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Industrialists share worry over waterfront park

Two of Hood River’s oldest manufacturing plants are concerned that development of a large park on the waterfront could bring security and safety risks.

Officials from Luhr Jensen and Sons and the Hood River Distillers are worried about potential problems from conflicting uses in a light industrial zone.

“Who’s going to carry the liability if anyone gets hurt on any of these properties?” asked Roger Jensen, a third generation manager in the family-owned business.

The concerns of the two firms center on the recent passage of the citizen initiative to establish a public park on land owned by the Port of Hood River. The property included in Measure 14-16 stretches from the riverside jetty known as the Hook to the site referred to as the Boat Basin and from the water’s edge to the centerline of Portway Avenue. The port has asked the state Land Use Board of Appeals to address the legality of using a process to rezone land that circumvents state land-use rules. That decision is not expected to be made for several months and the planning process for a mixed-use zone has been placed on hold for the immediate future.

Phil Jensen, president of the company, said a challenge with pedestrians wasn’t envisioned when Luhr Jensen signed a 100-year lease for two acres with the port in 1978. At that time, he said port authorities “promised” that the riverside would become a high-quality industrial park. Jensen said the current location was a perfect fit for the fishing tackle production line that was founded by Luhr Jensen, Sr., in 1932. From its humble beginnings in an unused chicken coop on the upper valley ranch, Jensen said the family felt that the waterfront was the right niche for the new 60,000 square foot building that now employs 200 workers. In fact, as business thrived, the company purchased a nearby building in 1989 to house extra supplies and equipment.

“There were promises made by the port and we invested substantial amounts of money based on those promises,” Jensen said.

Ned Marshall, a board member for Hood River Distillers and past manager, said the port’s intent for quality tenants was underscored by strict covenants in the deed. He said the right to purchase the seven acre property included regulations for landscaping, emissions, noise, signage and parking.

“This is an absolutely ideal location for an industrial park, it has flat land, railroad and freeway access and even dock facilities,” Marshall said.

Both Luhr Jensen and the Distillers, established in 1934, had each been considering a move to the Willamette Valley when approached by the port. In fact, Marshall said the board of directors had just voted in favor of the relocation when a port official convinced them that decision would be a “big mistake.” So, in 1968 the Distillers vacated its facility on the east side of Hood River and moved to the waterfront where it grew to employ 40 people and become the largest producer of distilled spirits in the Northwest. However, that operation involves the transportation of flammable materials and Marshall said that encouraging recreational use in that same vicinity is unsafe.

“There are more than five 40-foot truckloads moving in and out of the plant every day. To put a bunch of kids down here to play is going to be dangerous,” he said.

He and the Jensens are also worried about an increase in vandalism from people loitering in park that spans almost the entire waterfront, especially during the night hours.

“We’re here for the long haul and our employees are here so I don’t think there’s much consideration for moving but if security becomes an issue we’re going to have to put a chain link fence around the property,” Phil said.

He and Roger are also worried about a provision in Measure 14-16 that allows his building to remain standing only as long as the existing use continues. Phil said that language could deny his business the ability to evolve into other product lines as the market demands. He believes that community meetings should have been held to explore the potential conflicts brought by the ballot measure before it was brought before voters.

“They (port) never said that we could only make fishing tackle in this building,” Roger said.

The Jensens and Marshall agree that neither of their companies would have chosen to site at the waterfront if they had been told that it would become a large recreational center.

They believe that no matter what happens on the controversial issue, there needs to be top consideration given to their respective businesses. That stand is based on the fact that the facilities provide family-wage jobs for many residents and are used year-around — and not just during the tourism season.

“It’s unthinkable that there could be people in this town that could take an adverse position to our companies and attempt to drive us out of here,” Phil said.

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