Everyone knew it was coming, and now it's official: Friends of the Columbia Gorge, joined by a group of about 30 other parties, have appealed the Columbia River Gorge Commission's approval of new destination resort rules within the National Scenic Area.
In April, the Columbia River Gorge Commission (CRGC) amended the management plan for the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area. The amendment, approved 10-2, would allow a destination resort to be built at the old Broughton Lumber Co. mill, a former industrial site west of Underwood and within the National Scenic Area.
The key point of the amendment approved in the spring "requires any proposed resort development to conform to numerous standards and demonstrate that it will protect and enhance scenic, cultural, natural, and recreation resources at the old mill site," read an excerpt. "It limits the bulk of resort development to the existing industrial complex and requires that it be visually subordinate from key Gorge viewing areas and compatible with surrounding areas regarding impacts to traffic and public services."
To prevent the site from becoming a de facto residential area, the amendment also specified that no party may occupy a housing unit on the Broughton property for more than 45 days in any 90-day period.
In the appeal, Friends of the Columbia Gorge claimed that the new rules "make room for the largest development allowed since the creation of the National Scenic Area in 1986."
"By signing the order authorizing destination resort development in the scenic area, [CRGC] Chair Jeff Condit and the other commissioners who voted for this amendment have violated the law and abandoned their duty to protect the Columbia Gorge," said Michael Lang, conservation director for Friends of the Columbia Gorge (Friends). "The destination resort amendment sets a terrible precedent that will harm future generations who are depending on us to protect the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area."
The Friends appeal pointed out that the old mill site is adjacent to an internationally renowned windsurfing site and a state park.
"The rule change authorizes Broughton Lumber Co. or a future landowner to instead pursue development of vacation homes, restaurants, retail businesses, and a conference center on National Scenic Area lands located outside the boundaries of existing urban areas," read a statement from the appeal. "The amendment also removes any requirement for the development to be available for public use and fails to include any language requiring the prompt cleanup of any hazardous materials at the mill site."
Jason Spadaro, president of SDS Lumber Co. and a partner in the Broughton Landing project, expressed disappointment with the Friends organization.
"While the appeal wasn't unexpected, it's still frustrating that Friends would appeal this proposal," Spadaro said.
He pointed out that the development of the former industrial site would remove decrepit buildings and restore a blighted area.
"The whole concept of the Broughton Landing project is to enhance Scenic Area resources compared to what is there today, including recreation," Spadaro said. "Friends are supposed to be all about that, so for them to appeal is a little contradictory and to us a little frustrating. It ignores the economic needs of our area when they continue to try to fight any opportunity for economic viability and economic growth for our communities."
Tom Ascher, planner with the CRGC, said the Broughton project is on hold until the court case is resolved.
"We're still confident of the soundness of the decision the full commission made," Ascher said. "The commissioners laid out the basis for their decision in the final ruling. We look forward to resolving this eventually."
Ascher said the CRGC would file its own briefs to the court, and estimated it would be "at least six months" until a determination is made by the Appeals Court.
"We respond in the court system, but the CRGC doesn't take any other action," Ascher explained.
Former U.S. Rep. Jim Weaver of Oregon was one of the parties who joined the appeal of the destination resort amendment. Weaver was the sponsor of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act, H.R. 5705, which became law in 1986.
"If implemented, the destination resort amendment will result in significant development and commercial uses in excess of what I intended to be permitted under the Scenic Area Act, and will result in adverse resource impacts in violation of the Scenic Area Act," said Weaver.
The appeal against the plan amendment was filed in the Oregon Court of Appeals on Sept. 5.
Spadaro said the court process could last as long as 18-24 months, but pledged that Broughton Landing attorneys would respond effectively in court.
"We think the Gorge Commission made a very sound decision," Spadaro said. "The fact the vote was 10-2 speaks to how solid our proposal was. We think the commission's decision will be defended on appeal, but unfortunately we will incur legal expenses and they will incur legal expenses."
Spadaro also questioned why the Friends' appeal was filed with the Oregon Court of Appeals instead of in Washington, where the development would be located.
"They probably think they will have a more favorable judiciary to hear their case in Oregon," Spadaro commented.
Spadaro pointed out that if the Friends appeal failed in court, the organization would have the option of taking the case to the Oregon Supreme Court.
"They could petition to have the Oregon Supreme Court hear the case, but the court would have to agree to that," Spadaro said.
"The bottom line is, if they want to try to wear us out or tie the project up forever, well, they won't be able to tie it up forever," Spadaro said. "And if they think they're going to wear us out, they're mistaken."