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Thornburgh Resort developer presses on, but nearly 20-year land use fight with opponents still isn’t over

(Update: adding video and comment from Thornburgh Resort owner)

REDMOND, Ore, (KTVZ) -- The long-debated, nearly 2,000-acre Thornburgh Resort at Cline Buttes west of Redmond is gearing up for more construction, despite lingering land-use battles over groundwater, wildlife and other impacts that have gone on for nearly two decades.

If all goes as planned, the resort will potentially include a golf course, 950 homes, other resort facilities, a lake and a five-star hotel.

The proposed resort has been continually challenged and contested by residents and groups such as Central Oregon LandWatch and more recently, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

Property developer and owner, Kameron DeLashmutt said, "for 20 years we've been told that we should build less golf and use less water. And so we take the huge step of doing just that And those same people that are complaining then complain that we're reducing water"

Last April, Deschutes County commissioners ruled in favor of the resort after the resort sought to update its fish and wildlife mitigation plan of 2008. Initially, the resort faced concerns it would over-consumer the area's water and ruin fish habitats.

Foes have appealed to the Oregon Court of Appeals a recent state Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) decision that rejected most of their arguments. Arguments are due for submission to the state appeals court by Feb. 23.

Through the Treaty of Tribes of Middle Oregon of 1855, the tribes have rights to water and fish habitats. The treaty set apart the Warm Springs Reservatio for their people's use forever, adn reserved the exclusive right of taking fish in rivers and streams running through and bordering the reservation. Despite the fact that Thornburgh's site is about 50 miles from Warm Springs, it's still within the tribes ancestral land that's protected in the treaty.

  Warm Springs has previously argued, that county commissioners neglected indigenous knowledge before making the Thornburgh decision.

Central Oregon LandWatch staff attorney Carol Macbeth said, "On Friday, February 2, 2024, LandWatch filed a Petition for Judicial Review of LUBA's decision with the Court of Appeals to start the appeal process, as did co-petitioners Annunziata Gould, Judge Paul Lipscomb, Tom Bishop, and The Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, for a total of five appeal petitions. The briefs outlining arguments are due Feb. 23, 2024."

LandWatch Executive Director Bend Gordon said: "For years, Central Oregonians have been voicing overwhelming concern for the impacts that new destination resorts would have on wildlife, water, open space, rural infrastructure, and more. With a changing climate and mounting concerns over water, wildlife habitat, and regional resiliency, the urgency has only intensified."

DeLashmutt is adamant that the resort will actually benefit the region saying, "we just had to file or annual mitigation report. And in that report of the 1217 acre feet that we have that's either being left in the stream or left in the aquifer. And so I think in 2023 we left 394 million gallons of water in the system. So that that is a benefit to the system."

DeLashmutt specifically brought up the different groups that gave expert review of the land. He said, "we had hydrologists, water science, us water modeling experts, geologists and fish experts, really an amazing scientific team. And it shows that we're providing a net benefit to the Fish and Wildlife resources in the basin."

He also spoke about removing certain amenities in order to decrease the expected water consumption. He said, "we voluntarily reduced our water use from 2129 acre feet to 1460 acre feet. And we did it by eliminating some water amenities and other features that were pretty water intensive" such as removing two of three original proposed golf courses and tightening up restrictions on water use for every home and facility.

Despite the petitions to Oregon land Use Bureau of Appeal, Thornburgh developers are not concerned the Deschutes County decision will be over-ruled. Already, they've pushed ahead with work on the resort, digging out the lake, clearing space for the golf course, gas piping, and laying gravel for roads.

Here's a news release issued earlier this month by the resort:



Redmond, OR (February 2, 2024) — Thornburgh Resort, a 2,400-acre resort community in Redmond, Oregon, reaffirms its commitment to preserving the well-being of the second largest watershed in Oregon, the Deschutes River Basin. 

As a community, Thornburgh has made a multi-generational commitment to preserving the health of the natural landscape, as well as the rivers and aquifers that maintain life in the region, by scaling back several previously approved aspects of the development, resulting in the use of 1/3rd less water.  

Thornburgh has foregone the construction of previously approved amenities like a golf course, multiple lakes, irrigated parks, and green space, along with a 20% reduction in overnight lodging. In their place, the resort will focus on native landscaping, utilizing local flora to create a healthy, water-sensitive ecosystem. This is in addition to the original development plans, which proposed a development density of only 1/3rd what the county code allowed, with 65% open space, or 30% more than the minimum required. 

In total, Thornburgh, in planning the community, has taken further steps than what is required, going beyond the minimum requirements, and pursuing a higher goal of environmental consciousness. 

“Water is a crucial resource,” said Developer Kameron DeLashmutt. “Our goal is for Thornburgh to become the most environmentally conscious master-planned community in the West if not the U.S. We are actively taking these steps to steward our use of water so that we can preserve this land for future generations to come.”

“Within the resort master plan, we are committed to preserving the natural beauty of the rural setting by maintaining large areas of the natural environment,” said DeLashmutt. Thornburgh’s extensive natural lands will be enhanced with the development of extensive hiking and biking trails, championship golf, water features, and the addition of comfortable, authentic, classic high desert country homes. “It’s equally important that the individual homes and cabins fit sensitively into the relaxed landscape,” said DeLashmutt. “We plan on accomplishing this through the resort’s covenants, conditions, and restrictions which will require residents to focus on reduced water use through the use of low-flow fixtures and prescribed xeriscaping within managed landscaping envelopes for each lot. All of the golf and spa cabins, and many of the homes, will feature Tesla Solar Roof tiles and will be net zero for electricity.”

As a result, a home at Thornburgh will have much lower water and energy use than the average home in Central Oregon. 

In addition, under Oregon law, Thornburgh is required to offset every single gallon of water it uses. In accordance with the law, Thornburgh has purchased and ceased pumping from existing water rights throughout the Deschutes Water Basin in a one-for-one offset of its forecast water use once the resort has been fully built out in 20 years time. Currently, Thornburgh’s water use is a tiny fraction of the amount of water that it has returned to the aquifer and rivers, resulting in a net positive impact on the Deschutes Water Basin.

Thornburgh reports its annual water use and mitigation under its approved Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Plan. The 2023 report shows that the development only pumped 0.41 acre acre-feet of water while leaving 200 acre-feet instream, and an additional 1,010.3 acre-feet in the aquifer. In total, for 2023, Thornburgh provided 1,210.3 acre-feet of water that would have otherwise been pumped, equating to a net benefit of over 394,375,189 gallons of water last year alone. Even at full capacity, Thornburgh’s water use is less than 5/100ths of 1% of the 3,500,0000 acre-feet of annual recharge in the Deschutes Basin and only 2/10ths of 1% of the Basin's total water use of 775,000 acre-feet.

About Thornburgh Resort:

Thornburgh is a residential community nestled in the foothills of the Cline Buttes outside Redmond, Oregon. Set within a 40,000-acre juniper forest, Thornburgh offers the finest golf and club facilities, stunning mountain vistas, miles of private hiking and bike trails, lakes and beach club, swimming pools, state-of-the-art fitness and spa facilities, the pickleball and tennis complex, parks, kids camp, lawns, and superlative dining.

In every decision we make, our guiding principle is to combine native beauty and thoughtful design to create a naturally elegant lifestyle.

Article Topic Follows: Government-politics

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Matthew Draxton

Matthew Draxton is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Matthew here.


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