The Port of Camas-Washougal discontinued offering senior citizen and yearly passes for its boat launches for 2022, but responding to an outcry from local anglers and other boaters, the port is now reconsidering that decision.
In early January, Keith Hyde, the Government Affairs Director of the Association of NW Steelheaders and an avid local angler, gathered with friends at the office of the Port of Camas-Washougal to renew their yearly and senior boat launch passes.
However, they were informed that those kinds of passes had been eliminated.
Hyde and his friends were blind-sided. They had no idea that these changes were coming. They were looking at having to buy daily passes at $7 a launch every time they put their boat out.
The clerk informed them that the decision to do so was made during a port commission meeting last June.
“I feel like the port dropped the ball back in June, with no notice for what they had planned,” Hyde said. “It didn’t get any play at all.”
When Hyde and his friends asked why the changes were made, the clerk informed them that the port needed more operating revenue, and since yearly pass holders could launch as often as they want, they weren’t paying enough into the system to cover their use of the facilities.
The clerk also talked about how difficult it was to manage the senior discount program, saying it was cumbersome, and took up much of their time.
That explanation did not impress Hyde.
“The Ridgefield launch sends a letter out to previous yearly pass buyers, urging them to go online and sign up early,” Hyde said. “They are encouraging what the port is trying to do away with.”
He also took umbrage with the attitude that seniors were not paying their share.
“I’ve paid my taxes my whole life,” said Hyde, noting that the port receives tax dollars.
Once news of the changes started to spread throughout the local fishing community, a lot of people began to get active.
A port commission meeting was held via Zoom on Jan. 19, and many local anglers signed up to speak on the issue.
The commission took notice.
David Ripp, the CEO of the port, recently said that at the next port commission meeting, scheduled via Zoom for Feb. 2, he would be recommending that the decision be tabled until the 2023 budget, so the commission could collect feedback from their customers, and take a look at the possibility of raising the needed money in another way.
“I have to take it in front of the commission, but we are looking at reactivating the annual pass and the senior discount pass for 2022,” Ripp said.
Ripp also addressed the issue of the poor notice regarding the change, which happened back in June 2021.
The only outreach or notice about the possible change was included in the port’s calendar. He said the port realized they needed to do better to get the word out on issues such as these.
“It will be different next time,” he said. “We’ve learned from that mistake. We didn’t promote it as much as we should have.”
He explained that the port gets funding from tax dollars and fees they charge for their services, including renting out boat slips and launch fees.
However, all the tax monies are reinvested back in the port toward capitol projects, and the fees raised have fallen short of what is needed the last three years.
The port also cited the need for better accounting for how many boats get launched over the course of the year. The port needs that accurate launch count when applying for funding grants.
When yearly pass holders launch, the port has no record of how many times they do so over the course of the year.
Many anglers pushed back on that argument, saying there were other ways of counting the launches.
Ripp has said the commission will be looking at some of those other counting methods, but he warned that some of those methods can be costly.
Hyde is not opposed to paying a modest increase for his yearly pass, and most anglers contacted were fine with that. However, Hyde said he launched there at least 30 times last year, and paying for daily passes would have incurred a $210 charge, instead of the $35 he paid for his senior year pass.
Another concern for anglers is the time it takes to purchase the daily passes, and they are worried that would further slow the process of people launching their boats.
In the busy seasons, such as the fall Chinook fishing season, the launch is crowded and trucks often back up all the way to the highway waiting to launch.
They feel that if every angler must first buy a pass, it will add to the congestion.
“Sometimes the fee machine does not function properly,” said Hyde, “or someone’s card won’t work. That can really back things up.”
However, Ripp disagrees.
“It takes less than five minutes to get a launch ticket,” he said. “What’s holding up the line is the number of people launching.”
Anglers have other concerns as well, and are hoping other boaters will contact the port commissioners and let them know how they feel.
The commissioner’s emails are available at the port website: https://portcw.com/commission/
Interested parties can also sign in to attend the online meeting at 5 p.m. on Feb. 2: https://portcw.com/events/commission-meeting-5pm-2/