Klickitat County will hear public comments through Sept. 18 on an environmental review of a development proposal submitted by luxury camping company Under Canvas after the Klickitat County Planning Department issued a preliminary determination of mitigated non-significance.

Most public and private development proposals must undergo an environmental review by the lead agency, in this case the Klickitat County Planning Department, of the ways in which a development can impact its natural surroundings. Named after the State Environmental Policy Act, a SEPA review can result in either a determination of significance, non-significance, or mitigated non-significance, which can be taken into consideration when a board begins its deliberations on the outcome of a permit application.

In this case, the planning department issued a preliminary mitigated determination of non-significance on Aug. 27, meaning the 

agency determined that the project “would not have a significant probable adverse impact on the environment,” given that the conditions incorporated in the decision are followed. The planning department determined 21 separate measures must be taken to mitigate the potential impacts the project may have on the environment and invited agencies, tribes, and the public to provide comment before a final determination is made, which can be appealed to the Board of County Commissioners.

After a final determination is made, a public hearing will be held on the matter of Under Canvas’ application for a Conditional Use Permit. That is just one of the many permits the county is requiring of Under Canvas to obtain before construction can begin, along with a recreational park permit and a Construction Stormwater General Permit (a new well and a new septic system would be installed on the property, per the development proposal). A Conditional Use Permit is required for the development to proceed given the land is currently zoned for forestry use.

If the County Board of Adjustment approves the Conditional Use Permit for the recreational park, the associated binding site plan will be forwarded to the Board of County Commissioners for their review and approval, said associate planner Lori Anderson.

If approved, the project would be the first of its kind in the county, let alone along the White Salmon River. The development proposal boasts a 95-tent luxury camping facility on a 118-acre lot on Oak Ridge Road near Husum, complete with laundry and dining facilities and wood-burning stoves. Under Canvas has been conducting outreach since at least early 2020 in the area, releasing fliers, attending community meetings, and gauging the community’s reaction, which has largely been vocal in opposition. Neighbors to the plot of land have charged the proposal is “not well thought-out.”

“Somebody didn’t do their homework,” resident Beverly Eisner told Columbia Gorge News earlier in the year.

Concerns she shared include wildfire preparedness, safety on the roads and water usage, much of which had been covered in a recently submitted SEPA Checklist. Others shared support for the project within the Conditional Use Permit application, such as Mark Zoller of Zoller’s Outdoor Odysseys Inc. in BZ Corner, who lauded the project for its potential to “help sustain not only my whitewater rafting company but the other seven rafting companies on the White Salmon River.

“The idea that this area would no longer be logged and that the property would be tied up so that it would not become a subdivision is very appealing to me as well,” Zoller continued.

The project is also receiving heat from local environmental groups, such as the Friends of the White Salmon River and the Columbia Gorge Audubon Society, due to the lot of land encompassing 30 acres of federally protected land through the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Under Canvas has publicly stated no development will occur within the Lower White Salmon River Wild and Scenic corridor. Activists argue the development, if it were to be constructed, would set a precedent that favors development near the White Salmon River.

The county planning department is encouraging agencies, tribes, and the public to submit comments by 5 p.m. on Sept. 18 to planning@klickitatcounty.org.

Original documents, including the State Environmental Policy Act checklist, binding site plan application, recreation park application, conditional use application, and a memorandum on the planning department’s preliminary determination of non-significance are available online at klickitatcounty.org/1261/Under-Canvas.

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