Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Dear Port Commissioners:
I attended the public meeting on Sept. 12 at the Best Western Hotel and appreciate the opportunity to weigh in on your decision regarding the future of the Nichols Boat Basin.
Persuasive testimony suggested that under the Public Use (Floatage) Doctrine, the port cannot lease the property and restrict the public’s access to the waterway proposed for the cable park. Apparently, the developer’s attorney assumed the waterway was not in its natural state when he concluded that the law did not apply to Nichols Landing.
Susan Garrett Crowley presented historic photographs of the Hood River delta showing how the natural flow of the area has not changed in 100 years.
Other testimony of interest included anecdotal evidence of relative lease terms at the port pointing out that proposed terms fell far below market level. At the very least, the financial terms need more scrutiny to ensure that the public will get a fair market rate of compensation should the port allow the development.
Your website logo states “Providing for the region’s economic future.” I hope your decision will jibe with your mission statement. Even if the port had the authority to enter into an agreement here, we heard some contradictory statements about whether financial terms have been discussed between the parties. According to the port’s own website, it looks like discussions have taken place:
The above suggests that this horse has already left the barn, and it doesn’t look good for Joe Public. “Six hundred dollars per month for 15 years with options for 15 more” was the stated offer from Naito to the port.
President of the Port Jon Davies announced, “We have worked very hard to get to this point.” So, apparently it is end game; public scrutiny is a nicety, and yet Port Executive Director Mr. McElwee insisted that to date he has no idea what the lease compensation will entail.
This letter from December 2011 suggests that numbers have been discussed and they are beyond the idea stage. In any event, why would the port commission sell our public waterways for what amounts to 33 cents a person in Hood River County per year? As someone called out at your meeting, “That’s quite a discount.”
Under these circumstances it’s easy to believe the port is providing for the economic future of our elected County Commission Maui Meyer, who is partnered with the Naito family.
In essence, it is the port commissioner’s job to find business and development for the port, but when our elected officials have a personal stake in a project, all aspects of the process need to be transparent, especially the finances. This conflict of interest cannot be left undisclosed in a back-room deal, and parties should provide full public disclosure of the extent of their involvement.
As part of its responsibility to manage use of public lands in the best interest of the public, the port commission needs to set aside its personal relationships and come to fair market terms. If I were to rent the Basin it would cost me $750/day; that I assume is a “fair” rate. In any case, how can the public decide if a lease agreement is a good idea if the terms of such are left a “mystery”?
This is all the more galling to me because while the port is making sweetheart deals with elected officials, developers and corporations involving our public waterways, private property and the tourist industry for the little people (your constituents) have not fared as well.
Recently, Hood River County Planning Department is focusing its efforts on enforcement issues regarding rental properties, B&Bs, farm stands, wedding venues (essentially regulating them out of business) who compete for tourist business. The timing of such enforcement cannot go unnoticed and is suspicious at best. Who but a hotel developer stands to benefit from declaring illegal private house rentals outside the city limits?
It is this writer’s opinion that the port has an important mission, and it needs to refer back to its mission statement in regards to the future of the boat basin.
Nilsa Zeman lives in Parkdale.
Editor’s note: Maui Meyer’s affiliation with Naito Corp. is as leasing agent, and prospective restaurant tenant should the project go through.