Central Oregon LandWatch and Friends of the Metolius are going to court to try to protect the scenic river from two planned new destination resorts.
LandWatch announced yesterday that it and the Friends are challenging a mid-February decision by the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) that the resorts could ahead. The groups will question LUBA's findings that state land use law doesn't protect the groundwater that feeds the springs at the Head of the Metolius and that Jefferson County didn't have to update its 27-year-old inventory of protected natural resources before allowing the resorts.
LandWatch will file its brief in the Oregon Court of Appeals on March 24, according to Executive Director Erik Kancler, and a decision could come in August.
Conservationists fear that the two planned resorts - one of 640 acres and a humongous one of 10,000 acres - will draw down the water table and imperil the famous springs at the headwaters, as well as the river's world-famous trout fishery. A bill that would have blocked the resorts was sponsored by Sen. Ben Westlund, D-Tumalo, in the 2007 legislative session, but died when Gov. Ted Kulongoski said he wouldn't support it.
Kulongoski said at the time that he thought state land use laws provided adequate protection for the Metolius - but Kancler says the LUBA decision blew that notion out of the water. The ruling, he writes, confirmed "LandWatch's longstanding assertion that the state lacks clear authority to protect the Metolius and its basin and that new solutions are needed."
Fortunately, new solutions may be in the works. On Feb. 10, Mike Carrier, Kulongoski's director of natural resources, sent LandWatch an e-mail telling the group that the state Departments of Environmental Quality, Water Resources and Fish and Wildlife have "identified key concerns that would arise with the siting of a new resort near the Metolius River" and "concluded that they have no clear authority to prevent the construction of a resort.
As a result, Carrier continued, Kulongoski has asked the agencies to "make recommendations to him regarding needed legislation that would increase the state's authority relative to siting destination resorts."
As always, the devil will be in the details. "The next question, the BIG question, is what solutions will ultimately be proposed, will they be effective, and can they be implemented in time to protect the Metolius?" writes Kancler.