Shoring up access to river is good move

Daily News Editorial, November 4, 2014

 

Despite the fact that two major rivers run through the Longview-Kelso-Rainier area, there are relatively few places close to town to cast a line or stroll along the banks. Industry scooped up much of the riverfront land decades ago.

 

We’re pleased that on both sides of the Columbia River, agencies are working to enhance what riverfront access is available.

 

Last week, the Port of Longview purchased Willow Grove Park from Cowlitz County and has plans to improve that 75-acre park on the Columbia west of Longview. On the opposite bank, Columbia County has plans to spiff up Dibblee Point, which is about one mile downstream from the Lewis & Clark Bridge.

 

The port’s acquisition of Willow Grove is a result of the Cowlitz County government’s dire financial straits. The county could afford only minimal maintenance at the park, and is trying to get other agencies to take over all of its parks.

 

Ports may be known mostly for docks and industrial land, but it isn’t unusual for them to operate or pay for recreational facilities, as is allowed for but not required by state law. The Port of Longview has already contributed $840,000 to local boat launches, though that news hasn’t made as many waves as the Willow Grove purchase.

 

Cowlitz County has been spending about $180,000 annually to maintain Willow Grove Park. The port’s preliminary estimates for the park are for an annual expenditure of $310,000 plus some catch-up maintenance that may cost hundreds of thousands more.

 

The Port of Longview can indeed afford to maintain the park better than the county can. The port has a markedly different financial structure from the county in that it earns revenue from shipping fees. Through September, the port earned nearly $27.5 million, so paying for Willow Grove Park is a tiny percentage of the port’s revenue.

 

We’ll leave arguments over the port’s tax rate for another day. Few would argue that maintaining Willow Grove for boaters, anglers, kiteboarders and families with kids is a worthwhile use of public funds.

 

Across the river, Columbia County has an idea that was debated and rejected at Willow Grove: charging a day use fee for access to Dibblee Point. A fee along with hoped-for grants would pay for making Dibblee Point tidier, safer and more family-friendly. The Oregon Department of Public Lands, which owns the 110-acre parcel, has considered closing it because of littering and vandalism. The state agency isn’t in the recreation business, so it makes sense for Columbia County’s parks department to become involved. A citizens group called Friends of Dibblee Point has long labored to keep the area cleaned up, but a steady funding stream could improve what is now an informal park.

 

User fees are becoming more common for federal and state parks. Most people don’t object to paying them if they feel like they’re getting something of value in return. At Dibblee Point, this could include a specified day-use area with restrooms, and a camp host to keep an eye on unwanted activities.

 

The Rainier City Council has endorsed the Columbia County Commission’s efforts to improve Dibblee, though county Sheriff Jeff Dickerson objects, saying that he doesn’t have enough deputies to enforce compliance with daily-fee admissions.

 

We understand his concerns in a county where the sheriff’s office is stretched thin. But we join the chorus of officials who think the priority should be keeping Dibblee Point open.

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