By LAURIE BALMUTH
Special to the News
I have been following the waterfront issue fairly closely and have attended several City Council meetings and several Port of Hood River meetings and work sessions.
Over the past months I learned that Hood River residents have for many years consistently made the case for a park extending the length of the waterfront and that this is a matter of public record. Hood River Parks and Recreation did a study and one of the top, if not the top desires, of the public is a waterfront park, and, the Parks and Recreation Department has the funds available to construct and maintain it. It has been noted that virtually all cities with a waterfront capitalize on it by constructing parks there, sometimes at the cost of demolishing freeways and structures in order to do so.
It makes sense that a beautiful public waterfront area adds greatly to the value of land adjacent, preserves views and property values in the town and promotes tourism. I also learned at City Council that $70 million — that’s seventy million dollars — income from tourism came in to Hood River last year.
However, the Port of Hood River owns most of the land in the waterfront area and is intent on selling it to the highest bidder in order to fund projects in Odell and other parts of the Hood River County. The Port halted the implementation of a well-considered waterfront plan in order to have “more studies.” They have hired consultants to produce plans for elaborate and costly parks and then argue that we cannot afford them.
Two weeks ago a citizen group filed an initiative calling for park dedication along the waterfront. The City Attorney blocked it. Last week the City terminated the open Waterfront Planning process with no clear proposal for retaining any of the extensive work and hearing record that had been accumulated. Later the Port announced that it was going forward with a request for developers to submit proposals for construction on the waterfront.
I am not sure that the City of Hood River fully understands that the Port of Hood River’s interests are in many ways adverse to the City’s. The Port of Hood River is not interested in preserving views and property values of our town. The importance of the waterfront to the economy of Hood River is, I believe, somewhat irritating to the Port. It is because of the Port’s historic and continuing obtuseness and mismanagement of the waterfront that it obtains little of the $70 million in tourism dollars. It is after all the windsurfing and adventure sports community that has purchased and improved both private homes and businesses here making what was nearly a ghost town in the mid-1980s into a thriving and highly desirable place to live.
The Port is clearly trying to “cash in” in a most destructive way. I would hope that the City put a stop to this and create the waterfront park that is wanted. There is PLENTY of land on the south side of Port Way and to the west of the esplanade that can be developed. The value of this land and the value of the land in town will be greatly enhanced by a waterfront park.
Laurie Balmuth lives in Hood River.