In the 15+ years that Central Oregonians have been hearing about the development of Thornburgh Resort near Cline Buttes, much has been said, much debated. Parts of the story seem like a done deal.
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As was outlined in an enlightening piece by OPB this week, to ensure Thornburgh gets the approximately 6 million daily gallons of water it's estimated it will need for three golf courses, multiple lakes and homes that start at over 3,000 square feet, the resort has already purchased a portion of the rights from Brooks Resources' Tree Farm development. The Tree Farm is a high-end development on the west side of Bend where its large homes didn't need their water for the original intended purpose: farming. When a wealthy homeowner doesn't need their irrigation water right, they're within their rights under Oregon's archaic water allotment rules to sell it regardless of its original intended use. But that's just part of the story.
Currently, the Department of State Lands is trying to determine whether to sell some 400 acres of land at Cline Buttes to Thornburgh to help the resort expand. When the state sells lands like this, the money goes into the Common School Fund, where it's shared among Oregon's public schools. For the loss of the precious resources that come with that land, the thought is, at least the kids get something, right?
But as some watchdogs, including Nunzie Gould and Central Oregon LandWatch have pointed out, in this case, the shorter-term gains may not be worth what is lost. A swath of 400 acres of undeveloped land that serves as a refuge for wildlife and a recreation point for the public between Redmond and Bend would instead become the private playground of a destination resort—albeit with a few assumed "easement" points for ATVs, pedestrians and equestrians.
What's more, as LandWatch noted, the land's estimated value of roughly $912,000 is not much, compared to the $2.2 billion already in the Common School Fund, which generates investment revenue each year.
"This $912,000 from the potential land sale is nominal when compared to the overall Common School Fund (which distributes less than 4% annually). With the one-time monetary benefit to the Common School Fund, it is our firm belief that this land should remain public, given the widespread concern over public access and natural resources," LandWatch argued.
The third party that conducted an appraisal of the Cline Buttes tract—six tax lots in total found that the "highest and best use"—a criteria the DSL must factor into its decision—to be:
"...the highest and best use of tax lots 5101, 5102, 5103, 5104, and 5200 is as an unbuildable recreational resource with limited seasonal access. Although tax lot 5300 has similar site characteristics, the appraisal indicated the highest and best use for tax lot 5300 is as an unbuildable recreational resource and potentially as a privacy buffer for adjoining lots located within Eagle Crest."
Many have already weighed in with the Department of State Lands about their opposition to this sale. The DSL is expected to make its decision Aug. 9—but before that, it still has an open comment period, open through July 29. People can submit a comment online, using the transaction number: 63509-LS for the Cline Buttes Tract.
It's going to seem like a win if the state decides not to sell the Cline Buttes land—and it will be. But in the grand scheme of things, Central Oregon's groundwater and surface water resources are still in big trouble. In the long term, we hope for a day when water resources are treated with more conservation in mind. In the short term, shutting down this sale is a battle for the preservation of public resources and wild lands that can be won right now.