Metolius Basin topic of state resort debate
Two senators seek to ban destination resorts within 3 miles of basin
Destination resorts in the Metolius Basin -- the subject of a controversial piece of legislation -- compelled a crowd of Jefferson County residents to take the long drive to the State Capitol last Thursday.
Only a handful had the opportunity to address the Senate, during its first hearing on Senate Bill 30, introduced last month by Sen. Ben Westlund, D-Tumalo. If passed, the bill would immediately prohibit destination resorts within three miles of the Metolius River Basin.
Long considered one of the most restrictive counties in the state for zoning, Jefferson County passed a new comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance in late December that would allow destination resorts for the first time in county history.
The new ordinances, which replace a 23-year-old comprehensive plan, and update a three-year-old zoning ordinance, designate two areas in the southwestern portion of the county for destination resorts. Both potential resort areas fall within three miles of the Metolius Basin, and would be outlawed under Senate Bill 30.
Since the outgoing commission signed the ordinances on Dec. 27, 2006 -- after an 18-month process that included countywide meetings -- several parties with ties to the Metolius Basin have appealed the ordinances to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.
County officials urged the Senate to table the bill and let the land-use process take its course. "I'm here to support the decisions made by the Jefferson County Planning Commission and the previous (county) commission," said Commissioner John Hatfield, who took office in January.
"The state and the county are partners in delivering services to the citizens of Oregon," said Hatfield, noting that local land-use planning is one of those services. "The state sets the land-use process; the county follows it. In this case, it was followed to the letter."
Stressing that the county faces the potential loss of timber funds, he suggested that the county needs to find supplemental income in order to provide adequate services.
"We feel that destination resorts are a good future source of income to continue to provide services for the county," Hatfield said.
Speaking in favor of his bill, Westlund said, "Today, I'm not here to cast aspersions as to the county's land-use planning process that produced these destination resort overlays. Rightly or wrongly, that's their process."
"It is my heartfelt belief and assertion this morning that today, it is in the state's interest to protect this special and unique place for what it is today, for all of us, not for what a few think it should become," he said.
"The Metolius is not just a jewel in Jefferson County's ground, it is a treasure for all of us -- an Oregon treasure," Westlund said.
In a letter to Westlund, Barry Norris, administrator of the technical services division of the Oregon Water Resources Department testified, "One of the things we made very clear is that new consumptive uses of ground water depletes service water in the Deschutes Basin, and service water in the Deschutes Basin is already fully appropriated to users."
The Metolius Basin is part of the larger Deschutes Basin, where water users are already required to mitigate for their usage. "We do require mitigation ... but that does not mean there aren't secondary impacts to other ground water, service water in the basin," Norris said.
Sen. Frank Morse, R-Albany, questioned why the bill singles out the Metolius Basin. "If in fact the Lower Deschutes water is fully appropriated, as you have indicated, why is the bill just focused on the Metolius Basin?" he asked. "Wouldn't it make sense to just expand this ban to the entire Deschutes Basin, including Crooked River and all of Deschutes County?"
Norris responded that he wasn't familiar with the terms of the proposed bill.
Morse continued, "What I'm speaking to is the inconsistency of applying a standard to a certain area within this broad Deschutes Basin that is unique, and not apply it to the rest of the basin."
Originally one of the bill's co-signers, Rep. John Dallum, R-The Dalles -- who represents Jefferson County -- withdrew his support for the bill after he decided the bill did not allow for due process, and was neither just, nor equitable.
Dallum said that he signed on to the bill at the last minute, under the impression that the bill was introduced on behalf of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, because of their religious connection to the Metolius River.
When he attempted to verify that information, Dallum said he learned that the Tribal Council had not yet considered the issue, so he asked to have his name removed from the bill.
Dallum said he was also concerned about the state setting up a future Measure 37 claim by the two potential resort developers. Measure 37, passed statewide in 2004, allows property owners to seek compensation or a waiver when a government body passes a law that reduces the value of their property.
Although she is not among the sponsors of the bill, Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, is staunchly opposed to destination resorts in the Metolius Basin. She is also one of the petitioners appealing the county's comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance.
Choking back tears, Johnson said that her mother, Becky Johnson, was "a fierce defender of Camp Sherman until literally the day she died four months ago."
"There is no place on earth dearer to my heart than the Metolius. I grew up there; my parents are buried there," she said. "I find renewal and comfort beneath the cathedral pines along the river. I believe I share this profound connection with thousands of other Oregonians who hold this special, precious, fragile, almost sacred place with the same deep affection I do."
Recounting her family's history in the area, Johnson said that her grandfather purchased 160 acres of forested land encircling the headwaters of the Metolius in 1904. Her father, the late Sam Johnson, owned the acreage from 1925, until his death in 1984, when it passed to her mother, who sold it to her in 1993.
In 1957, when they realized that they couldn't protect the land from increasing numbers of visitors, her parents launched an effort to give away the viewpoint and part of the roadway to the U.S. Forest Service. The effort took 10 years, and cost thousands of dollars, she said, adding, "My family so loved the Metolius, they gave it away to protect it."
Johnson said she has been accused in the press of a conflict of interest. "I see Senate Bill 30 as an attempt to neutralize what I see as an error in judgment made by Jefferson County officials, who have not been sympathetic to Camp Sherman's longstanding attempt to protect this unique community and environment."
Camp Sherman resident Shane Lundgren, and Jim Kean, of Portland, are partners in Dutch Pacific Resources, which owns 627 acres zoned as a potential site for a destination resort.
Lundgren, whose family has owned property in the Camp Sherman area for four generations, said that Dutch Pacific's low-impact destination resort plan "offers stable funding and sustainability to maintain this area for future generations."
Under the plan, the company would invest money in habitat rehabilitation, watershed repair, and traffic management, and purchase mitigation rights for water, according to Kean. There would be no golf courses.
"We don't think the Metolius is pristine like it once was," he said, noting that the property was owned by Weyerhauser and clearcut for many generations before they purchased it in 2005.
Without an injection of money, new ideas and better ways of doing things, he said, "We think this bill locks (the old) system in."
Former county commissioner and mayor Rick Allen, a lobbyist for Ponderosa Land and Cattle Co. -- which owns the other parcel zoned for a destination resort -- countered an earlier assertion by Betsy Johnson that the commission did not listen to testimony from Camp Sherman residents.
"In the Camp Sherman area, originally, there were about five resort-eligible properties," he said. "They were reduced down after the comments that were taken."
The three-mile buffer zone around the Metolius Basin would extend into Crooked River Ranch, and up to three miles from Culver, and seven miles from Madras, Allen said, noting that farm land is already surrounded by a three-mile exclusion area.
"In effect, this bill eliminates destination resort mapping in Jefferson County," he said. "This would wipe out the two places they did pick, which means they can't start the process again for another 30 months."
Ponderosa Land and Cattle Co., owned by William Colson of Salem, has about 30,000 acres of property, but the area mapped for a destination resort only includes about 10,000 acres of the total.
The acreage, located on the east side of Green Ridge, drains into the Deschutes Basin, not the Metolius Basin, Allen added.
"What this bill says is you can build a resort in Deschutes County and drive up to the Metolius, you can have Sisters growing at double digit numbers, but if you come out of a home that's been built in Jefferson County, there's no room for you over there," Allen said.
Madras City Administrator Mike Morgan, who served as county administrator before taking the top city position in 2004, spoke against the bill, along with new Madras Mayor Jason Hale.
"We do think that this breaks a fundamental principle of fairness, and that is, you don't change the rules in the middle of the game," Morgan said. "And we're in the middle of this game, and we got here through an exhaustive process."
Rancher Tom Norton, who owns Norton Cattle Co., also opposed the bill. "Today, agriculture alone cannot fund the services required by our county to the extent it has in the past," he said.
Norton had a question for the senators at the hearing. "As I close, I still wonder if any of you would feel any different than I do today if Malheur, Harney, Klamath, Coos, Curry, or even Wheeler County had the political wherewithal to impose upon any of your respective areas what Senate Bill 30 imposes on our county's best efforts at sound, local planning?"
Gregory McClarren, president of the board of the Friends of the Metolius, one of the groups appealing the county's comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance, said that the bill would support public access and protection for the basin, "while destination resorts will see only a few people and families on their properties -- those that can afford it."
He suggested that due process was not pre-empted. "Hundreds of people told Jefferson County no destination resorts," he said. "Senate Bill 30 corrects a grievous error. It looks beyond economic needs, which I agree Jefferson County has -- so does Sherman County, so does Morrow County, so does Coos County -- and says there is a higher value."
Sen. Vicki Walker, D-Eugene, who chaired the hearing, set up a second meeting with Westlund and other interested parties Tuesday afternoon, in Salem, after The Pioneer's deadline.
Walker said that she expects the bill to return to the Senate by the end of April.