Arguments over deer, noise and procedure dominated a daylong Deschutes County public appeals hearing Thursday on a proposed residential development and private water-skiing lake that’s been contentious since it was proposed more than a decade ago.

If the Deschutes County Commission rules in favor of Tanager and KC Development Group LLC, 19 high-end homes could be built around two artificial lakes on a former mining pit northwest of Bend. A hearings officer gave the developers permission to go ahead with the planned homes, but didn’t approve the previously constructed lakes — a northern 8-acre semicircle meant for swimming and fishing and a femur-shaped pond to the south for water-skiing.

Tanager and KC Development Group want to move ahead with the project, while the environmental group Central Oregon LandWatch and a group of neighbors, led by Thomas and Dorbina Bishop, argue the project, moved forward without proper permits, will harm wildlife and won’t fit in with the quiet rural neighborhood surrounding it.

Jennifer Bragar, an attorney representing the Bishops, said the county should require the developers to drain the artificial lakes and allow the land to be reclaimed by native plants and animals the way it was starting to after mining ceased.

The surface mines were lined and rebuilt as ponds several years ago, and Ken Katzaroff, general council for KC Development Group, LLC, said his clients were told they didn’t need permits. He said even if they had violated state law or county code that isn’t a reason to deny applications because violations must be prosecuted within six months. Deschutes County code and Oregon law bars prosecution under the statute of limitations, Katzaroff said.

Other arguments focused on how the proposed development would affect wildlife, particularly deer and elk.

Carol MacBeth, a staff attorney at Central Oregon LandWatch, said development interferes with the migratory paths of mule deer, which move to lower elevations in the winter. Deer aren’t biologically able to adapt to changes in a short time frame, which is why deer continue to cross roads and highways, she said.

“The winter range has been established over thousands of years,” MacBeth said. “The animals just keep coming back to the same area.”

Surface mining temporarily disturbs the winter range, MacBeth said, but it eventually reverts back to what it was before. A recreational use like a water-ski lake, however, is a more permanent disturbance, she said.

Neighbor Roy Dwyer, who opposes the lake portions of the proposed development, said he enjoys seeing the wildlife in the area. He and other county residents who live nearby said they didn’t want noise from water skiing.

“If it was a fishing lake, maybe it’d be OK, but it’s a water skiing lake,” Dwyer said. “Never in my wildest days did I think I’d be living in an area that’s going to have water skiing.”

Katzaroff said the development will limit the types of boats that can use the private water skiing lake and had noise tests for all of them.

“We tested all types of boats and all types of activities,” Katzaroff said. “The ambient noise level, the wind in the trees, is louder than the boat.”

The county will continue accepting written testimony on the Tanager appeals until 5 p.m. April 20. A decision will come later this year, no earlier than mid-May.

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