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Port charges new fee for kiters at Spit

By CHRISTIAN KNIGHT

News staff writer

May 14, 2005

Sometime this month, the Port of Hood River will be constructing a small booth on the gravel road at the entrance to The Spit that will render free kiteboarding in Hood River extinct.

A person will be sitting inside that booth requesting $2 for every vehicle holding people – especially kiteboarders – who want to cross the channel and head onto the sandbar.

This is part of a solution upon which the port commission and six-member Waterfront Recreation Committee agreed April 18 to end the "Wild West" disorder that flares up in the spring and summer time when the wind blows.

"The real issue is that it's been the Wild West down there," said port director Dave Harlan. "If you are not somebody who is familiar with kiteboarding, and you see this activity down there, you may not be aware of all these lines and cables that have caused injury. When they come to the booth, we can inform them of the hazards, inform them of this and that."

The $2 fee will help the port recover some of the roughly $20,000 it invested last month to grade the road out to The Spit and create enough parking space and access to emergency vehicles.

"People park everywhere," Harlan said. "We wanted to provide enough capacity that vehicles could park at end of The Spit and not on the roadway."

For those who access The Spit frequently, the port will also be selling $50 season passes, which the port also accepts at the Event Site.

"We'll lose money on it," said port spokesman Mike Doke. "But this is a way to recapture some of it back."

The maintenance and operation of the Event Site, for example, will cost the port $100,150 this year. And port officials expect to recover just $62,000 from permits, cruise ship fees and some concessions.

"The port will have to subsidize that up to $40,000 to make it work," Doke said. "It'll be the same thing over there at The Spit."

The new fee doesn't bother kiteboarder, windsurfer and owner of Hood River Waterplay Jak Wilberscheid.

"The gravel isn't free," he said, looking across the mouth of the Hood River at The Spit. "And those guys need to be paid to make the road. I actually appreciate that the port took the initiative to do that. The road was pitted so bad you'd spend a whole lot more than $2 a day on getting your shocks fixed."

Not all kiteboarders agree, however.

Lance Koudele of Mosier said on Thursday he had heard about the new fee. "I think it's strange they decided to do it without asking for our input," he said. "I guess that the polite way of saying I don't like it."

Mostly, Koudele argued, he doesn't like how the port paid construction crews to tear out a pair of deciduous trees at the end of the gravel road.

"You could leave your dogs there," he said. "They added a little oasis in the dry desert. That's what really makes me mad."

Free recreation might become progressively rarer in the coming years as various forms of government search for new, untapped revenue sources.

On a local government level, Harlan said the port is already brainstorming money pots other than the toll bridge, which generates $3 million a year.

"Right now the bridge pays for a lot of subsidies," he said. "It subsidizes the development of Marina Park (boat launch), Marina green, The Spit, The Hook, The Event Site, the Expo Center and the airport."

And eventually, within 20 to 30 years, that toll bridge will be gone.

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