Updated: May 8
By Kirk Kirkland
Park Junction Pasture is the last place to see the mountain as you approach the Nisqually entrance of Mount Rainier National Park. This is where Park Junction Resort wanted to build a shopping center, convention center, golf course, and hotel and condos for 600 people.
On April 25, 2023, after two decades of permit extensions, the Washington State Court of Appeals revoked the permit of Park Junction Partners.
The State Court of Appeals upheld the hearing examiner's May, 2021 decision, finding: "Even though there was some conflicting testimony in the record from Park Junction’s witnesses, there is sufficient evidence to show that mismanagement delayed the project, that Park Junction did not build two demonstration wetlands or even one by the deadline, and that Park Junction did not communicate its difficulties with the deadline to Pierce County until the deadline had passed."
In the county hearing examiner's 46 page decision from May 2021, the examiner had extended the project's permit based on promises that they would comply with a deadline to build a wetland complex. In the past, the partners had applied for three wetland permits, but never completed an agreement with the county on their construction. This last time, they agreed on a deadline of November 2022, but the only change in the 100 acre pasture by then was two holes in the ground. Unfortunately for the owners, there were no clay barriers to permit them to function properly.
In the county examiner's May 2021 revocation decision, he cited the property owners and managers' "…history of excuses and mismanagement that previously delayed the project." Their testimony in the February 2021 hearing, he said, "showed that the elements causing past delays, including inadequate supervision and organization, remain.” And those elements, he added "will likely prevent timely processing of the project to completion."
Herds of elk like these graze pastures where the resort was originally permitted.
Tahoma Audubon Society first appealed the initial permit in 2001 on the grounds that county zoning regulations prevented a resort this large from being built in a volcanic hazard area. The resort project called for a convention center, hotel and condos for 600 people, plus a golf course and shopping center.
In 2002, the State Court Of Appeals reversed the Hearing Examiner’s first decision and determined resort owners could not build a convention center for over 300 people in a volcanic hazard zone. Within the next year, Pierce County Council changed the zoning designation to allow up to a 500 person convention center in this zone.
During the years 2002 and beyond, Mt Rainier has not erupted in the conventional way. However, there were periodic lahars that sent mudflows down Tahoma Creek, damaging the Westside road enough to close it permanently to automobile access for hikers. In 1947, a major lahar destroyed a campground at Kautz Creek and closed the main road to Paradise for a season. Previous eruptions had left signs of mudflows on the Park Junction building site.
During those twenty years, the hearing examiner held a status review hearing every 3 to five years. In 2014 and 2019 the examiner was disappointed in their progress toward getting approval of a water plan permit from the state and a wetland permit from the county planning department.
After the May 2021 revocation hearing, Tahoma Audubon Society defended the hearing examiner’s revocation decision in Superior Court, where it was overturned, then eventually the State Court of Appeals. Robert Mack, a past board member of TAS and our attorney, said that the project could possibly still find a path forward but, “We’re pleased with Tuesday’s decision. I think the Court of Appeals and the hearing examiner got it right,” he said, “And a Superior Court judge got it wrong. But because it was argued in front of the Court of Appeals the developer can apply again for a new conditional use permit."
A new permit would require a renewed environmental review and a change of zoning, and the partners would have to meet new standards that have been adopted for the area since 1998. Neighbors in Upper Nisqually Valley were always concerned the golf course would pollute their creek with landscape maintenance chemicals and that increased traffic would make lines even longer at the park entrance. They will welcome this Appellate Court decision and oppose another round of permitting and zoning changes.
TAS could not have successfully sustained this two decade effort without the generous support of our attorney Bob Mack, who has represented us through all court appeals.