The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Former mayor prefers different plan for lagoons


February 22, 2018

To The Eagle:

Richard Erickson’s notion (Letters to the Editor, Feb. 15 edition) that the town should sell the old sewer lagoons to Port District 1 is both predictable and ironic. Yes, the waterfront should be used to promote economic growth in Wahkiakum County, though selling it to a loss-making port district lacking a long term vision would be a major mistake. Here’s why:

In 2012 the town council very publicly proposed that the port take the lead in co-developing the sewer facility’s parcels based on a decade-old concept plan, a scheme once championed by Richard and his colleagues at the old EDC, for a second moorage basin and expanded marina. That was our Plan A, and the fact that the port never took it seriously speaks volumes about its lack of initiative.

Even with various fundraising advantages the State of Washington affords port districts, ours has a track record of missing opportunities. When the town rebuilt 2nd Street, with sidewalks and streetlights running right to the main marina entrance, we offered the port a chance to piggyback on that effort by widening and repaving its own roadway leading past the office to the parking lot – thus saving mobilization costs and getting better pricing due to scale. They declined.

Recently, a port commissioner appeared before the town council to formally offer to purchase the sewage lagoons from the town. When council members asked the obvious question -- for what purpose? -- the commissioner had no answer. If, as Richard suggests, the port simply wants to build a park, then why stay mum?

My hunch is that Port District 1 hopes either to expand its campground, resell the parcels for private development or build a new hotel. Most campsites sit empty outside 2-3 big weekends every summer, so why add more? Lodging built with tax dollars on port-owned land would compete against the privately-owned historic hotel already operating on Main Street. Private business creation, not grant-funded public projects, should be our focus.

And what about the old EDC proposal for a second moorage basin? During my tenure as mayor, we built the new sewer plant as efficiently as possible while promoting waterfront redevelopment done in a manner that would benefit the town financially. A larger marina promises that. In contrast, Mayor Jacobson’s park plan lacks an economic component; the notion that even a great riverside park would attract sufficient new business to Cathlamet to generate additional tax revenues needed to maintain the new park is, at best, wishful thinking.

Cathlamet’s waterfront would benefit most from a second moorage basin and an expanded marina operated by Port District 1. Added boat slips, better camping options and enhanced public access – all good. That could happen on town land paid for (in an annual use fee, say) by the port, or after the sale of the parcels to the port expressly for that purpose.

Alternately, the town should consider selling the sewage lagoons to a private developer. Demand for waterfront housing is powerful across the Lower Columbia region. Why not put the land back on the tax rolls, bring new residents into the community and create numerous additional sewer hookups that would ease the burden on current rate-payers?

George Wehrfritz


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