Sunriver Fire Department eyes new training facility

A similar proposal in 2011 drew concerns over smoke, noise, fire risk

By Elon Glucklich / The Bulletin

The Sunriver Fire Department wants to build a new training facility for firefighters, picking up a 2011 plan that sparked public outcry over the facility’s proposed location.

This time, the department is looking at a new location east of Sunriver Resort and south of the Lake Penhollow irrigation and composting area. Fire officials say far fewer homes are in that area than the proposed 2011 site, near a rural neighborhood outside Sunriver’s boundaries. The new location is expected to lessen noise and smoke concerns, they said.

At a public hearing in front of a Deschutes County hearings officer Tuesday, Fire Chief Art Hatch and an attorney for the department outlined why they should be allowed to move forward with the plan.

Technically, the public hearing covered the fire department’s request for a zoning change on 4.3 acres south of the irrigation area. It’s part of a much larger piece of land owned by Sunriver Environmental, which provides water to area homes.

But the idea is to change the land’s zoning from forest use to utility use, which would let the department build a two-story, houselike structure on the property.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Hatch said the building would be made out of straw and untreated wood. The materials would let crews set the building on fire and put it out repeatedly over time, potentially rebuilding parts of it as needed.

“There won’t be a great deal of smoke,” Hatch told the hearings officer. “There would be a pretty good puff of black smoke, a smaller puff of white smoke, then it would be gone.”

Smoke was one of the main concerns that drew dozens of Sunriver-area residents to a public meeting in late 2011. The proposed location then was on Deschutes County-owned land southwest of Sunriver Resort, in a rural residential neighborhood.

Sunriver Service District, which oversees the fire department, shelved that proposal in late 2011 in response to the community opposition.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Hatch said the department probably would use the building just four times a year for live fire training. Previously, the department had considered 12 to 16 sessions a year, according to The Bulletin’s archives.

Many trees in the new area were cleared years ago, Hatch added. The risk of fires spreading to surrounding vegetation was another major concern brought up by homeowners in 2011.

“We won’t be cutting any trees. A lot of it has already been cleared long before we got here,” Hatch said Tuesday.

Some of the project details, such as the size of the building and the department’s timeline for constructing it, aren’t known.

Fire department officials didn’t return messages seeking comment Wednesday and Thursday.

Deschutes County guidelines usually require a hearings officer to rule within 90 days of a hearing date. The ruling isn’t binding, but serves as a recommendation for county commissioners, who have the final say.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, eglucklich@bendbulletin.com