A cable park in the Nichols boat basin is back on the table.
Following a contentious Tuesday night meeting the Hood River Port Commission decided to hold a vote on whether to enter into negotiations for a cable park in the basin Nov. 14.
The commission called the meeting to hear from Naito Development, which is building a hotel at the south end of the basin, and Friends of the Hood River Waterfront, which has filed a land use appeal of the hotel project as being a party in multiple lawsuits against the project.
The Port had hoped to hear an update on negotiations between the two sides to drop the cable park and the lawsuits to clear the way for a plan to conduct substantial improvements within and around the basin using urban renewal funds.
The hope for any potential resolutions between the two sides quickly disappeared amidst bickering back and forth between the two sides and pointed questions from the port commission.
“I think it’s safe to say the parties are not even close to resolving this on their own,” said Port Commission President Jon Davies following testimony from the Naitos and members of Friends of the Hood River Waterfront.
Bob Naito opened his portion of the testimony offering a revised proposal to put a cable park in the basin.
His proposal included dropping a request for a buoy line to separate the cable park from the rest of the basin.
Naito added that the company’s insurance would cover the plan, and that it would eliminate an “exclusive use” requirement for the basin.
By not requiring exclusive use, Naito said that he would seek a concession permit instead of a lease, cover the costs of removing the cable park if necessary and give the port full discretion at the end of five years as to whether the Park continued or not.
He added that in light of continuing difficulties between the Naitos and the Friends of the Waterfront, he felt the proposal would allow time to see how things worked out.
“If you don’t like the cable park, at the end of five years you pull the cable park out and you proceed with your plan,” he said.
Much of the plan landed with the grace of a one-winged duck.
“I think it’s crazy,” said Friends of the Gorge president Linda Maddox during public comment.
Port Commissioner Hoby Streich questioned the wisdom of having wake boarders on the cable — traveling up to 18 mph — in close proximity to kayakers and other users.
“If you fall off the cable, you are not going to want a kayaker right there,” he said.
Others in the audience wondered why such a proposal was being made now, after the public had weighed in on the Naito’s previous cable park proposal.
Friends of the Waterfront member Susan Crowley told the port commission she was "disappointed" they had listened to a new cable park proposal with little notice for the public to have a chance to hear about it.
The meeting had been publicly noticed the prior week, but the fact that Naitos would be presenting a revised cable park proposal had not been made public until the night before when the Port published a letter from Bob Naito announcing the plan on its website amidst a list of additional cable park resources.
Brent Foster, attorney for Friends of the Waterfront, called the proposal “semi-insane” and said that it would still wind up blocking public access through walkways which would entrance to the water along the west side of the basin.
Earlier in the evening he and attorney Steve Naito got into a bitter back-and-forth as each took turns talking before the port commission.
Both attorneys did their best to repeatedly dodge pointed questions from the commission and to instead direct the blame at each other for the lack of progress in negotiations between the two sides.
Foster said the entire situation resulted from the commercial building project being sited below what it says is the ordinary high-water mark.
“If you don’t have a parking lot or a building up against the water and put in some buffer you don’t have the situation we’re in today,” he said.
Port Commissioner Fred Duckwall questioned Foster on why the Friends were insisting on confidential settlement negotiations with the Naitos.
“You’re concerned with something getting out and leaking and being distorted in the press ... if negotiations are done in full view of the public there are none of those concerns. If everybody knows what everybody is talking about there is nothing that can be used as a stick or used down the road,” Duckwall said.
Foster said he understood Duckwall’s position but that “to get my three parties on the same page, one is national, one is local and one is a regional environmental group; they have not the exact same interest. It requires compromise, and compromise, whether it’s on our part or the Naitos’ part, is hard to do in the spotlight. I understand it makes for good theater to say there is some secret thing but that is different from reality.”
Earlier in the discussion Port president Jon Davies opened his questioning of Foster saying he saw the Friends as “the holdup” in the process.
Steve Naito attempted to pile on during his presentation before the commission.
“The problem we had with confidential settlement idea is the fact that Mr. Foster misrepresented to you what he told us in a secret, confidential meeting. He told us that ‘We don’t care what you do with the hotel as long as you give up the cable park.’
“Then he threatened us and said that if you don’t give up the cable park we will do everything in our power to stop you from putting up the hotel. So it started off on the wrong foot and we’re still on the wrong foot.”
Those remarks drew an angry response from Foster when he again got up to speak.
“It’s difficult to start a negotiation when someone gets up and says I’m lying,” Foster said.
He later added that the only way he saw a possible resolution was for the sides to sit in a room “like real men, like real attorneys” and have confidential discussions.
By the time the back-and-forth was finished, any hope that the plan put forward by Davies and Hood River Mayor Arthur Babitz could proceed appeared to have been destroyed by the verbal crossfire.
The commission eventually decided on a No. 14 meeting to vote on whether to enter into lease negotiations for the cable park.
The commission split on whether to take additional public testimony at the Nov. 14 meeting but eventually decided not to do so.
They did not want to consider the specifics of either of the proposals to put a cable park in the basin, but instead wanted to consider a more general question of whether or not they believed a cable park would be a good fit for the basin and for the Hood River waterfront.
“Details are really down the road,” Davies said. “I think the central issue is do you see a vision of the basin where the cable park is in it or not. I think that is all that really needs to be decided at this meeting.”