Hood River, Cascade Locks ports pledge greater cooperation

Gorge Commission urges agencies to exert political muscle as a region

The commissioners of the ports of Cascade Locks and Hood River met jointly for the first time Wednesday at Cascade Locks City Hall.

Darren Nichols offered to help the groups, and they took him up on it.

Nichols, executive director of the Columbia Gorge Commission, spoke to the commissioners about increased cooperation and making efforts to regionalize their resources, lobbying, and project development.

Both ports agreed by consensus to meet again and asked Nichols to facilitate a meeting of all five mid-Columbia River ports, meaning The Dalles, Klickitat and Skamania will all be invited.

Present were Cascade Locks’ Jess Groves (president), Donna Mohr, Joeinne Caldwell, Brenda Cramblett and Scot Sullenger, and Hood River’s Richard McBride (president), Brian Shortt, Hoby Streich, Jon Davies and Fred Duckwall.

Nichols urged the ports to join forces for greater political strength, and emphasized that the need for greater cooperation will be found in the fact that the Northwest population will nearly double by the year 2050, and that also means thousands more visitors each year.

“That creates a whole new dynamic, and we can’t wait 20 years to do the things we need to for when these people arrive. We have to prepare for it now,’ Nichols said. Beyond that, investors such as Insitu and Google will only stay if they are assured that infrastructure is being cared for, according to Nichols.

“Look upon the safety of your community as a backup to private investment,” he said.

The Gorge could also serve a critical transportation role in case a catastrophic event such as a natural disaster shuts down the Portland metropolitan area.”

“Suddenly the Bridge of the Gods becomes a critical infrastructural lifeline,” Nichols said. “It creates an opportunity for the two ports to put their resources together. Can we build infrastructure that is resilient to any catastrophe?”

The commissioners talked at length about current and future bridge repair funding, in light of the Ports’ common status as bridge owners: Cascade Locks owns Bridge of the Gods, and Hood River owns Hood River Interstate, both toll bridges charging $1 for passenger vehicles, and higher rates for larger-axle vehicles.

Bridge of the Gods has been under weight restrictions since July, which Cascade Locks port commissioners said represents an economic constraint for local businesses on the Oregon and Washington sides of the river.

Motorists using the Bridge of the Gods should expect the possibility of alternating lane closures to occur starting Wednesday, Oct. 16, from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., seven days a week. Workers will be repairing or replacing dozens of rusty or corroding bridge components that caused ODOT to increase the weight restrictions on the structure in July from 40-30 tons to 8 tons.

Also on Wednesday, Cascade Locks Port chair Jess Groves asked his Hood River counterparts to work collaboratively on future funding of bridge repairs and maintenance, and asked for Hood River to work with Cascade Locks on getting bridge toll increases passed.

“It would help to work together on that,” Groves said.

A critical area of cooperation will be to work with officials in both Oregon and Washington, and with the federal government, to recategorize bridge projects so that they could receive a higher priority than they currently do.

“Our two ports own bridges and we know how critical they are,” Groves said. He noted that the Cascade Locks commission voted this year to dedicate $150,000 to $170,000 annually to bridge upgrades.

Recreation and economic development are the main missions of both port districts, which are public taxing agencies. Working together on attracting and retaining businesses to the region is a mutual goal that the two ports can work together on, the commissioners agreed. Further, they want to bring other regional ports in on the discussion.

The date and location of the five-port meeting are yet to be determined. The next step will be a letter to Nichols from Port executive directors Michael McElwee of Hood River and Paul Koch of Cascade Locks, asking him to work with the five ports to set up the meeting.

McElwee and Holly Howell of Port of Cascade Locks both gave updates on their agencies’ strategic plan updates. Hood River is in the midst of its, and will hold the second of two meetings on what it calls the Strategic Business Plan (SBP) update Oct. 23 at Mt. Hood Town Hall. The community is invited to the 6 p.m. meeting.

Howell said the Cascade Locks SBP was completed last month, and the preliminary draft will be presented to the community on Nov. 7.

Priority projects are the Bridge of the Gods’ load rating and maintenance, and marketing and developing the industrial park.

The Hood River SBP will guide operations and investments for the next five years.

In addition to attending public meetings, the community can give input at the port website, portofhoodriver.com. It features a link with complete information about the SBP process as well as an open-ended survey to collect input about constituents’ visions for the Port, as well as areas that need improvement.

Port commissioners and staff members will also be distributing postcard questionnaires to constituents and stakeholders that can be mailed to the Port office.

A fall newsletter will cover the SBP process and include a questionnaire to return.

The port also encourages letters (Port of Hood River, 1000 E. Port Marina Drive, Hood River, OR 97031); or emails (porthr@gorge.net) on the Strategic Business Plan or any other topic.

The Port of Hood River’s major assets include the Hood River Interstate Bridge, the Ken Jernstedt Airfield, real estate at Waterfront Business Park, the Hood River Marina and Port Marina Park. Other assets include waterfront recreation sites, waterfront trails, and buildings that remain of previous economic development projects.

More than five years ago, the agency undertook a major waterfront development strategy that has resulted in significant growth at Waterfront Business Park.

The Port also is charged with ensuring the viability of the Hood River Interstate Bridge, an aged, yet critical link across the Columbia River. Major airport improvements were recently completed, and the Port continues to improve and maintain its various assets, including important local recreation sites.

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