A Republican state senator from Central Oregon and the head of the state Land Conservation and Development Commission traded shots over Gov. Ted Kulongoski's plan to protect the Metolius Basin, with the senator charging that public hearings on the plan are just for show and the LCDC chief saying he's got it wrong.
Kulongoski wants the Legislature to designate the basin as an "area of critical concern." Such a designation would block two destination resorts proposed for the area, a small one of 640 acres and a behemoth that would have 2,500 housing units.
The LCDC plans to hold public hearings on the designation, but according to state Sen. Ted Ferrioli of John Day it's already a done deal.
Ferrioli wrote on the conservative Oregon Catalyst blog that LCDC Director Richard Whitman told him that although there will be "staged public hearings, presumably to be held in Portland and Bend to build a record of support for the overlay ... the outcome of the public input process is irrelevant: The Metolean Overlay is preordained. When pressed, he asserted that no other outcome would be allowed by the governor, by LCDC or by the process.
"Trouble is that Jefferson County has already approved a destination resorts overlay in an extensive public process that has already withstood multiple legal and administrative challenges," Ferrioli continued. "With the Metolean Overlay, the rule of law, due process and the right of local government to self-determine for land use decisions is suspended."
But Whitman disputed Ferrioli's account of their conversation, calling it "inaccurate."
"No, [the designation] is not pre-ordained," he told The Eye. Hearings will be held next month in a number of areas, not just Portland and Bend, he said, including Jefferson County "first and foremost." Specific locations and times are expected to be announced Monday.
"The whole purpose [of the hearings] is to get broader input into what should be done in the Metolius Basin," Whitman said. The intent is to decide "if it should be done, and if so, where and in addition how."
After the hearings the LCDC will make a recommendation, and "ultimately it will be up to the legislature," Whitman said.
Asked if he was disappointed that Ferrioli misrepresented their conversation, Whitman replied simply: "Yes."
Although Jefferson County has approved the overlay, the resorts still face a court challenge from Central Oregon LandWatch and other plaintiffs who argue that pumping water for golf courses and thousands of homes would damage the Headwaters of the Metolius.