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County exploring feasibility of road that would end Crooked River Ranch's geographic isolation

Road to Cove Palisades State Park also would provide the Ranch another escape route
News Editor
   April 2, 2003 — The Jefferson County Commission is exploring the feasibilty of constructing a road that would connect the north end of Crooked River Ranch to Jordan Road at the Cove Palisades State Park.
    The road — estimated to cost anywhere between $5 million and $13 million — could end the Ranch’s geographic isolation from the rest of the county and provide a second escape route in the event of an emergency, such as a wildfire.
    “It will put Crooked River Ranch residents closer to the rest of the county by quite a sum,” said Commission Chairman Walt Ponsford. “Politically and socially, it makes sense.”
    The Ranch’s 4,000 permanent residents currently have one all-weather exit from the Ranch with Chinook Drive. It connects to Lower Bridge Road, which joins Highway 97 in Terrebonne. A second road that would join the small portion of the Ranch in Deschutes County to Lower Bridge Road also is being considered.
    Crooked River Ranch is the state’s largest subdivision, bordered on the west by the Deschutes River canyon and to the east by the Crooked River canyon.
    County engineer Rich Black gave a report to the commissioners last Thursday, suggesting an abandoned wagon road could be molded into the new access route.
    Davenport Road, incorrectly identified on most maps as Peninsula Road, runs from the north edge of the Ranch five miles down to the bridge over Lake Billy Chinook’s Crooked River arm.
    “It’s a very primitive, interesting road,” Black said. “It was built before this was ever a county — back in the days when there actually was a Geneva and a Grandview.”
    Two alternatives are proposed. Alternative 1 follows Davenport Road its entire length to the Crooked River Bridge along a right-of-way established at the turn of the century when it was part of Crook County.
    Alternative 2 follows the same first two miles but splits from Davenport Road to intersect with Jordan Road just west of the state park’s main campground.
    Both options involve blasting, heavy excavation and a lot of challenges. Black estimated Alternative 1 would cost between $9 million and $13 million while Alternative 2 could cost between $5 million and $8 million.
    Alternative 1 passes through two sensitive bird sites and traverses the location of a major landslide that was triggered nine years ago when Portland General Electric lowered the water level behind its Round Butte Dam. The slide removed part of the road and left an unstable talus slope that would require massive excavation.
    “We’re obviously dealing with a significant geotechnical issue that will continue to be an issue,” Black said.
    While the concept of the road is a nice idea, coming up with the money to build it is the tricky part.
    Jefferson County, already struggling to maintain its 611 miles of roads, could not finance the construction alone — a reality Commissioner Ponsford, who is spearheading the project, said he understands.
    “We can’t take tax money and do it right now because there is none,” he said, adding that the commission might seek grants related to wildfire safety and prevention or try to tack a $1 surcharge onto camping fees at Cove Palisades.
    Ponsford also said he believes PGE should help flip the bill.
    “What was an old road became unusable when the water went into the Cove and caused the slides,” Ponsford said. “The addition of that reservoir and state park split the county.”
    One more idea supporting a road from the Cove to Crooked River Ranch is that it would create a second escape route for vacationers and residents of Three Rivers, in the event of a landslide, which is not uncommon along Lake Billy Chinook’s high cliffs.
    However, creating a more direct link from the Cove through the Ranch to the Terrebonne/Redmond area could have unforeseen consequences. The increased traffic could make some Ranch residents unhappy. It also could divert tourists away from Madras and Culver, or even divert Three Rivers residents to Redmond.