“Please consider carefully what good this will bring to our little community, and we hope you will be modest in what you allow.”
These words from Husum resident Roberta Roos capture much of the sentiment directed toward the Klickitat County Planning Department from public comment on the proposed Under Canvas glamping development, which is seeking approval of a Conditional Use Permit to build a 95-tent luxury camping facility on Oak Ridge Road.
The project is currently under review to determine the significance of its environmental impacts, as outlined by the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA). One-hundred-eighty-six pages of comments received by the County included letters of opposition from over 50 local residents, as well as comments from stakeholder institutions and government agencies. Only two letters submitted were in full support of the proposal.
“Copies of the SEPA comments were given to Under Canvas,” reports Lori Anderson, associate planner for Klickitat County, who manages the project at the department with Mo-chi Lindblad, planning director. The company responded Oct. 9 with 10 documents in response to the concerns, inquiries, and requests for additional information. Anderson reports the documents are “quite large” and remain under review. A final ruling on the application is due from the county in mid-October.
Alisha Nightingale is an agent with Windermere Real Estate and relocated to the area in 2016. “While change can be scary, it is inevitable,” Nightingale says. “If we can allow conscientious companies to come in and bring attention to our beautiful area, then we all can benefit!” The Husum resident says she is sympathetic to her neighbors’ fears around fire danger and increased traffic but believes the Under Canvas option is better than many other possibilities for what she believes is inevitable development.
“We are new to the area as well as new business owners,” says Chris Wiggins, who opened the Ruby June Inn in downtown Husum last year. “From that perspective, we support other new businesses. A rising tide lifts all boats,” he says. “I think the only concern was the traffic on 141” — an issue he observes as already a problem, and one he is in conversation with the State Department of Transportation to address.
The Klickitat County Department of Public Works also noted traffic impacts in their comments, citing inconsistencies within the company’s proposal, and requesting a new traffic study be undertaken that would be subject to subsequent approval. Public Works had outstanding questions regarding the facility’s ADA accessibility, and requested a greater degree of specificity related to stormwater engineering. Their letter outlined rigorous standards that would need to be met in order to give the project a green light.
Jeanette Burkhardt, watershed planner for the Southern Territories for the Yakama Nation Fisheries, was also left wanting. “We feel that significant areas of potential impact have been insufficiently evaluated and considered,” Burkhardt comments, requesting that the County require “additional detail from the applicant regarding their plans, and further environmental evaluation of the hydrology of the site.”
Washington State Department of Ecology echoed questions about water use impacts and requisite permitting, while the State Department of Fish and Wildlife urged additional measures to protect Western Gray Squirrel and Oregon white oak habitat.
The Department of Natural Resources reported the requirement of an approved Forest Practices Application prior to conversion activities and a bit of confusion about the total acreage that would be converted to non-timber use.
“What information is available indicates that the project’s adverse impacts would likely be significant,” reads a letter from Bricklin & Newman, LLP, a Seattle-based environmental law firm, one of two such firms to weigh in on the proposal. The firm’s response contains an entire section outlining the application’s “Reliance on Formulaic Language and Incomplete Documentation”—a theme also noted by the staff attorney for Friends of the Columbia Gorge also submitted a lengthy and critical review.
According to May Lilley, Chief Marketing Officer for Under Canvas, the company has done its due diligence. “In accordance with SEPA, expert evaluations of project traffic, water usage, effect on wildlife habitat, area water quality and availability were completed as part of our original application and no significant impacts were identified,” Lilley reports. The company asserts that “the proposed seasonal campground is an appropriate, low impact, economically positive way to use this site.”
Policy and legal precedent notwithstanding, the voices of many concerned neighbors remain united in their desire to protect and preserve the beauty and character of the forest and White Salmon river. “Threatening those resources with a fast-tracked project is not the right approach,” says a letter from Greg Mallory. As the SEPA Responsible Official, the County will make the final determination on the proposal.