Before Aug. 19 meeting, port commissioners and staff answered community questions
WASHOUGAL — Through the pandemic, the Port of Camas-Washougal has been doing it’s fair share of problem solving, but especially when it comes to high use areas.
In the hour prior to their usual meeting, the port commission and staff hosted one of their Coffee Talk hours over Zoom. The goal is to receive additional community input and better address areas of community concern.
This past week the three largest topics focused on land, sea and sky. The Washougal waterfront development planning has continued through COVID-19, and was a point of some community contention this week, as the lease with the developer, RKm Development, is near signing and groundbreaking will occur over the next several months.
As for the sea, it’s more to do with the river. The most discussion occurred during Coffee Talk and the meeting on upgrading the port’s boat ramp and launch at the marina. Staff has observed a significant increase in new boaters and boating traffic, prompting a search for grant money and plans for revamping.
The port’s Grove Field airport in Camas is also going to receive some TLC, with striping completed and some tree removal taking place soon. The big ticket, however, is the potential construction of a new community work building at the field.
The waterfront development
At the end of 2019 after a large amount of public input through open houses, the final plan for the Washougal waterfront development between the port and RKm Development was approved.
Since then, the port has been preparing construction plans and finishing all the legalities. The lease will be signed soon, and the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was finished recently as well.
Some on the call Wednesday questioned the amount of public input that would be possible moving forward with the plans. A common concern from residents of both cities in the past has been that the new waterfront would pull business from the existing two downtowns. The master plan process, however, received a large amount of support from both communities.
“You will have ample opportunity as this moves forward to see what it is that the development will consist of, and have opportunity for input,” said Port Commissioner Larry Keister. “We haven’t gotten to the point where your concerns are not being looked at. The entire community will have an opportunity.”
The port’s Director of Planning and Development Mark Miller also explained that while the concerns of community members are recognized, the port did extensive public outreach in 2019. He used the example of the project’s design standards requiring structures to aesthetically match the surrounding landscape; that being the start of the Columbia River Gorge.
“We got a lot of information about what the public wanted in the development in the first place, and then also, what they wanted the development to look like,” Miller said. “As the development builds and grows, the market is going to change and different tenants are going to come forth based off what the development contains.”
Miller and Keister explained that all tenants of the new development would be evaluated by the commissioners, who are elected for the port’s three districts.
The marina and boat launch
The use of the port’s boat launch and ramp, as well as the related parking areas, has seen a tremendous increase in use, according to staff. Early this summer, the port made the decision to close two of the four lanes on the existing launch to adhere to social distancing guidelines. A third lane just reopened this week.
Port CEO David Ripp and Miller explained that many of those now using the boat launch are traveling here from out of the district and even out of state. Miller also pointed out that many are first time boaters.
“Fuel sales have increased, our launch ramp has increased, the number of people boating has just increased due to the coronavirus,” Miller said. “People just want to get outside and you know that’s the only place they can really go, so they’re taking advantage of every recreational opportunity.”
As community members pointed out during the conversion time, there have actually been calls for police involvement at the launch due to fights breaking out between boaters. The combination of the inexperienced and experienced in a reduced capacity environment has led to conflict, Miller said.
In response to the increased traffic, the port staff has proposed a two pronged solution of upgrades to the existing boat launch and overhauling the parking lot flow.
Staff is seeking grant funding to change positioning of several parking areas near the marina launch, as well as redirecting the main boat entrance to the opposite side of the area. Pandemic being implemented have also caused some future concerns.
“The thing we’re worried about is the next 3, 4, 5 and even 10 years, boat trailer parking is going to be limited to what we currently have,” Ripp said. “So at some time, we may have to shut down our ramp unless someone is going to just launch your boat and take your boat trailer and car somewhere else. We’ll have to figure out a control system; counting or something. We’re still still in the beginning stages of that discussion.”
When it comes to the boat ramp itself, the plan is to replace the existing dock walkways and in so doing widen them. This would allow more space to maneuver boats for inexperienced boaters, which Miller pointed out is many of those using the ramp right now.
With the adjusted parking route and redone ramp infrastructure, the port hopes to alleviate the traffic jams, back-ups, human tension, and risk of damage to the ramp and patron’s boats.
“We have the waterfront development underway and in four years, this whole area could be substantially different,” Miller said. “In 10 years, it will be substantially different. It just depends on how quickly those leases fill up and how quickly the tenants come in. We’re going through this grant process, and we wanted to have this conversation to make sure that we were setting ourselves up for the win into the future.”
The airfield and airport buildings
Recent striping of the airstrip in Camas was completed in house by the port and some tree removal on the property is beginning very soon. The horizon, however, is currently set on the construction of a new building.
This new facility would likely contain a public meeting space, a place for pilots to do training and work, as well as a potential restaurant or cafe.
“We’re looking at some grant money through the state that could help cover some infrastructure if we were to build some type of multi-use facility,” Ripp said. “You could have Cascadia Tech coming out and doing some training, flight schools, potential restaurant, and having some kind of public community room as well.”
For more information on upcoming Coffee Talks and meetings with the port of Camas-Washougal, visit their website at portcw.com.