Latest Thornburgh Resort Decision Appealed to State Court of Appeals

By Anna Kaminski  |  Feb. 6, 2024  |  Bend Bulletin

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, local land use watchdog organization Central Oregon LandWatch and a trio of Deschutes County residents have appealed a recent state land use decision on the Thornburgh destination resort as a part of an ongoing battle over the resort’s water use in the High Desert.

All five challengers filed appeals in the Oregon Court of Appeals Friday, spokesperson for LandWatch, Alex Hardison, said. The challengers are appealing a Jan. 12 decision from the state agency that handles land use matters, the Land Use Board of Appeals, or LUBA, which sought to address numerous water and wildlife-related issues within a 2023 Deschutes County decision.

“The resort has continually failed to demonstrate it has a current, approved, and permanent water source to mitigate the negative effects of groundwater withdrawals on fish and wildlife habitat in the Upper Deschutes Basin,” Hardison, wrote in a January email.

In the board’s 99-page decision, it rejected the majority of the arguments from the five challengers who, in addition to Central Oregon LandWatch and the tribes, were Annunziata “Nunzie” Gould, a longtime Thornburgh opponent, Paul Lipscomb, a former Marion County Circuit Court judge and Thomas Bishop, a Deschutes County resident.

Now, the challengers want another match with Thornburgh.

Thornburgh Conflict Nearly 20 Years Old

The roughly 2,000-acre resort around three miles west of Redmond has been around two decades in the making — most of those years consumed by litigation. Thornburgh’s developer and property owner, Kameron DeLashmutt, applied for the first stage of development in 2005, which wasn’t approved until four years later as it made its way through Oregon’s court system.

“This incredible piece of land has been in my family since 1953,” DeLashmutt wrote in an email. “We are committed to developing it in a manner that preserves its incredible beauty.”

In its final form, the resort is slated to host 950 homes, at least one 18-hole golf course, resort facilities, at least one lake and, possibly, a five-star hotel.

The majority of Deschutes County commissioners ruled in favor of Thornburgh in April last year after the resort sought to update its fish and wildlife mitigation plan from 2008. Such a plan is required for destination resorts in Deschutes County.

The decision ignored concerns from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Thornburgh’s opponents have often cited dwindling groundwater resources and heightened drought conditions as grounds for their disapproval.

Under Thornburgh’s revised plan, it promised to reduce its water use, eliminate one of two golf courses and replace irrigated parks and and lakes with natural landscaping. The matter made its way to the county commission last year after a hearings officer denied the update in 2022 — commissioners reversed that denial.

The five challengers appealed the county decision to LUBA in November. Arguments are due to the Court of Appeals Feb. 23.

Fight Over Water

The LUBA challenge marked a first for the Tribes. In their challenge, the Tribes argued the “county’s implicit bias led the county to fail to meaningfully address the issues that the Tribe raised in its testimony to the county,” the 99-page decision said.

Among those initial concerns were the possibility that Thornburgh’s water consumption could impair fish habitat, to which the Tribes have prescribed treaty rights.

LUBA rejected that argument, among others.

While Thornburgh continues its court battles, some of its water rights are simultaneously tied up with another state agency, the Oregon Water Resources Department. The department, which is increasingly tightening its water permitting practices, proposed to deny Thornburgh’s attempt to extend a water rights permit in 2022. That issue is still awaiting a hearing, said Danielle Gonzalez, a department spokesperson.

DeLashmutt said Thornburgh owns nearly all the water it needs for the resort.

“As we are not presently pumping that water, we are instead leaving it in the ground and in the streams where it is benefiting the aquifer, the streams and ultimately the area fisheries habitat,” he wrote in an email.

He, his lawyers and hired experts have consistently maintained that Thornburgh’s water use won’t detrimentally impact water or wildlife in the Deschutes Basin.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 6, 2024 edition of the Bend Bulletin.