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200-plus people attend online hearing; all speakers oppose state land sale to Thornburgh Resort

(Updated: adding video, comments from public hearing; clarifying some details)

Another public hearing held, as developer seeks to add property to controversial project

REDMOND, Ore. (KTZ) -- After nearly 20 years of proposals and appeals, the back-and-forth fight regarding a planned destination resort west of Redmond continues.

The planned Thornburgh Resort near Eagle Crest is a long-debated topic among Central Oregonians, and a state Department of Lands public hearing Thursday night brought out numerous opponents to the potential sale of parcels totaling 400 acres to Central Land and Cattle Company, developers of the proposed Thornburgh Resort.   

The planned resort current sits on 1,970 acres southwest of Cline Butte, near Eagle Crest.

The resort was initially proposed in 2005 to include 475 overnight lodging units and three golf courses but has faced criticism from some local residents and organizations on its planned water use and other issues.

The Oregon Department of State Lands is reviewing a request to sell 400 acres of public land to the developers of Thornburgh Resort. There have been several public hearings already discussing the matter, which have proven to be controversial.

At the public hearing, state DSL representatives said there are no endangered, threatened or sensitive species on the tract under consideration and no mineral or energy resources of value onsite.

The agency also noted that no archaeological sites or artifacts have been found onsite during surveys -- but because suchcultural resources have been found on nearby lans, there is a "moderately high probability that they may be present."

The department evaluates those factors to assess how they may impact the property’s value and ability to generate revenue through the Common School Fund, if the property was to be sold.

More than 200 people attended the session, and all who testified argued against the possible sale, many citing worsening drought as a factor to consider for such developments.

Deschutes County is seeing the most extreme drought conditions in 127 years. Some residents are worried about where the water it'll use for man-made lakes, golf courses and other amenities will come from.

"I live just south of the proposed land sale, and we don't need another three golf courses consuming all of this water," said one participant. "Six million gallons -- up to six million gallons is just not sustainable. Will you be paying for my well when I need to dig a deeper well?"

Others were concerned with the land use itself. If the resort gets approved, recreation on the land and trails in the area would be only allowed for people staying at the resort, not for the public.

Central Oregon LandWatch, an organization that monitors planned developments, timber sales and water use across the region, has long opposed the resort, saying in a statement, "beloved public lands don’t belong behind a fence."

As with other state-owned lands, the property the resort seeks to buy benefits the Common School Fund, lands that were granted to Oregon by the federal government for the purpose of generating revenue for that fund for K-12 education.

One participant said if the land is sold, it'll be a short-lived bump for the school fund. If it's not sold and continues to be leased, the value of the land would go up.

"That's money that could be raised for the Common School Fund, essentially forever," he said.

Bend City Councilor Anthony Broadman also commented.

"Generations to come will look back at this moment in Oregon's land-use history, at the decisions we're making now in rooms all across our state," he said, "and ask whether we've upheld Oregon's land-use system and honored the land."

"So I would ask: you would consider what we need as a region instead of what a very few want. Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of a cancer cell," said Broadman.

Central Land and Cattle Company LLC, developer of Thornburgh, currently leases the state-owned land it's seeking to buy. Deschutes County has approved a master plan for the resort, which has been appealed by longtime resort foe Nunzie Gould to the state Land Use Board of Appeals. If she prevails, the plan goes back to Deschutes County for another round.

DSL also told the hearing audience there are no water rights or permit associated with the tract. The applicant would need to apply to the Oregon Water Resources Department to purchase or transfer water rights. 

While the county has held several public hearings over the years as it made land-use decisions regarding the proposed resort, the State Land Board will make the final decision regarding the possible land sale.

After nearly three hours of testimony, a DSL spokeswoman said written comments will be accepted through March 17, and the sale will go before the three-member state Land Board -- made up of the governor, state treasurer and secretary of state -- at their June meeting, at the earliest.

Article Topic Follows: Government-politics
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Carly Keenan

Carly Keenan is a multimedia journalist and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Carly here.

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