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Know the West

'Great recreation value ... and great economic value...'


Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, "Taking Liberties."

Newberry National Volcanic Monument, near Bend, Ore., boasts of having an active volcano, more than 50,000 acres of "lava flows and spectacular geologic features," seven campgrounds, and "two sparkling alpine lakes full of trout and salmon." If Jim Miller prevails in a Measure 37 claim he filed on May 31, it could also be home to a geothermal power plant, a revived pumice mine and as many as 100 vacation homes. The development would sit on 154 acres of private land in the caldera’s center, an old patented mining claim, privatized long before the monument’s designation in 1990. If Deschutes County denies the claim, Miller, an 82-year-old semi-retired engineer, and his partners want $203,491,831 as compensation. Many people, including snowmobilers and environmentalists, say the developments would degrade recreation and scenery. But the owners have fought federal agencies and the county government for decades trying to assert their property rights. The power plant would generate at least 150 megawatts of "clean" electricity that would be sold to customers in California and Portland.

Jim Miller: "People talk about wanting clean power, but they don’t really give the consideration to geothermal that they should. It’s one of the best (energy) resources in the U.S. … I’m an environmentalist, I’m an Eagle Scout, for heaven’s sake! I have no problem with cutting a tree, and also looking at a tree — there’s different uses at different times. … When you have a patented mining claim, it’s one of the strongest property rights. But the county started imposing restrictions, little by little — it’s like strangulation — and finally they zoned us open space. … The place has great recreation value, of course, and great economic value, and the uses don’t have to hinder each other. We’re inside the central pumice cone, if we put a geothermal plant in there, nobody would see it, other than the condensate from the cooling towers, and that would be an enhancement (mimicking volcano steam)."