By RAELYNN RICARTE
News staff writer
August 3, 2005
A historic agreement has been reached between Mt. Hood Meadows and the Hood River Valley Residents Committee (HRVRC) for greater wilderness protection.
In the settlement that follows 14 months of mediation, Meadows has agreed to give up any plan for new development on its Cooper Spur holdings or the north face of Mount Hood. In exchange, the HRVRC and 12 other conservation groups have agreed to support the company’s proposal for 480 housing units on property in Clackamas County that is already zoned for that purpose.
“The HRVRC’s mission is to advocate for sensible and sustainable growth in Hood River County. We are thrilled to propose a way to protect the historic backcountry on the north side of the mountain and permanently ensure that these lands are protected for future Oregonians to enjoy for their wilderness and watershed values,” said Scott Franke, HRVRC president.
“This plan is certainly not what we originally envisioned when we acquired Cooper Spur but if the appraised values are acceptable to us and we receive enough developable property in Government Camp to equal the value of our investment in Cooper Spur then we’ll likely go for it as a compromise solution,” said Dave Riley, Meadows general manager.
Also at the bargaining table was Mike McCarthy, a Parkdale pear grower and a member of the HRVRC. He became a party in the dispute resolution process after legally challenging a land exchange between Meadows and the county. That trade netted the corporation 160 acres next to its 157-acre Cooper Spur Mountain Resort.
Both Franke and McCarthy objected to the methodology used in the exchange that gave the county 775 acres near Parkdale. The lawsuit filed over that deal has been put on hold and will be dismissed if the final settlement terms are followed.
“This agreement shows you what can happen when local citizens get organized and take action to promote a positive vision for the watersheds and forests on our treasured Mt. Hood,” said McCarthy. “This community’s support gave us the strength to develop a vision in tune with local values and negotiation for the permanent protection of the north side of Mount Hood. I look forward to working with the community to achieve our vision.”
He joined Riley and Franke in praise of Dave Meriwether, county administrator, for successfully facilitating the agreement.
“He listened to all sides and tried to take in all of the information and I appreciated that,” said McCarthy.
Credit for the success of negotiations was also given to County Commission Chair Rodger Schock. He followed a recommendation by county counsel Teunis Wyers to bring all parties to the bargaining table.
“I just see it as a huge first step to a long-standing resolution and give credit all around. I always felt these folks could work things out without too much trouble,” said Schock.
The county also earned praise from Ralph Bloemers, HRVRC attorney, for agreeing to amend its land exchange process. Bloemers, who works with the Cascade Resources Advocacy Group, said that was a vital concession for any successful mediation.
“This is a solution that will allow for an open evaluation and a chance for public participation. The HRVRC has always believed that’s very important,” said Bloemers.
Equally important to the HRVRC was stopping development within the Crystal Springs watershed recharge zone. Under the settlement, Meadows will forfeit the right to any new development proposal from the Mt. Hood Country Store property to the county’s southern boundary. The prohibition also extends from the store to the east and west borders of the county.
However, the HRVRC has agreed that the Cooper Spur ski area and inn will stay open and be operated by the Forest Service — but no expansions will be allowed.
If an independent appraisal of the 120 acres in Clackamas County, currently held in federal ownership, does not meet the same value as Cooper Spur, then Meadows will require some form of compensation. Riley said the Forest Service could adjust the boundaries to equalize the value differential, or conservation groups could help offset the monetary loss.
“We’re not going to follow through on this unless we’re made whole,” he said.
Riley believes there will be no major opposition mounted in Clackamas County against the proposal since its revitalization plan accomodates low-density housing. McCarthy and Franke said concurrence by citizens of the neighboring county is vital to their support.
The long-standing dispute between the two entities was mediated through Resolve, Inc., of Portland. About 20 negotiating sessions took place, both in person and via conference calls, before an acceptable compromise solution was reached. The county picked up the initial $6,500 tab and then split the remaining costs with the HRVRC and Meadows.
Franke and McCarthy knew they had hammered out a good agreement when they gained concurrence from numerous stakeholders. Writing letters to show their support were the following groups under the umbrella of the Cooper Spur Wild and Free Coalition: Friends of Mt. Hood, Mazamas, Friends of Tilly Jane, Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club, Oregon Canoe and Kayak Club, Portland Audubon Society, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Mt. Shadows Homeowners Association, BARK, Oregon Nordic Club and the Lower Columbia Canoe and Kayak Club.
However, in spite of local optimism, the deal is far from done. Although an agreement between the longtime foes has been reached, the plan cannot succeed without help from Oregon’s congressional delegation. Not only is Meadows willing to make a land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service, all parties want additional acreage given a Wilderness designation. They are asking U.S. Rep. Greg Walden and his peers to place 1,000 acres in the Tilly Jane and Cloud Cap areas under greater protection, as well as the undeveloped Cooper Spur lands.
McCarthy, Franke and Riley acknowledge that the final say is out of their hands, but believe their united voice will be be more clearly heard in the halls of Congress.
“We expect that our elected officials will recognize the value of Mount Hood’s remaining wild places and move to protect these wild places in response to this historic opportunity,” said McCarthy.
If the proposal does not receive legislative support, Meadows will withdraw its support for the north face wilderness expansion and pursue its original plans to expand Cooper Spur recreational opportunities. The HRVRC will then continue with an appeal of its local lawsuit defeat and lobby for greater environmental protection of the mountain.
For now, however, a truce had been called as both sides focus their energy on convincing federal officials that their plan is the best option. In the event of a value difference during that process, the parties have committed to work on bridging the gap to ensure that the terms of the agreement are met.
“The process has just started even though we’ve gotten over a major hurdle,” Schock said.