Iin the more than 15 years since central Oregonians heard of the Thornburgh Resort development near Cline Buttes, much has been said, much debated. Parts of the story seem like a done deal.
As noted in an insightful OPB article this week, to ensure that Thornburgh gets the roughly 6 million gallons of water a day he will need for three golf courses, several lakes and homes that start over 3,000 square feet, the resort has already purchased part of the rights to the Tree Farm development from Brooks Resources. The Tree Farm is an upscale development on the west side of Bend where its large homes didn’t need water for the original purpose: farming. When a wealthy landowner does not need his right to irrigation water, he has the right, under Oregon’s archaic water allocation rules, to sell it, regardless of his intended initial use. But that’s only part of the story.
Currently, the State Lands Department is trying to determine whether to sell some 400 acres of land at Cline Buttes in Thornburgh to help the resort expand. When the state sells land 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 this land, the idea is that at least the children get something, right?
But as some watchdogs, including Nunzie Gould and Central Oregon LandWatch, have pointed out, in this case, the short-term gains may not be worth what’s lost. A 400-acre strip of undeveloped land that serves as a wildlife refuge and public recreation point between Redmond and Bend would instead become a destination resort’s private playground, albeit with a few “easement” spots. assumed for ATVs, pedestrians and riders.
Also, as LandWatch noted, the land’s estimated value of about $912,000 isn’t much, compared to the $2.2 billion already in the Common School Fund, which generates investment income. every year.
“This $912,000 from the potential sale of the land is dwarfed by the overall Common School Fund (which distributes less than 4% per year). With the unique monetary benefit of the Common School Fund, we strongly believe that this land should remain public, given widespread concern over public access and natural resources,” LandWatch explained.
The third party who carried out an assessment of the Cline Buttes parcel – six tax lots in total – concluded that the “highest and best use” – a criterion that the DSL must consider in its decision – was:
“…the highest and best use of Tax Lots 5101, 5102, 5103, 5104, and 5200 is as a non-buildable recreational resource with limited seasonal access. Although Tax Lot 5300 has similar site characteristics, the assessment indicated the highest and best use for tax lot 5300 is a non-buildable recreational resource and potentially a privacy buffer for adjacent lots located at 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 on August 9, but before that it still has an open comment period, open until July 29. People can submit a comment online, using transaction number: 63509-LS for the Cline Buttes Tract.
It’s going to look like a win if the state decides not to sell the Cline Buttes land – and it will. But overall, central Oregon’s groundwater and surface water resources are still in dire straits. In the long term, we hope for a day when water resources are treated with more conservation in mind. In the short term, stopping this sale is a battle for the preservation of public resources and wild lands that can be won now.