Two back-to-back hearings commenced under a hearing examiner late last month concerning the proposed Under Canvas luxury camping site near Husum.

The first, a hearing on an appeal to the county’s environmental determination of mitigated non-significance — a determination that carries the weight of conditions attached environmental approval of the proposed project — commenced on July 29, while the second, a hearing on the developer’s conditional use permit for the proposed project, happened July 30.

Hearing Examiner Andrew L. Kottkamp presided over the two hearings. He said decisions would be announced within 15 working days from the hearings.

Much of the arguments surrounding the appeal against the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) determination, made by Klickitat County Planning Director Mo-chi Lindblad, focused on the largely on the condition of Oak Ridge Road.

Appelants Klickitat Land Preservation Fund, Friends of Oak Ridge Road, and Dennis and Bonnie White brought on expert witnesses to testify on how the condition of the largely unpaved Oak Ridge Road is not well-suited for an increase in traffic that would come with the development.

Expert witnesses invited to testify by the appellants included a traffic consultant, an expert on western gray squirrel habitats, which are a threatened species in the state of Washington, as well as a fire investigator and residents of Oak Ridge Road themselves.

Appelant expert witness Ross Tilghman, a transportation planning consultant, testified that the development could bring traffic to the road in levels of up to 18 times its normal usage. Tilghman also testified that parts of the road measure 17 feet in width, while Klickitat County Transportation Standards provide that “travel lanes shall be at a minimum of 10 feet wide, 12 feet being desirable.”

Tilghman also testified that Under Canvas’ traffic study, completed by DKS associates, did not provide sufficient information about pedestrian conditions, as well as the presence of school busses and livestock in the open range portion that is traversed by Oak Ridge Road, among other concerns.

Ron Scott, a certified fire investigator, testified in his expert report that he shares concerns with the local fire district chief, Wesley Long, about the lack of a safe exit plan in case a fire prompts evacuations of the camping site.

Given the only access in and out of the proposed camping site is along Oak Ridge Road, as well as the location of the project site and the condition of the road, “the impacts of a fire would be potentially catastrophic if these issues are not resolved.”

Scott said the project site present significant risks in terms of fire safety and evacuation risks, going far as to say that Under Canvas guests could become entrapped if a wildfire occurred.

Kathryn Stuart, an expert on western gray squirrels, testified at the hearing that the data concerning squirrel habitats in and around the project site were lackluster, and that Under Canvas did not perform any additional research to determine current occupancy by western gray squirrels in the project area.

Under Canvas called various employees of the campsite developer, including the company’s Chief Development Officer Dan McBrearty, as well as the Director of Real Estate Development Caitlan Cullen. McBrearty testified that the company saw potential in the area, that it has plentiful visitors and a “lack of lodging for those visitors.” He testified that camping sites would provide a reduced footprint to traditional lodging, as well as an economic benefit to businesses in the area.

McBrearty also spoke to allegations brought up during witness testimony that operations at Under Canvas’ campsite near Glacier National Park raised questions surrounding the legality of their water usage. He responded to allegations that the company had not accurately reported their water usage. He also responded specifically to a situation at their Moab campsite where their septic drain field failed, cause sewage to surface and flow downhill.

“As anyone who has developed septic systems and leech fields understands, that is something that does occur and they’re actually planned for in approved systems,” McBrearty said, calling the descriptions of the incident “not accurate.”

He also spoke to the company’s agreement with the U.S. Forest Service that would see a portion of the project site donated to the government for the management of Lower White Salmon Wild and Scenic River.

Various county officials were invited to testify as lay witnesses by Under Canvas, who were not cross-examined by appellants as a result of that classification. This included Public Works Deputy Director Jeff Hunter, and Klickitat County Fire District No. 3 Chief Wesley Long.

Planning Director Lindblad testified that as the SEPA official on the project, the majority of her work done in preparation the determination of mitigated non-significance was gathering input from the various commenting agencies, including state and county officials, and little work was done by the planning department in performing first-hand analysis or measurements. Lindblad also testified the department believed the conditions attached to the environmental approval, 43 in all, would reduce the risk of impact the project may have.

Hunter testified the Under Canvas’ traffic study, performed by DKS Associates, satisfied the requirements of county standards. Even with the traffic changes coming from the development, Hunter said the road would still be classified as a local access road, a category with less stringent standards on the road’s design. He also said his department would not sign off on the project unless the road was widened to 20 feet across, the minimum standard for roads in the county’s code.

Fire Chief Long testified that as the land sits, “it in a condition of poor health” given its in drought conditions. In his opinion, he said, the property is in worse condition than it would be if it were improved, acknowledging that the point is debatable. He said a draft fire plan submitted by Under Canvas is comprehensive “and I have provided one round of comments” on the document, acknowledging that he has not yet approved it considering that document is still in draft form. The district clarified a neutral stance on the controversial proposal in a letter to the editor.

The fire district would respond in a partnership with Department of Natural Resources given the location of the project site in the event of a fire, Long said. The fire district would also receive support from Bingen and White Salmon fire departments.