Cable park opponents argue mixed-use best for basin

Public will have its next chance to weigh in Sept. 12

Opponents of a proposed cable park in the former Nichols Boat Basin left the Hood River Port Commission with a choice Tuesday night:

One use or many.

“One of the great things about the basin right now is that we can all share,” said Heather Staten, who led 90-minute presentation by opponents of the project.

Staten said the she did not see how limiting the majority of the boat basin made sense.

The basin is currently used by a kite boarding school, kayaking school and stand-up paddle boarders,

Two weeks after proponents of the projects, including representatives from Naito development, U.S. wakeboarding park operators and local businesses, came before the port to share their thoughts on the project, the opponents took center stage.

The group included lawyer Susan Crowley, Heather Staten, Friends of the Waterfront attorney Brent Foster, Anne Frodel, a member of the waterfront recreation committee, and Bart Vervloet, a local resident “who knows more about the waterfront than anybody” according to Port Director Michael McElwee.

Steve Stampfli, the Hood River Watershed group coordinator, attended as a neutral party.

Staten, a local business owner and advocate for waterfront public access, led off the discussion with a presentation outlining a user survey she conducted of the basin over a week earlier in August and an economic cost benefit analysis of putting a cable park in the basin.

She contended that putting in the park would not only restrict use, but could have a potentially detrimental economic impact.

She compared a cable park with three employees and the likelihood of 150 customers on a busy day, to the use of the basin by all the other groups and businesses.

“Besides thinking those are fairly modest numbers I started to think they would be a wash in terms of economic development ... there was not really any gain,” she said.

She added that the active use of the area through kayaking, swimming and SUP contrasted greatly with what would occur with a cable park.

“Until I went to a cable park I didn’t understand the impact of queuing on a cable park operation,” she said. “If I pay $40 for an hour and I only got to go one time I’d feel kind of ripped-off.”

She argued with the economic development the port has planned for Lot 1 to the west of the boat basin, putting in a cable park would make no sense.

As a supplement to her presentation she provided the port with the list of all U.S. cable parks she could find. Of 38 she found she said 30 were on private lakes and 61 percent were on lakes specifically constructed for the cable park.

Eight of the 38 were on public lakes, and according to Staten, none were on a river.

She added that none of them were in a developed area like the port has planned for Lot 1.

“The grand majority of them are in the middle of nowhere they don’t have the sort of neighbors you are anticipating in Lot 1,” she said. “I haven’t seen a single cable park in this country which has the sort of mixed retail, commercial light-industrial interface you are planning for Lot 1. I don’t know how well it would work, if it would work at all.”

Staten wound down her presentation by appealing to the port’s economic development interests.

She said the cable park would attract a narrow customer demographic, predominantly male and affluent, and that the diverse uses of the basin now would be squeezed out.

During her usage study from Aug. 14-20 for one hour each day, Staten said she saw 92 people using the basin at the busiest hour, and 16 at the slowest, with a 56-44 split between male and female, and a mix of ages and uses.

Staten said she conducted her own usage survey because the port had not done one and she encouraged the port to conduct their own study.

“I know that the commercial business which would be along the west side of the basin want as many customers as they can,” she said. “With the narrow customer base and the limited number of people that can use the cable park in one day, if I had a restaurant there and I had to choose between 150 people using a cable park or 500 people doing these other things I would rather have 500 customers.”

Later Frodel continued to advocate for mixed use in the basin, saying that if with the growing forms of water recreation, the port needed to find ways to increase public access, not restrict it.

“Based on my prior experience in the waterfront the biggest need I can share with you is the need for access and flexibility,” she said.

She added that she felt it made little sense to devote the basin to one use for years to come when the recreation scene was constantly evolving.

“A few years ago SUP was not on our radar; in 2000 kiting was not a popular sport,” she said.

While Staten focused on the economic potential of keeping mixed use in the basin, most of the other presenters focused on the right of the public to use the basin or the detrimental impact a cable park would have.

Crowley gave a brief overview on public use doctrine and said that prior to the damming of the Columbia at Bonneville the Hood River flowed directly through what is now the basin.

“First and foremost I’m not opposed to cable parks per se,” Vervloet said in his statement to the commission. “But I am opposed to placing one in this basin because the majority of the water being considered does not belong to the Naito group. It belongs to the Port of Hood River, and as a public agency that means it belongs to all of us.”

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