"Location, location, location" - a message lost on Warm Springs Tribes

Planners at The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs don't seem to be familiar with the well-known marketing mantra: location, location, location.

The Tribes are embroiled in a highly controversial proposal to build a 603,000 square foot off-reservation mega-casino (roughly three times the size of a Wal-Mart super store) in tiny little Cascade Locks, Oregon, adjacent to,and some would argue -- in the very heart of -- one of this region's spectacular gems, the Columbia River Gorge.

(Image credit: Golder Associates)

Its proponents argue that it will be built to LEED standards and apparently carbon offsets would be used after construction starts, "possibly by planting trees." And where will these trees be planted or by whom?

It makes sense to evaluate siting decisions by looking at context, scale, site characteristics and little niggling things like greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

The Columbia River Gorge, 80 miles long and up to 4,000 feet deep, was designated as a National Scenic Area in 1986. The area generates millions of dollars each year in nature-based tourism revenue and is home to threatened salmon, bald eagle and old growth forests.

To my eyes, this is yet another lipstick-on-a-pig story:

• Round trip travel from the Warm Springs Reservation to the proposed casino site is a whopping 220 miles (the Interior Department in a recent memo (link to PDF on page) stated it would give greater scrutiny to tribal benefits as the distance increases between the acquisition -- here the industrial site in Cascade Locks -- and the tribe's reservation.)

• The site -- in addition to 603,000 square feet worth of buildings -- will include 25 acres and an additional 35 acres of pure unforgiving parking lot, utilities and other hard surfaces. 20 acres of parking lot = 413,000 gallons of polluted runoff from one, one-inch rain event (and if you know the area, rain is a regular companion out there)

• The casino would draw 3 million visitors annually and would require an expansion of Interstate 84 over a salmon bearing stream, including "de-watering" the stream. Last time I checked, fish don't drive. Can anyone say traffic, climate change and poor air quality? The Forest Service is already plagued by poor air quality in the Gorge, where visibility is impaired 90% of the time.

LEED standards don't address contextual siting, scale, community opposition or adjacency issues so although it's admirable to build to LEED standards, it alone is a poor indicator of a project's environmental sustainability. The community of Cascade Locks is equally divided and its local government very boldly denounces its opposition. In a list of 20 hyperlinked documents, oddly the only one not working was the link to the Environmental Impact Statement. How coincidental...

Similar to the issues raised by mega mansions scattered across the nation, enraging neighbors and creating visual discordance (ugly is bad enough, huge-ugly is insufferable), scale, location and climate change are deal breakers when dealing with complex smart growth and sustainable development issues.

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