In a letter to Jeffrey Condit, chair of the Columbia River Gorge Commission, the Bingen City Council has reiterated its support for the proposed Broughton Landing Resort near Underwood.
"Since the establishment of the National Scenic Area, the economy of the Gorge has progressively moved from timber and agriculture to tourism," read an excerpt from the Oct. 9 letter, which was signed by Mayor Brian Prigel. "The National Scenic Area Act supports recreational and economic development and resource enhancement. This project does all three."
The action comes in the wake of the city's Oct. 2 council meeting, in which the council voted 5-0 to send a letter endorsing the project.
Months ago, the Bingen council sent a letter backing the Broughton proposal. But with the Columbia River Gorge Commission (CRGC) recently issuing a draft of proposed amendments to the Management Plan -- geared to allow former industrial sites to be developed commercially -- project proponents asked the city to renew its support for development at the former mill site.
Members of the Bingen council made it clear that they strongly maintained their initial support of the project.
"I recommend we send another letter. They (Broughton proponents) haven't changed their plan. If that hasn't changed, I don't see why we wouldn't support it now," said council member Betty Barnes.
SDS Lumber Co. President Jason Spadaro, a partner in the development team proposing the resort to be created from the abandoned Broughton Mill site, attended Bingen's council meeting last week.
"We have presented our economic model," Spadaro said, "but their (CRGC) draft plan amendment has reduced the size from our numbers. I think it's a flawed plan, and offers the least amount of change from the current plan. They overly restricted it, and limited the amount of the old mill site we can develop."
Spadaro said the recommended amendments would make the proposal unworkable.
"They tried to restrict it by putting limits on the square footage," Spadaro explained. "I think that's wrong. It messes with the project's economic viability. We are asking supporters to follow up with comments."
Council member Laura Mann pointed out that SDS and its owners have gained trust by being responsible in the past.
"They have been good stewards of the land," Mann explained. "They live in the Gorge and have the same concerns the rest of us have."
Barnes listed several reasons why she believed the city of Bingen should back the Broughton project.
"The Broughton Landing project has met our concerns. We asked for changes, such as restricting retail so our businesses wouldn't be hurt, and those changes were made," Barnes explained.
Barnes said she believed the project would help develop the retail viability of Bingen, and that cleaning up the mill site would also be beneficial.
"They are planning to do that," Barnes said. "And if they had been there when the Broughton Fire happened (Sept. 20), the fire would not have been as destructive, because the area would have been maintained."
Spadaro pointed out that to justify changes to the Management Plan, there has to be a change in the overall economic picture. According to Spadaro, that has clearly happened over recent years.
Spadaro said the key point he wanted to stress to the CRGC is that economic trends argue for allowing a resort to be built.
"There has been a change in the economy of the Gorge that warrants them making a change to the Management Plan," Spadaro said. "Our economy had been timber-based, but since the National Scenic Area was created in 1986, the number of mills has declined. There were 14 in this part of the Gorge in 1986, now there are three. The economy has transformed into tourism-based. The resort is supportive of that."
Barnes said the income from the former mills has to be recouped somewhere.
"We have to replace that money with other income. This plan could be a good start to do that," she said.
Barnes made a motion to send a letter of support for the Broughton project to the CRGC, and the motion was approved unanimously.
Asked whether he believed the city's letter would make a difference, Prigel said he wasn't sure.
"I think it will have an impact, but I don't know to what degree," Prigel said. "I'm sure they will take into consideration what we say, given that we are the nearest city to the project, but whether that would be enough to make them change their minds on the scope of the project, I don't know."
Prigel said it will come down to details in determining whether the Broughton project will go forward.
"Everyone agrees that a resort there is a good thing," Prigel pointed out. "It's a matter of scale, and that's where opinion varies."