmonid species to sediment shifts in the bay. There is no easily accessible database for that information.

"There's a lack of information for zoning planners," he said. That lack of readily available data can leave city planners and landowners vulnerable to nasty surprises ranging from rising sea levels to lawsuits.

Don Ivy, former cultural resources director for the Coquille Indian Tribe, said there are benefits to the inventory project that extend far past the socioeconomic.

"One of the questions that came up after the New Carissa was the question of where the tarballs went," Ivy said. "There was no baseline data."

What usable form that inventory will take hasn't been finalized, but partnership organizers said it will have an online model.

Cornu said the South Slough is trying to incorporate the data management responsibilities of keeping an inventory updated into its long-term planning.

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