1. Where is Nichol’s Basin?

Nichol’s Basin is a 15-acre off-channel bay of the Columbia River located at the heart of Hood River’s waterfront. It is front and center in our small town–just a two-block walk from downtown and overlooked by the homes on the hill facing the Columbia River. Historically, it was part of the delta at the mouth of the Hood River where it feeds into the Columbia but now a narrow Spit divides the Hood River from the Basin. In the past the Basin was used for building and repairing barges at its south end but that business closed more than a decade ago.

2. Why is it special?

The Columbia is a big river, but there are very few places like the basin. Because it is off the main channel of the river, the basin offers a unique  flat-water location which is protected from wind and river currents. The calm waters are popular with beginner sailors, kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders, windsurfers, fishermen, swimmers and folks just floating around in intertubes. It is not uncommon to see up to 40 users on the water there at one time. People of all ages, shapes and sizes use the basin. Parents prize it as a safe, protected location to enjoy the water with their children before they are able to cope with the challenges of the main river.  The basin is used by people walking their dogs, birdwatching, and enjoying nature. While not a pristine site, the off-channel location makes it attractive habitat for wildlife –an evening paddle is likely to produce sightings of ducks, geese, herons, osprey, swallow, beaver, bass and salmon smolt. There are lots of places on the Columbia for high wind/high adrenaline  junkies to play, but there aren’t very many for the rest of us. The basin is water for the rest of us. Find out more about the people who use and love the basin.

3. What is a cable park anyway?

Cable wakeboarding is wakeboarding while being pulled not by a boat, but by an overhead cable-ski system. An overhead cable is suspended by a series of towers. Along the cable are a number of carriers from which ski ropes can be attached to tow a rider around the basin. According to Oregon state law, the cable park is an “Amusement Ride” (ORS 460-310).

4. What are the elements of a cable park? How big are the towers? What about the docks and in-water obstacles?

The proposed park is a very large one covering 10 acres of the basin.It would have seven towers in all—five for the main system as well as a smaller two-tower system on the east side along the Spit Road. Each tower will be as tall as a three or four story building. At the April 16 Planning Commission hearing, Will Naito said the towers would be no more than 45 feet above the level of the water.

The park also includes two very long docks along the west and east shore of the basin which riders will use to get back to

land when they fall off. Each dock is 6 feet wide—the west one is 850 feet long, the east is 500 feet long and the connecting dock between the two is 144 feet. This is nearly 1/3 of a mile of private-access only docking that will be placed in the basin. Even when the cable park is closed the docks would prevent sailing from the east to west shores of the basin.

In addition to the docks, there would also be a 300-foot long log barrier in the middle of the basin—this is to prevent the

wake created by riders on one side of the park from disturbing the riders on the other side of the park.

The Naitos have also proposed 7 obstacles (sliders, ramps) to be located in the water. The average size is 47 feet long, 5 feet wide and 4 feet tall. They are typically decorated with advertising.

While the developer is not requesting night operation at this stage, lighted night riding is common at other parks of this size. Other parks include sound systems with DJ booths for events.

5. Who would use it? How much does it cost?

Cable park users are predominantly young men– 80% are males aged 15 to 29. Rates haven’t been set yet, but at other parks in this country, costs average $25-30/hour. Season passes for large parks are $600-$1,000.

6. Can current users and the cable park share the basin?

Unfortunately, the cable park effectively eliminates other uses. For safety reasons, general public use of the water of 10-acre cable park area will be prohibited during cable operating hours (April to October from 10 am to dusk). The developer says that the public will be allowed to use the park area when the park is closed. Which means the rest of us can use it very early in the morning, at night and in the cold weather months (November to March). Additionally, the long docks, sliders, log barrier, and the anchor cables for the towers make paddling and sailing difficult—there are just too many obstacles to go around.

7. Who owns the area where the park will be located?

This is a more complicated question than it seems. The cable park will cover about 10 acres of water. The land underneath that water is known as  “submerged land.” Of that, only a small fraction (0.6 acre) is actually owned by Naito Development. The vast majority of the park (9+ acres) belongs to us, the public, through the Port of Hood River, a local government entity. The developer has proposed a 15-year lease for the submerged land from the Port at a cost of $7,500 per year. The five elected Port Commissioners must decide whether it is in the best interest of our community to lease public water to a private commercial development.

While it is possible for a private individual to own submerged land, the river itself is owned by the State of Oregon. Even where the state has granted title to its submerged and submersible land to private individuals, the courts say that the granted lands are still subject to public use under the Public Use Doctrine. This public ownership of the water is what allows a fisherman to float down a river unrestricted even though the submerged land underneath the water may have multiple private landowners.

8. Is it legal to build a private commercial enterprise in public water?

The vast majority of cable parks are located on private property in man-made lakes built especially for the purpose. Typically, they are located in a farm field in the middle of nowhere. In the US, there are a handful of parks in publicly owned lakes and reservoirs, but not a single one has been located in a river.

The Friends believe the waters of the basin belong to the public and State law prevents them from being leased to a private company for an exclusive use that restricts the public. The basin is located in what was once the Hood River delta. The river was used in the past to float logs from upstream down to the sawmills at the mouth of the Columbia River.  All navigable waterways at the time of statehood in 1859 were turned over from the Federal Government to the State of Oregon and held in trust for the benefit of all people. With the development of roads and rail transportation, floating logs on the Hood River came to an end and the “floatage easement” once enjoyed by logging companies evolved into today’s Oregon State Common Law of the Public Use Doctrine that guarantees recreational boaters (kayakers, canoers, paddle boarders, fishermen, sail boaters, beginning windsurfers, rafters, swimmers) use of navigable waters such as those in the Basin. This doctrine of law provides that the State of Oregon holds submerged and submersible land in trust for the benefit of all the people. The general public has a right to fully enjoy these resources for a wide variety of public uses including navigation, commerce, recreation, and fishing. The National Organization for Rivers advises:

“Government agencies cannot sell or give away rivers to private ownership or control, because rivers are held “in trust” for the public under the Public Trust Doctrine. They must allow the public to fish, boat, and recreate. They can manage recreation to conserve resources of public interest, but not simply to reduce or eliminate recreation.”

The Friends oppose any effort to abridge those rights.

10. Isn’t your group the “NO to all development” crowd?

Not at all. The Friends are not an anti-development group. We are definitely not fighting to save the status quo of a derelict, unimproved shoreline behind a chain link fence. We understand that this area will—and should—be developed. We advocate an alternative vision of high-quality development at the basin, one that embraces our singular natural setting, enhances recreation and creates lasting economic development.

11. Wouldn’t the cable park bring jobs and economic development to Hood River?

For the amount of real estate involved (10+ acres), the cable park produces a very modest number of jobs. According to an economic analysis commissioned by the developer, the park itself would generate “9 direct, indirect or induced jobs.” “Direct, indirect and induced jobs” is a very generous way of calculating job creation. It includes lots of fractional jobs. For instance if the garbage truck visits the site twice a week for ten minutes, that is calculated as a fraction of a new indirect or induced job. Of the 250 jobs predicted for the development as a whole, just 3.6% will be from the cable park even though it takes up 2/3 of the land area (the hotel and commercial building are the real drivers of job creation). The jobs created will be low-paid, seasonal jobs similar to what is paid ski-lift operators. We believe our alternative vision of a number of home-grown companies operating schools and rentals for  stand-up paddleboard, kayak, beginning windsurfing on the west shore of the basin would outperform the cable park in terms of job creation.

The more detrimental economic impact from the wakeboarding park would be on the land, where it would have a negative effect on the development possibilities of Lot 1. Lot 1 is owned by the Port of Hood River and will be the capstone project of the Waterfront Business Park. So far, the Port has tried to separate their consideration of the cable park proposal from their planning of  Lot 1. This can’t be done. The very thing that makes Lot 1 unique and valuable is that it is waterfront property. Activities on the water will determine what is possible on land. The Port wants to create family wage jobs and quality development, but the businesses that the Port hopes to attract will not want to be next door to a wakeboard amusement park. Of the 40 plus cable parks in the US, not a single one is located in an urban area dense with next-door businesses, most are located in the middle of nowhere with no neighbors at all.

Through the Port of Hood River, the public owns both the basin and Lot 1. We should look at the project as investors: what use of the water best supports economic development on land? What effect does a cable park have on property values? Are cable parks compatible with high-tech and other businesses? It would be very short-sighted to approve a project that generates a handful of seasonal low-paid jobs but drives away businesses that create large numbers of family wage jobs.

12. If not the cable park, then what? What is your alternative vision for the basin?

The basin could be magical. It is at the center of our waterfront–it should be its centerpiece. We envision the western shore of the basin as a linear park organized around a variety of paddle sports and other less intense water recreation. There would be a beautifully landscaped waterside path punctuated with larger community gathering spaces and seating overlooking the water. The design would increase opportunities for recreation and make them more convenient by enhancing and adding to the number of water access points. Along with improving the road and parking at Slackwater Beach, additional water access would be created with a couple of new docks at the southern end (near where the Kayak Shed is now). A few buildings would be placed at the lower level near the water for locally owned businesses to run schools/rentals for stand up paddleboard, kayaks, windsurfers and other small boats. There would be storage facilities for SUP and kayaks to make life easier for local users. A little bit of commercial activity –like cafes and an ice cream stand–would be mixed in. On the eastern shore of the basin, trees and other native plantings would be added to restore riparian habitat for wildlife.

Contrast this vision with what will happen on the western shore of the basin if the cable park is put in. There will be a path but no public access to the water itself except at the north end of Slackwater Beach. There will be no need for water access because the public won’t be allowed to use that water. It will be a “look but you can’t touch” zone where the public’s interaction with the water of the basin is limited to watching the wake boarders go round. Or –during the six months of the year when the park isn’t operating–watching sliders, ramps, and off limits private docking just sit there spoiling the view.

The Port owns 95% of the basin and 90% of its shoreline. The basin should be used to enhance the value of the Port’s land assets, instead, the cable park would constrict other development opportunities. The Port will need to answer these questions in making its decision: Does the cable park represent the best use of the basin? Will it provide the most economic development for our area? Will it add the most to our quality of life? We get a better payback on every level, by investing in enhancing the kinds of uses that have already taken hold there the last couple of years–SUP, kayak, beginning windsurfing etc. We think our alternative vision is much more likely to result in a waterfront that is attractive to tourists and beloved by locals.

13. What are the impacts of the cable park on wildlife habitat?

Many birds and other wildlife make their home at the basin–from swallows and bald eagles to night herons and great osprey.  There are even beaver that use the basin.  A professional bird biologist conducted an assessment of the birds that use the basin and documented over 28 bird species in just a short survey.  After reviewing plans for the cable park the longtime bird biologist concluded that ” the proposed project would significantly reduce the value of the existing avian habitat as a result of human disturbance from both the cable park and adjacent development.”  He also found that 85 to 90% of the current bird species in the basin would no longer use it if the cable park was constructed.  While the developer has not yet conducted an impact assessment for the project, there is no question that putting a wake board amusement park in the boat basin would seriously reduce its value for wildlife.

14. Would the cable park affect salmon?

Right now, juvenile salmon use the basin for feeding and as an off-channel refugia. Fast-moving wake boarders circling the basin at speeds of 20- 30 miles per hour will create surface disturbances in the basin that trigger flight responses in juvenile salmon. Juveniles are known for their skittish risk avoidance behavior from perceived threats. Repeated, constant flight response significantly decreases salmon growth and survival rates. Installation of more than 1/3 mile of new docks (10,000 square feet) in the basin would provide vast new cover and habitat for non-native predator fish species that feed on juvenile salmon.  The impact of docks on increasing non-native predator fish has been well documented. The project would require over 280 concrete anchors each of which is 300 pounds to secure docks in place, as well as, significant concrete and metal infrastructure to support the metal crane-like pylons that support the wake boarding cables would result in the direct loss of river bottom habitat.  You don’t have to be a biologist to understand that a high-intensity amusement park for wakeboarders is not consistent with protecting the salmon that depend on the basin today.

15. What is the regulatory and local government process for approval of the park?

Any project involving water must go through a maze of regulatory agencies:

Port of Hood River The Port is a local government entity with a five member Commission elected by the voters of the county. The developer only owns a small fraction of the submerged land required for the cable park (just 0.6 acres of the 10 acre park), the rest is owned by the Port of Hood River. The Port Commission must decide whether to lease this piece of public property to the developer. Their evaluation process includes two stakeholder work sessions and a public meeting. The public meeting will be held on September 12 at 5 pm at the Hood River Inn, this is your opportunity to speak to the commission.  They plan to reach a decision at their September 18 meeting. Share you opinion with the Port by sending a letter to porthr@gorge.net or by mail 1000 E. Marina Drive, Hood River, OR  97031.

City of Hood River  The Planning Department will evaluate the park for compliance with local land use regulations. A Conditional Use Permit has been submitted to the City but a Planning Commission hearing has not yet been scheduled. Public comments on the cable park application can be emailed to Cindy Walbridge, Planning Director.

State of Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services and Building Codes Department. These departments regulate amusement park rides like the cable park. Under state law, “Amusement ride” is defined to mean “any vehicle, boat or other mechanical device except “water slides” moving upon or within a flow perimeter or structure, along cables, rails or ground, through the air by centrifugal force or otherwise, or across water, that is used to convey one or more individuals for amusement, entertainment, diversion or recreation.” These agencies would be responsible for issuing the cable park an annual license, assuring adequate insurance and that it meets safety standards.

Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL) This agency’s regulates the “waters of the State”. The cable park requires a Removal/Fill Permit for the structures and anchors that will be placed in the water. DSL will evaluate the project for its impacts to public navigation, fishery and recreational uses of the waters. The developer has asked for an extension of DSL’s decision deadline in order to prepare and submit more information.  The public comment period for this permit is closed but may reopen if there are significant additions to the application.

 U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. This federal agency regulates the “waters of the United States” and also operates the Bonneville Dam. They also require a Removal/Fill permit. Sometimes this is called a Section 404 permit after the part of the Clean Water Act that governs it. Section 404 permits require an Environmental Assessment (EA) at minimum. Projects with greater impacts on sensitive habitats require a Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA). Naito Development does not currently have a regulatory permit under consideration by the Army Corps. They applied for a federal Removal/Fill permit but withdrew that application in April and have not resubmitted. There will be a public comment period if the Section 404 permit is reapplied for.

The developer is in consultation with the Real Estate section of the Army Corps for their land-based development in the Corps “flowage easement.” A “flowage easement” is an easement purchased by the Corps from the property owner that allows the Corps to flood the property to a certain level –in this case 83.7 feet above sea level– as part of dam operations. The developer would like to locate their commercial building in the flowage easement but have it elevated on pillars so that the ground floor is above the water level.

16. How can I help?

Sign the petition against the cable park at the top of this page.

You can make your opinion known to the Port Commissioners by sending a letter to the Port of Hood River by September 12.

Send a letter to the editor of the Hood River News.

Talk to your friends and neighbors. Tell them about the cable park and its impacts. The more people know, the less they like the idea. Direct them to this website or print this flyer and hand it out.