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October 19th, 2008

Broughton mill plan gains passing mark grade

Proponents of a destination recreation resort at the former Broughton Lumber Company site got a boost at Tuesday’s meeting of the Columbia River Gorge Commission.

By RODGER NICHOLS
of The Chronicle

Commissioner Dan Harkenrider of the U.S. Forest Service announced that the recreation resort amendment (PA-06-01) to the National Scenic Area Management Plan had been found to be consistent with the purposes and standards of the National Scenic Area Act.

That was the ruling from Cal Joyner, acting regional forester. Under the provisions of the scenic act, management plan revisions must be deemed consistent by the Secretary of Agriculture. In practice, the secretary has delegated the decision to the regional forester.

“The Amendment does not change the existing structure of the Plan, revised in 2004,” Joyner wrote. “Instead, it augments the existing structure of the Plan, and follows the Plan’s basic policies in protecting the scenic, natural, cultural, and recreation resources within the National Scenic Area... I concur that Plan Amendment PA-06-01 to the Management Plan for the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area is consistent with the purposes and standards of the Act.”
Commissioners passed the recreation resort amendment on a 10-2 vote in April, two years after the subject was originally introduced to the commission in a pre-application conference.

Proponents needed a plan amendment to redevelop the decaying former Broughton Lumber mill site west of Bingen into an $80 to $90 million destination resort, because the site, adjacent to the Spring Creek Fish Hatchery and a premier wind surfing site, is outside any urban exempt areas.
    
The proposal drew bitter opposition from some groups and local residents concerned about development in the gorge in general and potential impacts on a key windsurfing/kiteboarding site in particular.

The commission, in an effort to ensure the maximum opportunity for public comment, held a pair of multihour town hall meetings in 2007, and heard testimony or comment on aspects of the proposal at nearly every commission meeting since, until the vote in April.
    
Every step of the way, modifications were made to the complex proposal, and the Forest Service added a few suggestions in Joyner’s 46-page concurrence:

     “All mitigation and enhancement options will need careful review and consideration by appropriately trained technical specialists;
     ‘‘It will be important to have a mechanism in place to ensure the Amendment requirements are being systematically addressed; and
     ‘‘Monitoring of the resort actions and activities, especially the short-term occupancy requirement (i.e. no more than 45 days occupation out of a 90-day period) should be frequent enough and of sufficient intensity to ensure compliance over the long term. I recommend that Skamania County require the applicant to develop a self-policing system with periodic reports back to Skamania County and the Commission.

What’s next? Skamania County, where the Broughton site is located, will have to pass an ordinance incorporating the change into its land use ordinances.”
After that, the commission will have to conclude the ordinance change is consistent with the plan amendment.

At that point, developers could begin the process of submitting a detailed plan to the county planning department.

That plan could be appealed to county commissioners, and beyond them to the gorge commission.

And, as a press release from the Friends of the Gorge said, “The amendment is likely to be challenged in state court.”

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