By JESSE BURKHARDT
The proposed Broughton Landing resort project near Underwood has been moved a big step forward thanks to a non-decision from the Oregon Supreme Court.
On Feb. 17, the Oregon Supreme Court decided not to review a case that had been decided in the Oregon Court of Appeals in August of last year. The case in question was Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Inc., v. Columbia River Gorge Commission.
The appellants were challenging an earlier Columbia River Gorge Commission (CRGC) decision that allowed former industrial sites to be converted to recreational resorts.
The CRGC decision is a necessary element of a plan to build a report on a former industrial site.
Bingen-based SDS is one of the primary partners behind a proposal to build a small recreational resort facility where the old Broughton Lumber Co. mill site used to be in the small community of Hood, just west of Underwood in Skamania County.
Appellants had asserted that the CRGC "lacked authority to amend the management plan"; that the amendment was "inconsistent with the purposes and standards of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area"; and that the CRGC "inappropriately determined that the mill site contains an existing industrial use."
Because the National Scenic Area covers a two-state area, appellants had the option of filing an appeal of a Columbia River Gorge Commission (CRGC) decision in either Oregon or Washington, and they chose Oregon.
The appeal was filed in the Oregon Court of Appeals on May 10, 2010. The Court of Appeals issued its conclusion on the appeal on Aug. 9, 2010, and sided with the CRGC.
"Petitioners have failed to demonstrate the commission erred in determining that conditions with the Scenic Area have significantly changed since adoption of the management plan in 1991. Nor are we persuaded that the amendment is inconsistent with the purposes and standards of the Act in the manner suggested by petitioners," the court decision read. "Finally, we reject petitioners' argument that the order must be remanded to delete references to the `existing industrial use' at the site."
With its Feb. 17 decision not to take up the case, the Oregon Supreme Court is effectively allowing the lower court's decision to stand. That clears the way for the Broughton Landing project to advance.
SDS Lumber Co. President Jason Spadaro was pleased with the court's decision not to hear the case.
"The Columbia River Gorge Commission was upheld -- Friends lost on everything," Spadaro said. "That was good news; the first hurdle is cleared. Now Skamania County can adopt a revised plan into its zoning codes."
Spadaro added, however, that the court's OK does not mean the Broughton Landing project will now proceed full speed ahead.
"The economy is not right for a resort project, and I don't know when it will be," he said. "Once the county adopts the zoning changes, we are clear to file our application. The land use rules should be straightforward, and we'll need to do environmental impact studies."
Spadaro said a conceptual resort design and model would be based on the projected outlook for the economy, and he pointed out that there have been no environmental impact studies done on the Broughton Landing project to date.
"It was all about zoning and hypotheticals. We never got to the point where we needed an EIS," Spadaro said. "Whatever we go forward with will be adapted to the economic climate when we go forward."
Spadaro added that the final design and scope of the proposed resort was still to be determined.
"The Gorge Commission did not approve any specific design, and did not force the design into one possible model only, so we'll see," Spadaro said.
With the national economy currently not especially conducive to resort and recreational activities, Spadaro said it was a time to be patient.
"We'll let Skamania County adopt the Gorge Commission decision into their zoning codes, and when the time is right we'll move forward," Spadaro explained.