By Pat Jenkins
A public hearing to review the status of Mount Rainier Resort at Park Junction, a project that has made little progress in recent years, has resulted in a prolonged period for the public to weigh in.
The meering last Wednesday at the Fire District 23 station in Ashford ended with Pierce County hearing examiner Stephen Causseaux setting July 6 as the deadline for written comments about the project to be submitted to county officials. The hearing record will remain open until then, he said.
After that date, Causseaux will issue a decision or take some other action that could have a significant impact on the resort project’s future. He could:
• Ask for additional information from the county or the project’s developers.
• Decide if the project is making sufficient progress or not.
• Convene another hearing on whether to revoke the county’s authorization for the project to proceed.
Causseaux didn’t give any indication during last week’s hearing of what might be next.
Public comments are to be sent to Ty Booth, a senior planner for the county, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Pierce County Planning and Land Services Department, 2401 S. 35th St., Tacoma, WA 98409-7490.
The hearing last week focused on what the Oregon-based developers, BCB Group, have been doing to move the project forward. The developers and the owners of the 420-acre site near Elbe that would be home to the massive resort have told the county that they want to keep going, despite lengthy inactivity caused by the slow economy.
Plans call for the resort to include an 18-hole golf course, a 270-room hotel, 300 condominiums, a conference center capable of hosting 500 people, 20,000 square feet of space for retail stores, restaurants, tennis courts and a swimming pool. It also would have a train station, its own sewage plant and housing for 120 employees.
The project was first proposed in 1994 and passed environmental impact requirements with the county in 1999. Appeals by project opponents led to a series of court rulings, ending in 2005 when the state Court of Appeals reversed a lower-court ruling and restored the project’s approval.
The proposed site is next to State Route 706, halfway between Elbe and Ashford and 11 miles from Mount Rainier National Park. The land’s owners, Park Junction LLC, include Gayle Adams and his wife, Cora.
The land was logged in 2004. Since then, there has been no construction and the project has been unable to obtaining financing because of economic conditions, according to Sylvia Cleaver Shepherd, the project manager for BCB Group.
Shepherd said earlier this month that the developers hope the hearing examiner will allow more time for the resort to be built. The company has estimated construction would take about 18 months to complete once it starts.
Some of the opposition to the project was outlined by one of the proposed resort’s critics, who submitted written comments but asked not to be identified by The Dispatch.
The Ashford resident claimed the resort would create negative impact on:
• Police and fire protection. There is no county Sheriff Department precinct in the immediate area, and District 23 is the only local fire protection agency.
• Traffic. SR-706 already is heavily traveled during the summer by visitors to Mount Rainier, creating potential traffic hazards that resort-related traffic could make worse.
• Water and sewer service. Both would be hard-pressed to meet the needs of a sizable resort.
• The environment. A golf course would require the use of pesticides and herbicides to preserve it, raising the possibliity of harming wildlife and the nearby Nisqually River.
The Ashford resident conceded that “a small hotel or store complex at Park Junction might be very good for the community down the line if local people were hired to build” the facilities and work at them, “although right now even existing (lodging is) struggling.”
While “I am not against development,” there are too many unresolved questions about the project, as well as concerns about the possibility of road improvements or other project costs being passed along to taxpayers, the resident said.