The lower Chetco River just above Brookings is beautiful: quietly flowing turquoise waters bordered by forests and rural houses. But there has been more development over the years, which has led to dwindling amounts of the riverside vegetation that provide cool water and refuges for salmon. There is a key property on the lower Chetco, known by the names of its two owners: the Mahar Tribble property. This 13-acre oblong of land borders the Chetco along North Bank Road. The southern part of the property is known locally as Snug Harbor — an area of lush riparian vegetation and wildlife habitat. Ferry Creek, an important cold water salmon tributary, flows through the middle of the property and empties into the Chetco. Mahar Tribble is outside the city limits, in the Urban Growth Boundary of Brookings. It has long been zoned for commercial and industrial uses, despite being in the river’s 100-year floodplain.
The applicants have wanted for years to develop urban-density housing on this parcel, and expand the amount of land available for development through additional fill in the shoreland area. Problems are legion because the property borders the Chetco, is highly vulnerable to flooding and contains protected shoreland and riparian habitat. A 2009 variance request to eliminate most of the 75-ft. riparian setback was turned down by Curry County. In 2014 the applicants again sought to develop, this time requesting annexation into the City of Brookings, a change to residential zoning, and a shrinking of the Shoreland boundary. To bring sewer to the parcel, the applicants entered an infrastructure financing plan with Brookings. The annexation is a classic “cherry stem” annexation, requiring the city to annex more than 3,200 feet of North Bank Road to maintain the fiction that Mahar Tribble is contiguous to the city limits.
Major opposition surfaced to this plan at the September 2014 City Council hearing on the application. Several conservation groups, including ORCA, submitted detailed testimony, raising concerns about loss of riparian habitat, well-known flood hazards, the cherry stem annexation, inadequate proof of water supply, vulnerability of Ferry Creek, controversy over adding more fill to the shoreland area, protection of Snug Harbor, degradation of critical salmon habitat, stormwater management, and other issues. National Marine Fisheries Service submitted testimony, raising concerns about salmon habitat. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also submitted a letter, declaring that they had not been notified and had not worked with the applicants on this new proposal at all. Mahar Tribble’s mitigation plans were vague. Unfortunately, City Council dismissed all concerns and approved the application.
ORCA appealed the decision to the Land Use Board of Appeals. ORCA won the case in January 2015: LUBA remanded the Brookings decision back to the City. The two principal issues targeted by LUBA were whether there actually is sufficient water for the development, and whether the proposal will harm estuarine resources. Unfortunately, Brookings refused to consider harm to estuarine resources and interpreted “water availability” very narrowly at the remand hearing. City Council approved the project again. ORCA was compelled to take the case back to LUBA in May 2015.