JOHN DAY - The master plan for a deluxe guest ranch on the Silvies Valley Ranch got the stamp of approval from the Grant County Planning Commission last week.
The commission, at a Jan. 19 hearing at the Grant County Airport, recommended that the Grant County Court approve the master plan. The Court is expected to consider the plan at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 8. Approval would be followed by an appeal period.
The commission recommended that each building undergo site plan approval as construction gets under way at the ranch.
The hearing drew about 40 people, with none voicing opposition to the development. However, some contractors questioned the potential for construction jobs on the project.
At full buildout, the development could feature 575 lodging units, cabins, townhomes and fractional ownership units.
The ranch, in Grant and Harney counties, encompasses 40,000 deeded acres, and also has 100,000 leased acres. The master plan covers development in up to six phases on less than 5,000 acres, with impacts to 6,980 acres at full buildout.
Principal owners Scott and Sandy Campbell envision a ranch resort to showcase cattle ranching, wildlife habitat and the natural beauty of the valley south of Seneca.
The discussion Jan. 19 centered on topics including fire protection, the water system, use of fertilizers, and areas where recreational vehicles and snowmobiles would be permitted to operate.
Scott Campbell responded to some questions, while noting that some details have yet to be decided.
Employment opportunities took up much of the discussion at the hearing, although commission chair Marge Walton said jobs aren't part of the master plan.
John Martin, a Mt. Vernon building contractor, said he's concerned about whether the project will hire local workers and buy building supplies from local firms.
"I haven't seen one invitation to bid. Will this really help the county? Will local contractors have the opportunity to bid on construction?" asked Martin. "Will the project benefit us? Will this trickle down?"
He said he recently asked one owner of a local lumber business if he had received business from the ranch, and the owner had said "no."
Commissioner Rod Kuhn agreed on the need to hire local workers.
"Grant County is hurting for work. There's lots of unemployment. This is supposed to be an opportunity," he said.
"It is," said Campbell, who said the goal of the ranch is to provide jobs and develop tourism for Grant and Harney counties. He grew up in Harney County.
Mike Martin of John Day spoke at the hearing, saying he already has been doing carpentry work for the project.
Campbell said the bid process "is a bit too formal," and he won't use it. He said that everyone working at the ranch now is local, and that as much of the work as possible will be done by people who work for the ranch, with the exception of the golf course architect, he noted.
"Today, there are about 20 people from Grant County there working, and it can be 100," Campbell said.
He said local painting contractors, carpenters, forestry and reforestry workers, and fencing contractors will be hired. A friend from Portland will do plumbing work; electrical work will be done by a friend who is an electrician, he said.
"It doesn't do anything for economic development to bring everybody in from the outside," he said, noting he has a separate crew of ranch hands.
The golf course is already under construction, and will take at least another 2-1/2 years, he said. When under way, it will require 14 people to maintain it.
When the guest ranch opens - the first phase perhaps as early as 2016 - it will employ a lot of workers, Campbell said, likening it to those of a cruise ship or luxury hotel.
Many will live on the ranch. A chef from Portland is on board to train local people for the restaurant, said Campbell, who said it's in the interest of the business to have employees vested in the community.
Campbell said the ranch will provide guests with many activities, including education on caring for the environment, and on how a working cattle ranch operates.
He expects it to build jobs and tourism in the counties, but "this can't work unless the counties get behind it."
In putting it together, Oregon Department of Forestry and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife were consulted, noted King Williams of Canyon City, who worked for Campbell on the master plan.
At the meeting, ODF unit forester Angie Johnson said the plan looks good. Her agency will provide wildland fire protection, however she asked for clarification regarding fire protection for structures on the ranch.
Campbell said fire-resistant building materials would be utilized, as well as fire-resistant plantings. He said that fires on the ranch so far have been handled by ranch personnel. For the development, fire protection could be through a rural fire district or a private fire department, but that hasn't been decided.
Johnson said she's concerned that forest land on the ranch remain forested. Campbell said he plans to continue to thin and to harvest dead and dying trees, as was done by the ranch's previous owner.
In written comments, ODFW watershed district manager Kevin Blakely suggested placement of fire-resistant plantings and methods of fencing that will allow traverse of wildlife. He urged cluster placements to remain out of the way of wildlife corridors and riparian zones.
Campbell noted that building will take place on less than 5,000 acres, and that sites are positioned to remain out of wildlife corridors.
He also noted that the number of units in the master plan is an "in our wildest dreams" amount.
"That might happen in the next 275 years. A total of 575 units is a laughable number. I'll be wildly ecstatic if it is 50," said Campbell.
Commissioner Rob Stewart also asked about the water system, use of fertilizers on the golf course, and areas where recreational vehicles and snowmobiles can go.
Campbell said the type of water system is yet to be determined although drilling wells has been discussed. He said that would likely mean one well for more than one cluster of houses.
He said the golf course, and the rest of the ranch, is intended to showcase conservation, with minimal use of fertilizer and insecticide.
The ranch also will use quiet means of transportation for wildlife viewing, Campbell said. Visitors to the ranch will "turn in" their cars and use electric vehicles.
Grant County Planning Director Hilary McNary said that a state law passed by the last Legislature, HB 3465, overrides Grant County land use plans and allows this development.
She said that as items come up, Silvies Valley Ranch can apply to amend the master plan.
Campbell said the legislation was needed to develop the guest ranch as envisioned.
McNary told commissioners that in order to make a recommendation, they must ensure that the plan complies with health and safety standards. The legislation was unclear on how that was to take place. The commission chose an option set out by McNary, to require "Type 1" site approvals, which will also help track the course of development.
Commission members Stewart, Kuhn, Carolyn Mullin, Ron Burnette, Keith Dougharity and Dan Driscoll voted in favor. Walton said she was only to vote in the case of a tie. Commissioner Zach Williams stepped away from his seat for the hearing and didn't vote, noting he had a conflict of interest.