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Know the West

Proposal for Lassie's lumber mill has enviros barking



A dilapidated lumber mill in the Columbia River Gorge, famous for its appearance in an 1967 TV episode of Lassie, is now the site of a controversial development proposal.

Since the time when the famous collie floated down the flume to the Broughton Lumber mill, recreation — particularly windsurfing — has skyrocketed in the gorge. To capitalize on the boom, the mill’s owners want to build a 68-acre sawmill-theme resort and condominium complex.

The mill sits inside the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, however, where high-density development is confined to 13 "urban" areas; the mill is about two miles from the nearest of them. There are 28,000 acres within these areas, says Michael Lang, conservation director for the Friends of the Columbia Gorge, and "development should happen there."

Broughton Lumber, which already has permission to use its land for minor commercial development, is pressing the Columbia River Gorge Commission — the federally mandated authority that manages the scenic area — for a zoning revision. But the commission, which says it can’t consider the request until January because of budgetary woes, says it needs time to consider the proposal and conduct community outreach.

Steven Andersen, a consultant working for Broughton, says the commission has failed to enforce its 1992 management plan, which calls for a plan review every 10 years. "They’re holding us hostage," he says. "It’s already a developed area. It’s an industrial area."

"Some recreational commercial development should occur on the site," agrees Martha Bennett, the commission’s executive director. "It’s a question of threshold."