Oregon agrees to sell former Rajneeshees cult encampment

SALEM, Ore. – The State Land Board has approved selling 480 acres of Wasco County scrubland that once housed the headquarters of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his cult of red-robed followers.

The youth ministry that now occupies the land has wanted to buy it for years but does not agree with the state’s $460,000 appraisal and is seeking its own estimate.

“Hopefully this is the final page in this particular chapter for the ranch, and it’s been a long time coming,” said Richard Kaiser, the director of real estate for Colorado-based Young Life, which now operates a year-round camp at the ranch.

The Eastern Oregon manager for the Department of State Lands says the agency stands by the appraisal and says it is not allowed to sell for less.

The state-owned property is surrounded by the 16,000-acre former Big Muddy Ranch near the community of Antelope.

The site is among hundreds of state-owned parcels in Central and Eastern Oregon that are managed to make money for public education. Oregon acquired them at the time of statehood.

The state is selling parcels that are isolated and difficult to manage, particularly those fully contained inside other ownerships.

Young Life disagrees that it should pay for sewage ponds, saying it already has spent heavily to rehabilitate the sewer system.

“They are charging for improvements made only by the tenants, and we’re not in a position to be able to pay for them again,” Kaiser said.

Young Life asked in 1997 to buy the land and signed a 20-year lease.

They pay $4,000 a year, less than the $6,600 paid by the Rajneeshees two decades ago.

The parties will negotiate again early next year.

The state appraisal also says there are American Indian burial and sacred sites that cannot be disturbed.

The cult arrived at the Big Muddy Ranch in 1981 and attracted thousands to live in the supposedly idyllic and agrarian setting, which was patrolled by armed guards.

The disciples turned over their money and donned red clothes, and the Bhagwan tooled around the ranch in one of his several Rolls-Royces.

Followers masterminded a major bioterrorist incident by tainting salad bars and coffee creamers in restaurants in The Dalles in 1984 as part of an effort to take over local governments.

The salmonella poisoning sickened 751 people, and 45 were hospitalized.

The cult fell apart in 1985, and Bhagwan was found guilty of immigration fraud and deported to India, where he died in 1990.

The camp hosts 6,000 youths during the summer and another 12,000 people off- season for weekend retreats and other events.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
AP, via The Seattle Times, USA
Dec. 15, 2005

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday December 15, 2005.
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