With mounting public interest over a proposed cable park inside Nichols Boat Basin, the Port of Hood River board of commissioners this week discussed what strategy to take in anticipation of the debate entering the Port's arena.
A cable park would require a lease of about two-thirds of the boat basin by the port, meaning the agency holds a powerful hand in the fate of the project. Michael McElwee, port executive director, gave a recommendation to the board Tuesday at its regular bi-monthly meeting. The recommendation included an approximate timeline for the board to consider, which would allow for the city planning department's site plan and conditional use permit decision in April, open discourse through a "stakeholder roundtable" in May and public testimony at commission meetings, all in time for a potential decision about the lease in mid-June.
A second option, which the board unanimously preferred, would be to delay a port decision on the lease until after Naito Development LLC receives necessary in-water permits from Department of State Lands and Army Corps of Engineers. The board agreed that, if either agency fails to grant Naito the required permits, a potentially heated public debate over the cable park, in the port's quarters, would be avoided.
After some discussion about the grander vision of the waterfront and the basin, the board directed port staff to move forward with planning a roundtable discussion with representatives of various interest groups, to take place at the May 1 commission meeting (open to the public). The roundtable will be aimed at discussing the issues, pros and cons of the cable park project, with the understanding that a decision, and a broader public discourse, will be pushed back until Corps and DSL processes are concluded.
McElwee said that although the board did not follow his recommendation, he sees the value behind the decision. He said Corps and DSL processes may bring additional issues to light that are not currently part of the discussion. If permits are granted, having the proposal thoroughly vetted will be a valuable tool in the ultimate decision making process. In addition, by allowing the roundtable-style discussion now, those with a passionate interest in the project can have at least some form of open dialog until the permitting process is concluded.
The discussion will also be relevant to the port's annual spring planning session on April 17. A major topic of the session will be development of Lot 1, which abuts the west end of the boat basin.
On the downside of waiting to make a decision, the board will risk the possibility of facing a more heated public debate. If it were to hear testimony and make a decision prior to DSL and Corps decisions, the fate of the project would ultimately rest on whether or not proper permits are granted. By waiting, if permits are granted, the full brunt of the decision will rest on the board, and with impassioned groups on both sides of the issue, the port's public image could take a hit regardless of which decision it makes.
"From the Port's perspective, the approach makes sense," said Bob Naito. "There's no need to put the cart in front of the horse."
Naito said that although the permitting processes can take a long time, he is confident they will be resolved later this year.
The Port of Hood River board of commissioners meets on the first and third Tuesday of every month, starting at 5 p.m. at 1000 E. Port Marina Drive. Meetings are open to the public, and public testimony is allowed at the beginning of each meeting.
The elected board of commissioners currently consists of Jon Davies (president), Hoby Streich, Fred Duckwall, Richard McBride and Brian Shortt.