The Deschutes County Board of Commissioners heard two appeals to Thornburgh Resort's denied fish and wildlife management plan at a public hearing on Feb. 1. The resort already started construction near Cline Buttes, but its decades-long legal struggle continues to shake up plans for the nearly 2,000-acre property.
In December a hearing officer with the county rejected a modification to the resort's fish and wildlife plan that the developers claim would use 35% less water than the former mitigation plan that the county approved in 2008. The hearings officer's denial cited a lack of oversite and enforcement mechanisms in the plan and a lack of input from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The resort must prove that its use of water will result in "no net loss" of fish habitat.
The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs requested to become involved in the process as co-managers in the basin with its own water rights.
"One of the things that would be really helpful for us to understand from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs is, is this mitigation plan better than the 2008 mitigation plan, because that is on some level that is the choice that we're trying to make right now," said Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang.
Warm Springs Natural Resources Manager Austin Smith Jr. requested a 30 to 60 day stay of the hearing so that it could review the plan and consult with both Thornburgh and ODFW. The county gave the tribes two weeks to review the process, citing it's obligated to make a decision by March 12 under state law. A recent Secretary of State advisory report on Oregon's water stated, "ongoing industrial and agricultural practices ecologically inappropriate for Oregon's water basins has undermined [tribe's] ability to ensure water security in their homelands."
Nunzie Gould, who's pursued litigation against the resort for over a decade, also appealed the hearing officer's decision, claiming the changes made to Thornburgh's plans should require a new final master plan. Gould told commissioners that the issue, for her, is a lack of protection for fish and wildlife. Attorneys representing the resort responded that Gould's arguments have been denied in court before. ODFW Water Policy Coordinator Danette Faucera told commissioners that her agency hasn't gotten enough evidence to confirm the no-net-loss standard would be met.
County commissioners closed the oral argument portion of the hearing, and all further action will be based on written testimony. The resort is controversial for many central Oregonians, garnering hundreds of written comments and over an hour of public comments at the hearing on Feb. 1. All new evidence must be submitted by Feb. 15, followed by rebuttals of arguments over the next two weeks and final legal arguments must be submitted by March 1.
The resort has seen plenty of controversy since its introduction. In August, Thornburgh's owner attempted to purchase adjacent parcels of property from the Department of State Lands but backed away amid public backlash.