Nichols landing argument heats up

Opposition launches pair of lawsuits, LUBA appeal on waterfront project

Environmental groups and the developers seeking to build out the former Nichols Boat Works site are ratcheting up their battle over the future of the waterfront area.

On Tuesday the Port of Hood River will begin a series of meetings to determine if it should offer a lease to NBW Hood River, which is owned by Naito Development of Portland, for a recreational wake boarding cable park in the boat basin.

Following the city’s approval of a hotel and commercial building on land at the south end of the basin Friends of the Hood River Waterfront and the Tucson, Ariz., based Center for Biological Diversity announced their intent to sue the city and NBW Hood River for threats to endangered salmon and other violations of the Federal Endangered Species Act.

This week, the same groups, along with the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, announced intent to sue NBW Hood River for violations of the Federal Clean Water Act stemming from uncovered dirt piles at the site of the planned hotel and commercial building, known as Nichols Landing.

Simultaneously, Friends of the Hood River Waterfront attorney Brent Foster announced that the group would be appealing the city’s approval of the project to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.

In the Endangered Species lawsuit, Foster contends that construction of the commercial building below the ordinary high water line of the Columbia River would result in significant pollution and a “take” of endangered salmon.

“You can’t put a commercial building in the river and yet that’is what the council did,” Foster said of the city approval of the project.

The city’s approval for the project states that the ordinary high water mark for the site is 80.65 feet and stated that the city is “not permitting development there (below the high water mark) and any development proposed below OHW would be addressed in the floodplain permit” which must be obtained through the Army Corps of Engineers.

Bob Naito of Naito Development said that project is currently set above the 79.4 foot mark, which Naito said “is the ordinary high water line” and that city was relying on outdated data in determining the water line at 80.65 feet.

He said that they would prefer to keep the building at the 79.4 mark because of the slope of the site.

However, he said that if the Army Corps of Engineers maintains the 80.65 high water line level “we’ll move the frigging building because we will not build below the high water mark.”

An Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman said the Corps has not made a final determination on the high water mark at the site.

Foster contends that the dirt piles at the site are eroding and that erosion is “resulting in the discharge of pollutants, including but not necessarily limited to dirt, rock, sediment, suspended solids, turbid waters and other materials that fall within the (Clean Water Act’s) definition of the term ‘pollutants’ into the Columbia River.”

Naito says that the piles are outside dirt brought into the site, some of them as long as four years ago for a potential condominium project at the site, and that several of the old piles have become vegetated and overgrown with weeds.

He also said that the company’s engineering firm, had examined the piles and not found them to be eroding.

A silt fence is set up between the basin and the piles to contain any erosion, and Naito acknowledged that the fence had been knocked down before, but when he received a call the fence was down “we had someone there to put them up the next morning.”

Under the Clean Act suit notice, NBW has 60 days to correct the alleged violations of the act, and Naito said they will ensure they are in compliance.

“If we have to we’ll haul the friggin’ piles off,” he said. “We will be in compliance with our national erosion control permit”

The Port meeting on Tuesday will be a “stakeholder meeting” for the port commission to hear from representatives of those in favor of the proposed cable park to accompany the hotel project.

A subsequent meeting for those opposed will follow in two weeks, and that meeting will be followed by a public comment session on the project.

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