No development is justified in the Methow Valley

  Dear HCN,


Beauty has definitely not eluded the Beast, and this Beast does not turn out to be any Prince Charming ... In the past I have greatly enjoyed and appreciated the journalism of HCN. The Nov. 28 article on the Methow Valley, however, was exceedingly optimistic. The idea of development based on compromise and an environmental foundation sounds great on paper. However, Tom Robinson's job is intimately connected to the proposal. He is neither unbiased nor disinterested in this development, his past environmental credentials notwithstanding.


A foundation to protect wildlife after the fact of development is absurd. The development parcel is a slender finger approximately one-half mile wide surrounded by Forest Service land, Paysaten Wilderness, Chelan Sawtooth Wilderness, and North Cascades National Park. The development area itself needs protection. No mention is made of the Forest Service documents that show the entire development area is used extensively by the largest migratory mule deer herd in the state as both staging areas and migratory corridor. The general area and directly adjoining public land is also shown to be home to spotted owl, bear, cougar and bald eagle. In the adjacent wilderness area, wolves have begun to make a tentative comeback.


Maggie Coon suggests that absence of a downhill ski resort will tone down real estate speculation. The publicity generated by your article, the efforts of Merrill, et al, and the recent three-page spread in the travel section of the Washington, D.C., Post, should suffice to dispel any fantasies.


The article also fails to closely examine Merrill's development. Merrill has chosen to pursue piecemeal development, thereby avoiding (at least so far) a comprehensive environmental review. Instead they have divided out a convenient parcel in order to begin development with the Wilson Ranch. There is no attempt to be open with complete plans, although the majority of acreage is yet to be developed.


Merrill claimed to welcome the public in their Wilson Ranch development, and intended to include public access to their initial ski lodge. But, lo, they had already maximized the allowable density and ran into inconvenient problems with sewage treatment. So now the public gets access to porta potties instead.


The ultimate build-out numbers of 500 to 600 units mentioned in the article are of interest. Where did they come from? Merrill has yet to make public its full plans. Instead, they are now asking the county to vacate 2.5 miles of county road. My calculations show this would revert land of approximately $100,000 in value to Merrill, and extinguish all public access to their property. Merrill says the road configuration does not fit with their development plans. In order to make rational assessments, the full development must be revealed. Merrill seems to prefer to gain as many concessions as possible while revealing as little as possible.


No mention is made of the fact that Beulah LaMotte, my neighbor, has quit the Methow Valley Citizens' Council. A number of other locals have quit in disgust also. Many spent countless hours and dollars in the 1980s taking the last developer all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court - and winning. There is dismay at the co-opting of local development by the Friends of the Methow in Seattle, and dissatisfaction with the MVCC development direction. Merrill chooses to sit down and negotiate away the hard-fought gains of the "80s with select individuals who endorse development.


Impacts on an area always correlate to numbers of people. The more people, the more impact. Subdivision into five-acre parcels is held out by Merrill as the ultimate boogey-man. In fact, if the entire 1,200 acres was divided into five-acre lots, a total of 240 dwelling units could be created. Compare that to the 60-plus units in the Wilson Ranch alone and the 500 to 600 cited in your article.


Washington state documents from the departments of fisheries and ecology show this river basin to be over-allocated in its water use, and the salmon runs to be severely depressed. Creation of five-acre lakes for the benefit of real estate developers is not helpful. The whole water issue is in question. The legal challenge has yet to be settled, and is being vigorously pursued. Merrill's lands hold claims from the turn of the century that are questionable in their validity and quantity. The issue of turning questionable old agricultural claims into lakes, golf courses and development raises legal questions for local farmers and other water users, as well as the previously mentioned issues of over-allocation and fisheries.


It was with great disappointment that I noted the omission of the above issues in your article. There are valid and pressing reasons why this development is no better, and in some ways worse, than previous proposals. The fundamental question is not whether to have a downhill ski resort or a cross-country/golf resort. The fundamental question is: Can any resort in this location be justified?