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March 4th, 2008

Broughton Mill Plans Whip Up Waves Of Controversy In The Gorge

A proposed destination resort in the Columbia River Gorge is creating waves in the surrounding communities. And not the kind of waves that attract all those windsurfers to the area.

A proposed destination resort in the Columbia River Gorge is creating waves in the surrounding communities. And not the kind of waves that attract all those windsurfers to the area.

The controversy is over whether  to allow an old lumber mill site to be converted to a destination resort.

Pete Springer went to the Hood River area to talk with some of the people for and against the proposed resort.

The view from Ruthton Park in Hood River is fantastic.  The mighty Columbia flows just below the park. Across the river, you can see the old buildings of the Broughton Lumber mill.

The mill shut down in 1991. 

Now the mill owners want to turn the site into a destination resort.  Cabins, RV slips and townhouses would  replace the aging mill buildings.  The trouble is the development would require an amendment to the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area Act.

Michael Lang: “It is an unprecedented level of development in 20 years, the history of the national scenic area, there has never been a development proposal this large, on scenic area lands.”

Michael Lang is the conservation director for the Friends of the Columbia Gorge.  His group opposes the resort. 

Michael Lang: “From now on, every landowner would expect that kind of special treatment. They’d want the rules changed specifically for them to allow them to have a large, 250-unit development -- or larger, that’s the problem.”

But both the landowner and the Columbia River Gorge Commission disagree with that assessment.  Jeff Condit is the chair of the Gorge Commission, the panel that oversees and approves development here.

Jeff Condit: “The directors proposed amendment is limited to sites that contain these kinds of facilities and this is the only facility of even remotely this size in the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area.”

Condit adds that generally development in the gorge scenic area is only allowed in urban areas.

Two things  complicate the Broughton proposal: One, its past use and two,  its current zoning.  It's an industrial site that's now zoned for commercial recreation.

At the core of the controversy is how much development should be allowed on the site.  Currently, it’s zoned for 185 RV and camping sites, and 35 cabins. 

But the site owners want a bigger resort.  They say a bigger facility is the only way they could recover the costs of removing old buildings and developing what they call a “high-quality resort.”

Jason Spadero is the manager of Broughton Lumber, the company that owns the mill site.

Jason Spadero: “We’re trying to raise the bar -- we’re not trying to exempt ourselves from any of the scenic area rules or ask for any special priviledges.  This property is zoned for commercial recreation.  It’s zoned for a resort.”

The Broughton site is 230 acres, and Spadero says the plan is to re-develop 60 acres of the site, where buildings already stand.

Jason Spadero: “We would take down the buildings and reclaim the lumber.  We want to do a sustainable design resort.”

The resort proposal also includes public hiking trails and more parking for windsurfers.  That’s because the Broughton Mill site is adjacent to a very popular windsurfing site known as ‘The Hatch’.

On weekends, ‘The Hatch’ fills up, as windsurfers start parking along Highway 14.

Jane Parker lives in Hood River. She' one of those windsurfers.

Jane Parker: “It is a crowded site.  There’s limited parking and it's used to its maximum capacity I suppose at the present time. My concern with the Broughton development is traffic and parking might affect that area.”

Parker recently helped push through a new riverfront park in Hood River.  Construction on that project is now underway.  But Parker says that river access won’t help many windsurfers who  still plan to cross the river to get to ‘The Hatch’.

Jane Parker: “There aren’t a lot of advanced sailing sites with the railways and highways on either sides of the river.  There aren’t a lot of access to the river for advanced sailing sites and the hatchery is an advanced site.”

Broughton Lumber manager Jason Spadero says the proposed resort would benefit  windsurfers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

Jason Spadero: “We’ve been told over the years that we need to embrace this coming economy.  We need to embrace the national scenic area and accept it and work with it by developing, and recreation and tourism activities and here that’s exactly what we’re doing, but it’s generating a lot of opposition.”

Some of those opponents have also suggested the Broughton Mill site should be purchased by a land trust and restored to a natural state—like the Mark O. Hatfield trailhead just east of Hood River.

But letting nature take over the Broughton site is unlikely. At least, that's what gorge commission chair Jeff Condit believes.

Jeff Condit: “Is there actually the money available to do that, and from Skamania County’s perspective, they would prefer not to see anymore property taken off the tax roles since the majority of their property is off the tax roles -- it’s either owned by the federal or state government or in farm and forest deferral.”

The Gorge Commission will hear more public testimony on this issue at its March 11th meeting in Hood River. 

Even if the Commission approves the amendment for the resort, it still faces a long process. The Forest Service and county governments must sign off. Appeals by conservation groups are virtutally assured. And then the commission would have to take up the proposal again.

If the amendment is rejected, Broughton Lumber officials plan to take their proposal to regional members of Congress.

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