With a juxtaposition of work and play classic for of Hood River, heavy machinery worked at a quick pace alongside two local men squeezing in a bit of playtime before rain, snow and gusty winds pushed in with an approaching storm.
The kiteboarders, keen to the repairs underway at the Hood River Event Site, kept a safe distance from the massive Kobelco excavator; but not too far to flash a couple "hang-loose" signs to its operator. Working from within an enclosed cabin on a strip of jagged rocks jutting into the icy river and 35-mile-an-hour, 35-degree wind, the operator probably thought something along the lines of, "they must be crazy."
Crazy, around here, is a very relative term.
The Port of Hood River project has been in the works for a few years, and when completed the goal is to have the Event Site's two rock jetties restored to their original condition. Years of bashing by wind and waves have lowered the height of the jetties - particularly the western one - to near water level. With less protection from waves, the Event Site's lower lawn and beach area have seen increased wear and tear.
"The most important part of the project is to repair the west jetty to protect the beach," said Michael McElwee, Port of Hood River executive director.
McElwee said that when the port applied for permits for the project, part of the plan was to remove some sand and sediment from in front of the Event Site to deepen the water. Permits for that part of the project are still pending; but work on the jetties started Tuesday and will be completed soon.
"We're still seeking those permits," McElwee said about the dredging project. "When, and whether it will happen is still uncertain."
The east jetty, although not significant for protecting the Event Site beach from erosion, is a heavily used access point to the Hood River delta in summer months. The east jetty is separated from the sandbar by only a narrow channel of water that connects the boat basin with the Columbia.
When asked how the east delta will be rebuilt, McElwee said the port is aware of the heavy foot traffic and that it's something they will be mindful of.
Port staff said the project will cost about $50,000, with an additional $10,000 or so going toward restoring the gravel beach area where the Event Site lawn meets the water line.
The Port of Hood River Waterfront Recreation Committee met for the first time this year on Wednesday, to discuss current waterfront projects and look ahead to an anticipated busy summer season. Below are some items discussed at the meeting. The next meeting (open to the public) is scheduled for April 13, 3 p.m. in the Marina Center boardroom.
Marina: The port was recently awarded a $3,000 matching grant to upgrade its marina keylock system for moorage tenants. A new keyless entry system will be installed using the funds, but decisions still need to be made to determine how the after-hours gate system in and out of the marina will operate.
Last year the Columbia Gorge Kiteboarding Association worked with the port to endorse a trial season of limited kiteboard landing and launching from the eastern edge of the marina beach. As discussed in the meeting, the beach was minimally used by kiteboarders and only one relevant public complaint was logged with the port. The consensus from the committee was to support extending the provisional use for another season, pending better signage and buoy placement.
The Spit: Debris from high water is topic of concern on the spit, delta and event site. CGKA spokesman and WRC member Pepi Gerald said the CGKA is willing and ready to help with a beach cleanup when the port deems it appropriate. Dealing with woody debris is a sensitive subject, committee members said, so the port has been reluctant to move or sanction moving material that has washed on to its property or onto the majority of the delta, which is owned by Department of State Lands.
"We are really hoping it will float away with the high water," said Jon Davies, WRC member and port board member. "In the spring, if it poses safety issues, it's something we are going to have to address."
Parking: A parking subcommittee met earlier this month to discuss parking issues on port property and idea on how to address some of them. The subcommittee came up with recommendations to relay to the WRC, which will make recommendations to the port's board of directors. Topics of discussion Wednesday included the spit's toll booth and pay system, Event Site usage and congestion on streets outside of the Event Site.
Given that the Spit's parking revenue last year was about $4,800, and the cost to staff the booth for the summer was about $6,000, the parking subcommittee and the WRC seemed to agree that replacing the staffed toll booth with a pay box would be a money-saving move.
Parking in and around the Event Site is an issue that won't be solved easily, especially with future development of empty lots in the area. The port wants to increase usage of the Event Site and the revenue parking fees generate. Port staff said that maintenance and personnel costs at the Event Site outweigh revenue the site takes in from parking fees. Staff also said that after comparing statistics, parking last year inside the Event Site dropped from the year before. In the last few years, an increasing number of day users have been parking on the street outside the pay booth and either walking in to use the Event Site or simply using it as an access point to the sandbar via the east jetty.
Ideas that generated the most consensus at the meeting were to make street parking outside the Event Site short term (maybe 90-minutes) to encourage all-day users to park in the Event Site or the spit; and to offer early discounts on season parking passes to encourage more locals to buy them.