Metolius resort isn’t the answer

by Philip Blatt of Black Butte. This piece first appeared on May 17, 2009 as a guest opinion at The Bend Bulletin.

Everyone who has expressed an opinion about the Metolius River and its basin has agreed that it is a very special place and should be protected. Unfortunately some would protect it by increasing commercialization and usage pressures in an area which is, by Forest Service estimation, already at its maximum capacity for recreational use without degrading wildlife habitat.

A frequently heard argument is that a destination resort will increase accessibility. This is a spurious argument. How does increasing the number of users of a wild area make its wildness more accessible? Furthermore I have been coming to the Metolius for more than 50 years for fishing, hiking, biking, skiing and birding and have never had trouble with access. There are cabins available and a beautiful series of campgrounds along the river located in scenic settings.

The Metolian developers say they will collect up to 50 percent of the water that flows across the Metolian from March through June. What they don’t say is that this will likely impact the Metolius River. According to a report supplied to the Oregon House Land Use Committee a significant portion of this water would have eventually ended up in the Metolius and its tributaries. Also, according to the report, there is no data to support the feasibility of their proposal.

In addition, the 50 percent portion of the surface water impounded would be unavailable to replenish stream flow in the seasonal lows occurring in late summer. The report also states that in drought conditions the Metolian resort would have to rely on its wells. Black Butte Ranch has to do this periodically and it does not use any of the water for resident consumption.

What the developers don’t mention is what will happen to this water after they are done with it. The Metolian is uphill from Suttle Lake, uphill from a major tributary (First Creek) of the Metolius and uphill from the Metolius River itself. That water will flow downhill carrying whatever silt and contaminants it picks up and eventually end up in the river. In addition, the U.S. Geological Survey has stated, “In the Metolius River Basin, groundwater pumping most likely will result in diminished discharge at principal spring complexes that occur at the head of the Metolius, along the main stem, along many of the tributaries, and near the confluence of the Metolius and Deschutes Rivers.”

The Metolius River, as any fly fisherman can testify, is home to a good supply of strong redband trout and to kokanee salmon. It is probably most noted, however, as home to a healthy population of endangered bull trout, which appear to be sensitive to the incursions of man and his pollutants.

The water of the Metolius is extremely pure. It is tested chemically for most of the year and is closely monitored but, as the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality stated, “Even with substantial removal of nutrients and other constituents prior to discharge, small amounts of nutrients may reach the Metolius River or its tributaries through runoff or seepage to groundwater that flows into the Metolius. The river is sensitive to nutrients and small increases in nutrients could result in some degradation of water quality, such as decreased dissolved oxygen, increased aquatic plant growth, and changes in pH, among others.”

At a time when more than $100 million is being spent to re-introduce anadromous fish to the system, it is counterproductive to add 635 possible sources of pollution to the environment.

Finally, a core argument for those opposed to restricting destination resorts in the Metolius basin is that this is an issue of locals trying to keep others out. The issue is clearly not that. Oregonians from all over the state who come to the Metolius to fish, hike, bike and enjoy the woods have come together to oppose development. More than 30 statewide organizations have voiced their opposition to destination resorts in the basin.

The backers of the Metolian emphasize repeatedly that the resort will be ecologically friendly and will not affect the ecology of the surrounding national forest or the streams in the area.

They are trying to tell us that 1,000 people can live on a plot of land uphill from an ecologically sensitive river and have no impact on that river and the many species it supports. They want us to believe that there is a “free lunch” — but we should know better!

  • Urban Planning Overlord (unverified)

    Did the Black Butte development ruin Black Butte?

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    Did the Black Butte development ruin Black Butte?

    In some cases, probably.

    Is your premise that somehow more development will make the region better?

  • Shasta (unverified)

    Thanks for the post.

    The Metolius could make anyone's short list as one of the most beautiful places in the world.

    The Metolius River is truly an Oregon treasure and should be respected and treated as such.

  • Unrepentant Liberal (unverified)

    Not every place needs to be a drive up, park, get out, walk across the asphalt to your luxury accommodations kind of place. Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico is at the end of 20 miles of dirt and gravel roads. If you paved those roads the wonderful experience you currently enjoy there would be obliterated by traffic and the increased hoards of people.

    Leave the Metolius the way it is. Not every place needs to be 'improved' to death.

  • Gregor (unverified)

    There is nothing that prevents access to the Metolius as it is right now. Those who would change it do not appreciate it for what it is. They can go to SunRiver if they require luxury accommodation...or Black Butte.

  • backbeat (unverified)

    Carla, you did an excellent job on the radio this morning.

  • Carla Axtman (unverified)

    Hey...thanks! I really get jittery about going on the it's nice when I hear it went over well.

  • dddave (unverified)

    uh, we cant have even one more new house or new person in this entire state without affecting some snail or fish or insect or bird. Should we start legislating a "no new babies" policy? Destroying our logging industry didn't do shit for the Spotted Owl, so go take your so called "concern" for the environment and put it with our so called "property rights".

  • Any Oregon Republican (unverified)

    Stuttering Dave,

    You are the Democrats' dream blogger--the more you try to make the idea of protecting a special place like the Metolius sound like some wacko environmental agenda item, the more you alienate every reasonable voter who happens to enjoy say, catching a fish or hunting an elk.

    Did you notice that the Oregon Hunter's Association has endorsed HB 3100?

    Ever gone fishing with your dad? Ever enjoyed peaceful solitude in a beautiful place with your son or daughter?

    The so-called 'eco-resort' is actually a 450-570 home development in the watershed and directly upstream from the unique Metolius. Adding more than a 1000 permanent residents (who presumably would be of the wealthy variety) would change the experience of the Metolius forever.

    Lots of us think there's value in teaching a grandkid how to catch a wild Oregon bull trout there, how to respect someone else fishing downstream from you by giving them uncrowded space, or how to hunt deer and elk in the surrounding area.

    The more the Republicans disregard the Metolius in favor of wealthy private interests, the more they lose real Oregonians of all political stripes. I sure wouldn't want to be known as the politician or party (Democrat or Republican) who sold out the Metolius!

    Hopefully there are enough REAL OREGONIANS serving in the 2009 Legislature in both parties to step up and save this Oregon Treasure for our kids and grandkids.

    And hopefully Republicans who have any clue about electability in this state will start remembering Tom McCall and Teddy Roosevelt. This bunch of corporate, wealthy, develop the Metolius types are only solidifying the Dem majority in this state.

  • R. Ritchie (unverified)

    The trouble with your piece is that there is to much science, to much sympathy for the environment and to much thinking counter to the majority of Deschutes County voters/county commissioners! Fly over the Cascades to Seattle, as I did last week-end and you will see clear cut after clear cut - there has been no "destroying" of the logging industry, they now operate under great stealth. The patchwork of clear cuts looks to me like just another series of destination resorts, another opportunity to bring more people to "rural/urban interface." But they still whine, whine, o'whine about not enough timber to cut. So the industrial forestry types will only be to happy to support the Metolian because it gives them a greater foothold and a chance at a few more Ponderosa.

    A Sisters area Resident!

  • Karen C. (unverified)

    You should probably check your facts before putting yourself in the position of defending false information. The eco-resort you are talking about is not 450+ homes, but less than 200. Before subscribing to republican tactics and hiding behind behind being a democrat, you should know that Jim Kean, the developer in question, donated aggressively to Barak Obama's campaign and is an avid democrat. In addition, Jim has dedicated his life to the outdoor lifestyle and has a personal connection to the state of Oregon. As a third generation Oregonian, I would personally like to see a model of ecologically responsible development spring forth here. Businesses that will be an example to the rest of the world of how we can have progress and development, while at the same time respecting nature and existing in cooperation with it.

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    Karen C:

    You are incorrect. The Metolian "Eco"-Resort would in fact, under it's current plan, include a 180 unit lodge and 450 single-family homes.

    Whether or not Mr. Kean is a Democrat, Republican or any other political affiliation is irrelevant. In addition, he and his folks have already told legislators that they can't build and maintain their resort without having a fundamental impact on the environment.

    If you want to see an "eco-resort" attempted, then help Kean and his partners find a less fragile location. Tell him to go to Salem without their nasty lobbyist in tow and negotiate in good faith for a transfer of development.

  • JulieJ (unverified)

    I have a friend that works as a office assistant in one of the potential developers' office, and, she would tell you that you all are being far more considerate than the opposition.

    They talk nice in public, but, daily, I hear about all kinds of venomous comments and outright contempt for the environment. One of the most revealing, albeit brainless, was, "I hope every little froggy and potentially protected critter decides to hang out in the first set of hole we dig. Then we can pour a few tons of concrete on their heads and get on with the business of making money. My kids are already making out their Christmas list!"

    They bank on the fact that you are much nicer. That's why, over time, the trend is always in their favor. We're always defending what will get developed next. When was the last time an area slated for development was taken away from developers. The mindset has not changed from the earliest colonial days. That land is "doing nothing". That is why going the other direction is absurd.

    These people are also evangelicals, to a body. They truly believe that the expanding of human population is a divine command and happens naturally, at the wild's expense. It is good that humans are replacing all wild things. It is God's plan. We have special rights to exists, by divine decree. When progressives discuss population, real estate, and the environment as three issues, they do these dickheads a real service. The three issues are inexorably linked. You cannot subsidize unrestrained human population growth, and protect the environment at the same time. It is a waste of money.

    If you're interested in effective legislation, consider that the ass clown that will be on the boob tube this Sunday, telling the cretins that God wants you to subdue creation and God wants you to be rich, does not have to pay taxes, obey labor laws, and gets a raft of benefits, while your mom and pop business and the childless taxpayer foots the bill. Get rid of all that crap that reinforces people for doing the wrong thing.

  • Karen C. (unverified)

    I am quite certain that the developer has told my family personally that this is a project with less than 200 homes. Perhaps you should contact him directly to confirm. You should know as well as anyone to question information from any news source. I may listen to progressive radio and read news from more liberal sources, but I like to think that these people are human beings and capable of error. Right now, I have to believe what is being said by the person actually working on the project, and not a third party.

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    I have emailed with Jim Kean and repeatedly asked to interview him, but that's beside the point. Whether you are "quite certain" or not, the fact remains that the 450 units plus lodge are what Kean and Lundgren (the "eco-resort" land speculators) have in their plans. That's what they've told multiple news outlets.

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