Last Thursday I fired up our Prius and trundled down to the Capitol to testify in favor of a bill that would prevent additional destination resorts from trashing Oregon's beauty and livability.
Having gotten to the hearing room early, a rarity for me, I was one of the first people to sit at the HB 2227 witness table.
Early on in my testimony I plugged a 2007 blog post, "Save the Metolius from destination resorts," quoting an outrageous remark by Bill Bellamy, a Jefferson County commissioner.
Against the wishes of local residents in the Camp Sherman area, Jefferson County pushed through zoning changes that would allow two large destination resorts in and near the Metolius River basin.
Currently the full-time population of the basin is only several hundred. The resorts would add up to 10,000 more people at peak times.
I told the Oregon House Land Use Committee that we were drawn to become part owners of a forest service cabin on the Metolius because the area was so unspoiled.
Black Butte Ranch, a nearby destination resort, didn't appeal to us because we wanted to vacation in natural surroundings rather than golf courses, swimming pools, and paved bike paths.
This, I said, is what draws visitors to the Metolius and other world-class environmental attractions in Oregon. It sure isn't destination resorts. How many people go to the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park because they've heard of a great resort there?
Not many, for sure.
I was pleased to hear Rep. Mitch Greenlick ask another witness a question along that very line, after this Chamber of Commerce type had testified that destination resorts are just the most wonderful thing, because they attract so many visitors to Oregon.
Greenlick wanted her to comment on the idea that what draws people to areas like the Metolius River Basin is their naturalness -- a lack of subdivison-like destination resorts and other quasi-urban amenities.
She dodged the question, being one of the few witnesses at the hearing in favor of more destination resorts, and so not wanting to admit that plunking hundreds or thousands of homes down in the middle of a forest isn't the best way to attract more visitors to "unspoiled Oregon."
1000 Friends of Oregon lists other problems with destination resorts here. But in these tough economic times some are willing to ignore those drawbacks because they believe resorts are a financial gold mine for cash-strapped counties.
Rep. Gene Whisnant made this claim in his testimony. He lives in Sunriver, a central Oregon destination resort. Not surprisingly, he thought the resorts are wonderful and waxed on about the benefits they bring to a local economy.
Unfortunately, Whisnant left the hearing before Eric Kancler from Central Oregon Landwatch demolished that argument. With facts, in the form of a recently released analysis of the costs and benefits of destination resorts in Oregon.
It turns out that these resorts end up costing taxpayers a whole bunch of money for roads, schools, and other infrastucture, over and above what they bring in via property taxes and such. Here's a summary of the findings.
A proposed Deschutes County resort was used as an example.
Sure, there's a place for destination resorts. But what they've largely become in Oregon are rural subdivisons for full and part-time homeowners, rather than dedicated tourist facilities.
A Crook County rancher testified that he can't even get into a nearby destination resort. It's a gated community. A costly one, according to the Central Oregon Landwatch study.
The most fundamental question that this report seeks to answer is, "How will the approval of a destination affect local taxpayers and the general public?"
The answer it turns out, is that the standard model for a golf-course subdivision-oriented destination resort presents local governments and taxpayers with a substantial net burden that will result either in higher overall taxes or a decrease in the quality of basic services.