After many years of witnessing negative impacts on the North Santiam Canyon economy, several people now see a bright light on the horizon.
In October, the Marion County Commissioners unanimously approved plans for the Elkhorn Golf and Resort in Lyons, a destination resort with a 40-room hotel, condominiums, single-family housing, a dining facility, a clubhouse and boutique shopping. Pacific Security Capital, Inc. of Beaverton is the acting developer for the project. Rick Dyer, the manager director of PSC developmental services, was not available for comment on this story.
Mill City Administrator Deborah Hogan said the destination resort would have a positive impact on the North Santiam Canyon region.
“We’ve suffered the loss of jobs because of what’s happened with the timber industry,” Hogan said.
“A destination resort would bring jobs to the canyon when the development is being built and tourist dollars here when it is finished.”
Hogan said there is the potential the decision by the Marion County Commissioners will be appealed, “so it’s going to be sometime before we see construction begin.”
“The sooner the construction begins, the better,” she added.
When the Marion County Commissioners approved the resort, they did so while placing 45 conditions to be met by developer.
Marion County Planning Division Manager Sterling Anderson said with the amount of work still needing to be done to meet the conditions, it will be awhile before construction begins.
“The number of conditions the developer needs to meet is a lot,” Anderson said. “Some of ones they
asked for and others are from the county.”
The list includes road improvements, meeting Department of Environmental Quality standards regulating sewage, and a fish and wildlife habitat plan.
Anderson said there is still the possibility opponents of the plan could appeal the Marion County Commissioners’ decision. Opponents have 21 days to appeal after the ordinance is adopted by the county commissioners. Anderson said the commissioners could finalize the approval in late November.
A retired teacher, Stayton resident and avid outdoorsman, John Brandt said there are several reasons why he opposes a resort around the golf course at Elkhorn.
“The resort would irrevocably change the nature of the North Santiam Canyon,” Brandt said. “It would essentially place an urban-style subdivision in a geographically constrained area and in one of
Oregon’s most important natural resources.”
He’s skeptical about the amount of the economic boost the resort would give to the area, adding once the construction is complete, the jobs would be mostly service oriented such as wait staff, housekeepers and groundskeepers.
“Service jobs in general are low paying and the people won’t be able to live in the vicinity of the resort and will have to travel far to get there,” he said. “My main concern is once the change is made to the environment, there is no reversing it.”
Eric Stachon is the communications director for 1,000 Friends of Oregon, which was founded in 1975 by Gov. Tom McCall and Henry Richmond as the citizens’ voice for sound land use planning.
At this time, Stachon said, 1000 Friends of Oregon has not made a decision on whether or not it will appeal the decision.
Some people have argued the resort would be better suited near one of the towns in the North Santiam Canyon, where the infrastructure is already in place.
Mia Mohr is the project manager with the North Santiam Canyon Economic Development Corporation.
“The board is happy with the approval from an economic development standpoint,” Mohr said. “We hope the development company keeps its pledge to show outreach to the communities by using local businesses, suppliers and vendors.”
She also hopes the developer will follow through with its pledge to minimize the environmental impact on the area.
The golf course’s late founder, Don Cutler, had the idea for a destination resort and had his conceptual plan approved by the Marion County planning commission in 1982. The idea was brought back to the table in December 2007 with a series of public hearings and meetings.
A lifetime member of Elkhorn Valley Golf Course and the North Santiam Chamber of Commerce president, Mike Long said from his perspective he sees the resort as bringing in tourists who will want to golf, ski at Hoodoo, go whitewater rafting, visit antique shops or go fishing.
“I am excited for the resort,” he said. “It will be nice to have some amenities like a clubhouse to go to after a round of golf.”
He understands many people are concerned that the resort could have an environmental impact on the canyon, especially since the resort will be near the old-growth forests of Opal Creek and the Little North Santiam River.
“I think the developer is conscience of people’s concerns and has an understanding this is a pristine, rural area,” he said. “I think they will make a minimal impact on the environment when developing.”