Oregon's largest newspaper, the Oregonian, is dead-set on defending large destination resorts that threaten the fragile -- and drop-dead beautiful -- Metolius River basin.
Today's editorial outrage is "A Process of Critical Concern." It repeats a previous erroneous contention by the editorial board that current governmental and legislative efforts to protect the basin are end-runs around the state's land use planning system.
Fact 1: The process that's led to the Metolius River Basin being recommended for approval as an Area of Critical State Concern (ACSC) has been a state law since 1973, as the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development points out.
At that time, several areas were identified as possibly warranting state protection in the face of uncontrolled development, including the Columbia River Gorge, areas of the Oregon Coast, and portions of the Metolius basin. Several of these areas were later protected through federal action, or through special state land use goals.
While the Metolius area was not immediately protected, Jefferson County did plan most of the basin as forest lands – limiting further development to forest-related uses.
So the process that is of such "critical concern" to the Oregonian editorial board is well-established.
It just hasn't been used until now, because never before has there been such an ill-considered attempt by a county to trash an irreplaceable natural treasure for some cash: property tax revenues.
Fact 2: Which gets us to one of the words in the Oregonian editorial: "midstream." Yes, the developers and Jefferson County officials are midstream in their efforts to add 3,000 homes and 10,000 people (at peak times) to an area that now has only a few hundred full-time residents.
So where is the unfairness? Just as the developers had the right to ask Jefferson County to rezone their forest land to permit destination resorts, so do the people of Oregon have the right to say "No way!" before the permitting process has been completed.
Which, it hasn't been. Over at BlueOregon, Carla Axtman has documented this in an excellent series of informative posts. Here and here she talks about the unfinished nature of the land use approval request.
In 2006, the Jefferson County Commission changed the zoning map to allow the resorts. However the process that allowed those changes is now in part in front of the Oregon Supreme Court. Thus the 2006 zoning map is still on hold and has not gone into effect.
With the two destination resorts still sitting on land zoned just for forest management/timber harvesting, the landowners can't file the land use applications to build the proposed resorts. In other words, neither of these landowners has the established right to build these resorts.
Nor should they.
Hopefully the legislature will agree with the Land Conservation and Development Commission, which held several public hearings on this issue, that the Metolius Basin needs to be designated an Area of Critical State Concern. (HB 3100 is the vehicle for doing this.)
The Oregonian editorial made it sound like the big bad state is trying to overturn a popular local decision. Wrong.
As I told a legislative committee that was holding a hearing on another bill to limit destination resorts, almost everybody in the Camp Sherman area (the main community in the Metolius basin) is opposed to the destination resorts.
The rezoning process was initiated by a few would-be developers, and pushed along by a few county commissioners. Money was, and is, the overriding factor for both parties.
Yet a study has shown that destination resorts actually cost local governments more taxes than they bring in. And the state is willing to allow the developers to use land in a less environmentally sensitive area for their destination resorts.
So saving the Metolius Basin from unneeded harmful development is entirely lawful, appropriate, and fair. Oregonian editorial board, you got it wrong.