Guest Opinion by Temira Wagonfeld
I’m semi-professional sailor living at the poverty line. When the news of a huge new Gorge resort reached me, my first reaction was utter disgust. The Gorge, the Hatchery, these are temples. This land isn’t a tourist trap – it’s a place to pay homage to Mother Nature.
My gut instinct tells me that we should fight this proposal with every weapon we can muster. However, we are probably fighting a losing battle. Outdoor enthusiasts may not like the Broughton Landing Master Plan, but it is not going to go away. It may even be a good idea. Abandoned buildings and swathes of concrete already blemish the site. This refuse is no more part of the National Scenic Area than is a discreet recreational resort. If development near the Hatchery can’t be stopped, the best course of action is to work with the developer. Input from windsurfers and environmentalists will minimize the impact of this project and make it beneficial to all.
Why the pessimisim? Why the certainty that Broughton Landing will come to be? Should the Gorge Commission veto the current proposal, Broughton’s owners plan to ask Congress for an amendment to the Scenic Act. Given the current political environment, Congress will likely authorize Broughton’s request. As of now, Broughton Landing only uses 60 acres. If Congress steps in, the entire 260 acre parcel will be exempt from the Scenic Act. Broughton Landing will become Broughton Town. Gorge residents will be forced to lay down the welcome mat for a new town, open to full development.
Something will be built on this land, whether it is the maximum allowed by current law, the Broughton Landing project or a Bingen-sized town. Hopefully, Broughton will build Venice, not Pittsburg. Rise to the occasion, Broughton Lumber!
Be environmentally conscious. Build a model recreational community. Serve all outdoor enthusiasts, not just the wealthy few who will be able to afford the “relatively high unit prices (per square foot) and high HOA fees” discussed in the master plan.
Environmentalists fear that Broughton Landing will open the floodgates for development within the Scenic Area. This can’t happen unless Broughton is driven to Congress for an amendment to the Scenic Act, and other developers follow. According to a Broughton representative, “there are only four sites in the Gorge zoned Recreational Commercial. One is 15 acres, and the other two are less than 5 acres. None of the other sites is an abandoned industrial site.” Bound by financial, acreage and zoning limitations, these other property owners can’t attempt a project of Broughton’s scale. So concerns about Broughton Landing setting a precedent are likely unfounded.
Broughton Raises Environmental Worries — But Potential Solutions, Too
Hatchery windsurfers worry they’ll be sailing in sewage. It’s a valid concern, to some extent. Broughton’s master plan states “the on-site treatment will generate wastewater that will be clean enough to use for underground irrigation and discharge into the Columbia River with minimal water quality impact and no odor.” However, according to the Department of Environmental Quality, this “B” quality wastewater isn’t clean enough to use for “flush toilets”, let alone to swim in. Granted, we already sail in a river contaminated with pesticides, sewage, and the occasional nuclear waste particle, but there’s no need to dirty the river more. Broughton should purify wastewater to “A” quality. Such water would be useful for irrigation, and wouldn’t impact windsurfers or wildlife downstream.
Wastewater isn’t the only potential pollution from Broughton Landing. Drivers and stargazers alike worry about light pollution. Street lamps and household lights will pinpoint Broughton’s location from across the Gorge. New trees, rendering the Landing invisible during daylight, will do nothing to disguise the city glow at night. How will Broughton diminish the impact after dark, when the glow of streetlights creates another artificial patch of day in the Gorge?
People familiar with the S-bend on Washington’s State Route 14 shake their heads at Broughton’s placement of entrances and exits. Are drivers on SR 14 looking at a traffic nightmare? Possibly. Entrances to Broughton Landing sit at either end of an S-curve in the road. It’s unclear from the Master Plan how Broughton plans to address the traffic situation. An ideal solution won’t involve new stoplights.
Environmentalists question Broughton’s commitment to sustainability. “Rehabilitating existing buildings and incorporating on-site materials” isn’t enough. Broughton could build with recycled materials. They could reduce power consumption. As of now, there is nothing in the master plan discussing use of alternative energy sources. A windmill could provide pollution-free power, solar panels could heat water for homes and passive solar systems could heat the pool. Homes could come complete with low-power fluorescent bulbs, and public facilities could bask in the light of solar-powered LED banks. Used fryer oil from the restaurant could become biodiesel to power Broughton Landing vehicles. The Landing could set a truly sustainable precedent.
Broughton is on the right track with their conservation fund, intended to develop community recreation and create conservation easements around the resort. However, “funding will be an obligation of the unit buyer,” not of Broughton Lumber. Broughton’s impact on the Gorge will earn the company millions of dollars. As thanks, they could match contributions, creating a sizeable fund for Gorge conservation.
Simple Changes Would Go A Long Way
Simple changes to the project, such as those above, will ease concerns of many nay-sayers. If Gorge residents agree to the project, surrounding communities and existing Hatchery users deserve Broughton’s help as well.
Windsurfers, directly affected by the development, should reap lasting benefits. Broughton offers a parking lot, but Hatchery sailors don’t often need more parking. Busy on holidays, the Hatchery is almost never full during the week. Paving a huge patch of land that will be used infrequently in summer, and never during winter, is a bad idea. Sanctioning parking on Broughton-owned land is a good idea, but the parking spaces are nothing new. Hatchery late-comers have parked on Broughton land for years.
Broughton can do better than making the existing parking situation official. Allowing inexpensive overnight camping, much like what Hood River once offered at the Marina, is a better idea. Windsurfing tourist visits plummeted in the last ten years, perhaps due to lack of affordable overnight options. Windsurfers might return in hoards if they had choice. No more expensive campgrounds and sixty-dollar hotels. No more sleeping in cars on city streets or in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Provide showers and car-camping, and the college students and surf bums, the people who made Hood River what it is, just might return.
In addition to a parking lot, a bus to and from Hood River would be appreciated. Public gear-storage lockers could complement bus service. Windsurfers could keep gear on-site, burning less gas in their oversized vans and eliminating some of the expected traffic. If the bus ran all night, people from Broughton Landing could go to Hood River, enjoy a night on the town, and contribute to the local economy without worrying about driving intoxicated. Local communities and businesses benefit from this plan, as do Hatchery sailors.
Broughton Landing has the opportunity to benefit local residents as well as local communities. The climbing wall, the beach, the courts and spa facilities could be opened to local residents at reduced rates. Broughton residents will come to our established towns and use our facilities at reasonable rates. It’s only fair that their “town” should be open to Gorge residents on the same terms.
Broughton needs to openly address the concerns of worried windsurfers and skeptical Gorge residents. If they do so, Broughton Landing could be a brilliant success, benefiting both newcomers and long-term residents alike. Instead of angering local residents and environmentalists, the Landing could be a model community, welcoming visitors and benefiting local communities. With a few simple modifications to the existing plan, this project could be something we can all stand behind.
Temira “Two Mirrors” Wagonfeld is a champion windsurfer, an international traveler and a cultural ambassador between Hood River and the town of Tsuruta, Aomori, Japan. She’s also an elementary school teacher, a journalist and a web designer. Check out Temira’s journal, which includes windsurfing articles and her life in Japan. This is her first article for New West Columbia Gorge.