Unique Columbia River RV Park Threatened
No one who lives on this mecca for golf-and-water recreation near Wenatchee, Wash., wants to leave.
Who would want to?
The Columbia River embraces this 160-acre island under the stoney gaze of spectacular basalt cliffs about 27 miles east of Wenatchee.
But the RVs, homes and condos there that many of them have owned for decades are on public land, owned by the Grant County PUD as part of Columbia River shoreline linked with its Wanapum Dam, according to the Wenatchee World.
The 50-year lease the PUD issued to develop the island expires in 2012. There’s no guarantee the residents can stay.
What to do with Crescent Bar is sparking heated public debate.
“We’re the grandparents. Our kids have come in and now their kids are coming in,” said JoAnn Hanson, 74, who’s lived in her home in the island’s RV park for 20 years with her husband, Rich Hanson, 76. “We would be devastated if we had to go.”
300 Families Own Space in RV Park
The Hansons are among some 300 families who purchased space in the Crescent Bar RV Park, some as long ago as 1973, when private development on PUD lands wasn’t subject to the intense federal scrutiny and approval process of today.
Hanson said their leases require that they be able to pull out in as little as 48 hours if ordered to do so by the PUD – an easy enough request for a trailer on wheels.
But no one has ever made that request, she said, and the residents gradually settled in.
Most of their “recreational vehicles” now have expansive decks and front porches, elaborate additions and tidy driveways, many containing cars as well as golf carts.
Currently, more than half of the 160-acre island is covered with some 300 RV homes, 103 condos, a public beach, boat launch and moorage and a nine-hole public golf course. About half the developed land is associated with private ownership.
Kelly Larimer, lands resource manager for the PUD, said the rest is set aside as natural areas. Federal regulators have forbidden any more development outside this existing “disturbed footprint.”
Feds Want More Public Access
When the PUD got a new license last year to operate Wanapum and its sister dam Priest Rapids, with it came a renewed federal mandate to expand public access and recreation, Larimer said.
The PUD plans to build hiking trails on the island and improve the public beach, boat launch and boat access to moorage.
Danna Dal Porto, a retired Quincy High School art teacher from George, has been an outspoken proponent for either removing island residents or obliging them to pay more to remain there.
“In order for the public to have more access, something has to leave.” Dal Porto said. “I’m not saying that everyone who’s on the island should be kicked off … but somebody’s making a lot of money from what in essence is public property.”
PUD commissioners have planned a series of meetings to receive public input on the future of Crescent Bar Island and other PUD lands nearby.
Larimer said commissioners hope to approve a new shoreline management plan, which includes Crescent Bar, by year’s end. Federal dam regulators must also approve the plan.
“I’d hope they get lease extensions, but at this point in time, the PUD is not telling anybody anything,” said Ed Pace, vice president of Crescent Properties Inc.
Early History of Development
The company built the island’s condos (pictured below), sold the RV lots and oversees island commerce under a sublease from the Port of Quincy, the PUD’s main leaseholder.
In 2005 and 2006, Crescent Properties Inc. developed Sunserra, a townhouse resort with a golf course and clubhouse, on its own property on the mainland, just across the bridge that accesses the island.
Unless fees increase, Pace said his company is probably not interested in continuing to manage the island, which he says generates revenues that just cover expenses.
Crescent Properties Inc. pays the Port of Quincy approximately $35,000 per year as aportion of the proceeds from operating the island. The port’s annual lease payment to the PUD totals only $100, Larimer said.
The earliest individuals who bought RV lots each paid $4,995, PUD records show.
Today, each lot owner pays a yearly lease fee of only $33. Condo owners pay anywhere from $100 to $626 per year. Residents also pay homeowner association dues of about $1,400 annually.
According to websites advertising rentals on Crescent Bar Island, Larimer said at least 73 RVs or condos there rent for $900 to $1,800 per week – a tidy profit, given their low annual ownership expenses there.
The town of Quincy, just east of the island, has reaped huge tax benefits from tourist spending. The Port of Quincy is interested in remaining the PUD’s main lease holder to the island, Curt Morris, port commission president said.
“Someone needs to be able to run it,” Morris said. “What you need is a benevolent dictator, because if you don’t have it, it’s just a mess.”
Longtime homeowner Hanson says the island’s three homeowners associations are willing to work with the PUD and port to manage the island themselves, if necessary, as long as they can stay.
She says island residents welcome the public, and have a right to stay.
“We feel we can work together to get a win-win situation and make the public feel welcome,” she said.
Dal Porto says Grant County residents are footing the bill for the island homeowners’ low-cost lifestyle.
“All leases need to be renegotiated to market value,” she said. “They have what is the cheapest housing situation in Grant County, and it’s prime recreational property. We’re subsidizing people to have recreational property on public land. And I just don’t agree with it.”