Thornburgh Resort, Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Given the serious shortcomings of Thornburg’s water mitigation model which can only be described as “best (and only) case” combined with Thornburg’s credibility damaged by their failure to make measurable progress on approved water mitigation commitments they made more than 16 years ago, there is every reason to decline Thornburgh’s appeal, and absolutely none to approve it.

If that’s not enough, consider the backdrop of our severe and worsening drought that’s now gained national attention and gotten so bad that the commission is on the verge of making an emergency drought declaration, as well as the Governor’s office.

Oregon must pay close attention to water, and decide things on the worsening drought, which we can not make-up in one year’s time. Experts predict it would take 6,000 years to refill our aquifers if we stopped using below-ground water today!

Even in 1986, Central Oregon’s water woes were documented, and are found in the seminal book on the American west and it’s disappearing water, Cadillac Desert, by Marc Reisner, a companion book to the Public Broadcasting Documentary. The book primarily focused on the desert southwest, and yes, forty-years after the problems were identified, the Colorado River is running dry.

Oregon Public Broadcasting has a series of documentaries on eastern Oregon’s worsening water problem: Race to the Bottom. https://www.opb.org/specialreport/race-to-the-bottom/

Frankly it’s incomprehensible that the commission might still want to own such a risk when it involves so much more than just money. For what in return? To whose benefit? Until the Commission can answer those questions and concerns with good conscience and in accordance with what’s commonly known as the prudent man rule, I would encourage them in the strongest of terms to decline Thornburgh’s appeal.

The matter before the Commission involves incredibly complex economic, environmental/habitat, wildlife, quality of life for locals and visitors, and property rights issues where the stakes are enormous and long term affects not entirely predictable other than that they will be irreversible should this project go forward and run into problems, especially water problems. Just knowing that, I think it’s safe to say that whatever the outcome, the public is counting on the commission to arrive at the right decisions, for the right reasons, the right way. That’s the way all BIG decisions should be reached, especially when they affect so, so many Deschutes residents and the wildlife we all cherish.

Much like the county commission is being tasked to do, I participated in similarly complicated and often much larger business proposals involving technical matters I knew little about. So given my experiences, here are my unvarnished thoughts after having read, researched and recently listened to some testimony on this matter.

First, I’ll address whether Thornburgh’s current water mitigation proposal is credible enough for the commission to reach a decision when the stakes are so high. Per my experience, the answer is resounding NO for the following reasons:

  • Business proposals are supposed to start with what an applicant considers a likely scenario. What Thornburgh’s presented however, seems to be based on the best year out of the last 10 years snow and water data. Some refer to that year as “Snowmaggedon”. Since then, not only has Central Oregon’s water situation not been as good as that year, it’s actually deteriorated quite steadily and significantly meaning their “likely scenario” is in actuality anything but likely.
  • Business proposals usually include stress/confidence tests or risk assessments in the form of at least two other “data points”; one which is more sanguine and one that’s a worse case to help frame the risk/reward of a proposal into a bell-shaped curve of sorts because we deal in a range of possibilities rather than certainty when attempting to predict future outcomes. To ignore this approach is to court disaster, quite possibly irreversible disaster.
  • As to be expected with complex matters like this, subject matter experts should and have weighed in. Unfortunately, rather than agree on or clear up the technical discrepancies, our county commission has received conflicting views on Thornburgh’s water mitigation plans. One from Thornburgh’s experts which not surprisingly supports their water plan which I feel has serious shortcomings that I’ve described above. And several others which have been received from state experts opposing Thornburgh’s water plans despite (according to Thornburgh’s attorneys) having worked in goodwill with Thornburgh’s experts to find acceptable solution(s). Those include two fairly recent letters from ODFW which get worse rather than better with each iteration for reasons they explain in their letters and that I’ll elaborate on in my next section. Then there’s the negative decision by a hearing officer that Thornburgh is contesting. And I’m told Oregon Water Resource Department has voiced similar concerns.

Second, is the question of Thornburgh’s reliability, can their commitments be trusted and there’s only one good way to judge that; past performance. While I don’t know all that’s happened since 2005, they’ve mightily stretched their credulity (and that’s being generous) since I’ve been involved as evidenced by the following:

  • If one considers 15-16 years to be long enough to make measurable progress on a plan that’s been approved by the commission then it’s only natural to be suspicious when that plan is suddenly and inexplicably replaced. Even more suspicious is this happening despite a fairly significant reduction in the volume of water being requested. In other words, why would anyone abandon their own plan just as the goalposts are being shortened? That makes no sense unless either the original plan was flawed or insufficient (did not “hold water”), or was proving too difficult or expensive to execute, or that Thornburgh simply dragged its feet too long for whatever reason to where they’ve run out of time and needed to come up with a new plan to divert attention and try getting it over the finish line before anyone could properly size it up. Whatever the reason – Thornburgh’s had ample time to make measurable progress on the original plan and yet by their own admission failed to do so. This is a serious “Red Flag” which would typically fray rather than strengthen trust that’s so vitally important at this point in the project. Simply put, it appears that Thornburgh is trying to make their problem, your problem and that’s not something I’d take lightly.

Considering all of the above, I would normally expect such a proposal to be denied. If that’s too draconian at this stage of the game, then at the very least I would recommend Thornburgh be required to resubmit their water mitigation proposal with quite a bit more meat along the lines of what I suggest above and measurable progress where possible. This is vital with the stakes so high because there really is NO room for the commission to get this wrong.

Let me end with a suggestion which may not be well received but could resolve an impasse should it come to that. It’s a suggestion which tangibly holds the resort owners accountable should their water plan be approved and end up causing problems with the aquifer negatively affecting surrounding properties’ water wells, the rivers and their aquatic life and the broader ecosystems other wildlife rely on. That suggestion is an escrow type of account which is funded over time so actual funding rather than the promise of funding is available should there be any problems. It’s complicated and expensive, likely involves actuaries and would require difficult legal negotiations. But it can and has been done in in the energy and mining industry where clean up can and has on occasion become a serious issue.

Finally, I personally know fifteen people that have had to drill their wells deeper in the last year, just in the Tumalo area.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Karl J. Findling, and Renee’ Withers Findling, Tumalo Residents

What's proposed?

  • 1,425 dwelling units including 900+ homes, 425 overnight units and a 50-room hotel
  • three 18-hole golf courses and two clubhouses
  • 20-acre water ski lake and 85 acres of water features
  • commercial enterprises including a community center, shops and meeting and dining facilities

Why Oppose this proposal?  

Oregonian’s and mostly Central Oregonian’s opposes this proposal: TRCP, COLW, Oregon Hunters Association (10,000 members), Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (1,600 members), Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (Oregon chapter 16,000 members), Bend Trails, and thousands of citizens oppose the development.

Some key points: 

  • Our water situation has gotten worse since this development was first proposed about ten years ago during the building boom. Drought, a fast-growing beer industry, climate change and a much larger population are some new factors.
  • This proposal will result in higher water temperatures in Whychus Creek, resulting in a net loss of habitat and native fish.
  • This resort is an outdated proposal that no longer fits with recreational trends or new water realities in Central Oregon.
  • A typical golf course uses an estimated ONE MILLION GALLONS of groundwater per day. Multiple legal decisions have found that there will be negative impacts on Whychus Creek and fish from this resort.
  • Deer winter range is important, and the migration of seasonal mule deer will be affected with an increase in vehicle traffic, to-and-from the resort, will negatively impact wildlife.

Current use:

  • State Owned Land is situated to the South, and West. It is used to access the approximately 400 acres on the SW side of Cline Buttes, that abuts BLM. Also known as the Masten bike/hiking recreation area (BLM). The north area known as Juniper Trailhead, and is across the cline Falls Road, and accesses BLM.
  • Cline Buttes are BLM, and much of the surrounding land is a Phase Two juniper-grassland, typical to central Oregon. There are no Perennial streams.
  • Eagle Crest Resort, to the northeast of the Cline buttes, with 100 room hotel, 80 Condominiums, 1,700 residents, with over300 homes, Spa, with Pool, Lodge for banquets, weddings, etc., and three golf courses, on 1700 acres.

The Timeline, as it exists: (From Thornburgh Resort’s Facebook page) Paraphrased--

  • September 23, 2016: Thornburgh received a VERY favorable ruling from the Land Use Board of Appeals which denied the projects opposition to the projects Final Master Plan. This puts Thornburgh one step closer to filing a Tentative Plat for the Phase A development.
  • April, 2017: Thornburgh received another victory from the Court of Appeals who denies an appeal from the projects Opposition relating to Thornburgh's permitting. This is an important victory to completing the Final Mast Plan and getting ready to develop.
  • March 30, 2017: It’s a victory for Thornburgh when The Oregon Supreme Court denies the opponents appeal to that highest court. Now Thornburgh can finish the Final Master Plan approval in the coming months and submit the Tentative Plat for Phase A.
  • On January 1, 2018 Thornburgh Resort received approval of the final outstanding issue on its Final Master Plan from the Deschutes County Hearing Officer. What a nice way to start the new year.
  • This is a huge step and allows the project to move forward in preparing its Tentative plat for Phase A. Things are moving forward quickly. Stay tuned for new developments as they arise.
  • August 19, 2018: Thornburgh has submitted its Phase A-1 Tentative Plan application for 192 estate home sites, and 37 cabins sites. The homesites run horizontally across the hillside, offering tremendous views from almost all lots. Each row of lots has lots of open space below each lot, that provides separation (sic) from the neighbors below, and preserving the views. Almost all the cabin sites are located on the Coore Crenshaw golf course, many very close to the golf clubhouse. And again, most all have gorgeous views. Phase A-1 has about 65% open space.
  • Thornburgh will have lots to do, including; golf, hiking and biking. A large recration (sic) lake will offer kayaking, paddleboarding, and other water events for members and guests. We are working on site plans for the golf course, cabins, golf clubhouse, lake, and other amenities (sic). It's an exciting time and we look forward to sharing further progress with you.
  • October 30, 2018: Thornburgh received approval for its initial (sic) phase of development. This plan approved 192 homes sites, 37 cabins, 340 acres of open space, which will include Championship Golf, and the Marsh and Associates designed golf clubhouse. 
  • The home sites have been positioned laterally along the hillside to maximize the dramatic views. The cabins sit alongside golf fairways, most looking across the golf at the mountains behind.  As can be expected, the Coore/Crenshaw designed golf course will be spectacular.  We are preparing the construction drawings for submittal so that we can get started.  Stay tuned.

From, the Source Weekly, and Bend Bulletin:

  • Deschutes County accepted a final master plan for the site in 2008, which consisted of 1970 acres with 950 lots and 425 residential overnight lodging units. The property would be divided into two villages, one called The Tribute at Thronburgh (sic) and the other The Pinnacle at Thornburgh. Caroline House, a senior planner with Deschutes County, said the addition of DSL lands would require a modification of approval by the Deschutes County commission to amend the master plan. The Tribute on the south side of the property is proposed as a golf course residential community, with two golf courses, a golf practice area, a golf clubhouse, community center, 50 golf cottages and 650 luxury-view houses. The Pinnacle on the northern end of the property will also have a golf course, a hotel, a retail area, a man-made lake/boating area, a lake clubhouse and 350 individually owned homes. The resort's 2013 permit allowed it to use up to 6 million gallons of water a day, and some nearby residents worry they'll have less well water to use, and environmentalists are concerned the resort's water mitigation plan could undersupply spring-fed cold water from Deep Canyon Creek.
  • Quote: "That we're even having this conversation is stupefying to me. I mean, we are in a full-on drought that no one anticipated back in 2008, when their water mitigation plan was discussed with the state. The whole lot has changed," said Link Olson, a resident near the proposed Thornburgh Resort and a professor of biology at the University of Alaska.
  • Thornburgh developers dispute that their mitigation plan is lacking and point to litigation that affirmed their plan was lawful and provided a net benefit to fisheries. However, a letter from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife from Jan. 2, argued the conditions have changed since the site's Final Master Plan was approved in 2008. "In 2008 what they came up with made sense, but that was also a very long time ago, and conditions in the basin have continued to degrade since then," said Danette Faucera, water policy coordinator for ODFW. "So, we're concerned now that things might be actually ramping up and looking like it might move forward. That folks are really looking at the mitigation that was agreed to in 2008, to ensure that that really, today in reality is still going to meet that net benefit, and no net loss criteria."
  • The 2013 water permit is in a legal limbo. Permits are granted under the condition that meaningful steps be taken to build out infrastructure to pump it within five years. Thornburgh requested an extension of the permit, which was protested by Annunziata Gould, a longtime opponent of the resort. The Water Resources Department granted the extension, which Gould challenged in court, and ultimately the agency withdrew its final judgement, and an extension will depend on the result of a hearing. "There's a lot of complexities in terms of our challenge. We're basically arguing you didn't do anything sufficient to make any progress towards putting the water to use," said Karl Anuta, a lawyer who represents Gould. "We don't think they'll ultimately be able to get an extension, they claim they think they will." If the extension isn't renewed, it would go to whoever is next in line to draw from the same aquifer. Thornburgh applied for more water permits in the same aquifer, but as of yet, no permanent additional water use permits have been granted, according to Anuta.

 

https://www.opb.org/article/2022/03/16/managing-and-mismanaging-oregons-groundwater/

 

https://www.opb.org/article/2022/03/16/race-to-the-bottom-how-big-business-took-over-oregons-first-protected-aquifer/

 

https://www.opb.org/article/2022/03/28/race-to-the-bottom-draining-summer-lake/

 

https://www.opb.org/article/2022/07/19/deschutes-water-rights-access-well-drilling-groundwater-central-oregon/

 

https://www.opb.org/article/2022/07/18/tol-central-oregon-groundwater-drought/

 

https://www.opb.org/article/2022/03/03/climate-experts-predict-tough-summer-northwest-drought/

 

https://www.opb.org/article/2022/03/07/oregon-governor-makes-first-drought-declaration-of-2022-early-in-the-year/

 

https://www.opb.org/article/2022/02/14/west-megadrought-hits-worst-case-scenario-driest-since-800/

 

https://www.opb.org/article/2022/01/08/drought-stricken-oregon-farmers-embark-on-water-bank-pilot/

 

https://www.opb.org/article/2021/11/02/migrating-birds-skip-dry-klamath-refuges-disrupting-annual-migration/

 

https://www.opb.org/article/2021/10/23/klamath-basin-farmers-irrigation-water-crops-groundwater-wells/

 

https://www.opb.org/article/2021/07/26/conversations-drought-in-klamath-basin/

 

 

 

About Karl Findling

Karl J. Findling, serves as the Central Region, Habitat Ambassador, Central Region Rep. Board of Director, for the Oregon Chapter, of BHA. He is the former Owyhee Sportsmen Coordinator, for BHA, and Lands Conservation Director for the Oregon Hunters Assoc

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