Thornburgh Resort proposal back before a public hearings officer

August 31, 2021
Thornburgh Resort proposal back before a public hearings officer

Source of mitigation water the issue to be decided before project can move forward

The proposed Thornburgh Resort is back before a public hearings officer, who will decide whether the project can move forward without a water use condition after the Land Use Board of Appeals sent the issue back to Deschutes County for a new review.

During a hearing last week, the officer began reviewing whether part of the project can move forward without a water use condition imposed by a previous public hearings officer in a 2018 decision.

The hearings officer is looking at just one part of the multipart project. This part would allow the developer to divide the property into lots to be sold for single-family homes, according to the developer’s attorney, Liz Fancher. Any other development would require a separate site plan review.

The condition states that sources for mitigation water for the project must be secured through Big Falls Ranch and Central Oregon Irrigation District, or that an alternative source is proposed. The developer, Central Land and Cattle Company LLC, is required to purchase a certain amount of cold spring water from an entity like Big Falls Ranch, to help offset the amount of groundwater that would be used for something like a destination resort.

Cold spring water is particularly important to purchase because it is important for fish habitats, according to county documents.

But the 2018 decision was appealed to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, which put this condition back to the county because the board took issue with the idea that the developer could feasibly change the source of this water without public process, according to the decision.

Now the hearings officer is left to decide whether this developer still satisfies environmental requirements without this condition, and whether a change in the source of water would require a new, or modified application for this phase. This decision will determine whether the developer can move forward with this particular phase of the project.

This hearing marks one of several the proposed resort has gone through since being proposed more than 16 years ago. The resort, which would sit west of Eagle Crest between Redmond and Sisters, has been appealed dozens of times and is one of the most litigated projects in Deschutes County history, according to county staff.

It has been challenged for years by the land use advocacy group Central Oregon LandWatch and Deschutes County resident Nunzie Gould, broadly due to concerns about water and environmental impacts.

Fancher, the attorney representing the developer, said there is no proposed change to the final master plan when it comes to mitigation water sources, and therefore no legal problem.

“The uncertainty on sources of water was the reason the condition was put in place by the hearings officer,” Fancher said.

Jeffrey Kleinman, the attorney representing Gould, again challenged the idea that the developer has secured enough mitigation water because the details of the agreement have remained secret. A memo outlining an agreement with Big Falls Ranch exists, but specific details about how much water is private, Kleinman said.

Ensuring enough mitigation water has been secured is particularly important as the region faces record drought, Gould said.

Last week’s hearing drew testimony from dozens of people about their concerns about how much water the resort would consume, especially amid historic drought, and raised fears about their own wells going dry.

This decision can only legally address the condition about water sources, however, and the hearings officer is not assessing overall water usage of the resort as an issue.

“The proof is in the pudding,” Gould said. “Where is this mitigation specificity? A memo of an agreement isn’t specificity.”

Kameron DeLashmutt, the manager of the project, said Gould has been relying on this argument for years, even though he has had an agreement with Big Falls Ranch since 2004.

“We litigate these things over and over again,” he said.

A hearings officer decision is expected to be released before the end of the year.

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