Paradise lost? Grant County PUD taking over Crescent Bar

Paradise lost? Grant County PUD taking over Crescent Bar

Credit: STEVE RINGMAN / The Seattle Times

Crescent Bar Island looks like a private resort with its golf course, a condo complex, narrow paved paths and gated community of fixed-up trailer homes. It is surrounded by the Columbia River, although the water level is low now.

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by Associated Press / ERIK LACITIS - The Seattle Times

KREM.com

Posted on May 13, 2010 at 1:02 PM

CRESCENT BAR ISLAND, Wash. -  There is no denying that it was a sweet deal for the 415 families that had vacation homes here in one of the most gorgeous locations in the state.

How would you like to buy a condo or trailer site on a 160-acre man-made island on the Columbia River in Eastern Washington, with basalt cliffs rising hundreds of feet on one side, and gorgeous sunsets on what promotional literature says are 300 days of sunshine a year?

But you would pay only $33 to $626 a year (mostly $33) to lease that privilege.

The problem is, it's a sweet deal on publicly owned property.

Now the locals have told the leaseholders -- most of whom have 206 or 425 area codes -- to leave.

In 2012, it will be the end of the 50-year lease from the Grant County Public Utility District that has allowed for a 110-unit condo complex to be built on the island, and for 305 trailer homes that were parked and then expanded considerably into very nice places.

On April 26, the PUD commissioners unanimously voted not to renew the lease.

The PUD wants the trailer homes gone by June 2012, and plans to take over the condos as allowed under the lease, it says.

For the leaseholders, it'll mean some of them will be on the hook for mortgages or residential additions worth thousands of dollars, with the 65 who live there year-round having to look for a place to live.

And gone will be the days of family summers on the island.

"My wife and I are trying to figure out what to do. Go to some trailer park somewhere?" says Orlan Wood, 77, one of the year-round residents.

"Do they expect us to jack up the trailer and put it on wheels? It's going to be a wide load that would take a semi to pull, and where are we going to put it? Might as well light a fire to it. It's worthless. We don't have enough money to buy another house. We'll be homeless."

For some locals, though, it's time to rectify old wrongs.

Bonnie "Bo" Schroeder has helped lead the movement to end the lease.

Schroeder is 50, married, with two grown children, a lifelong resident of Quincy, seven miles east of Crescent Bar Island.

"I feel for them," she says of the 415 leaseholders. "But it's not as if they didn't know they were investing in a lease."

Schroeder created a Facebook page called "Crescent Bar for the PUBLIC," in which she posted a 1965 black-and-white photo of herself as a smiling child, along with her brother, Dale, and a friend.

"One of many fun days of my childhood spent at the Bar," says the caption.

That would have been from the early 1960s, before the trailers and condos were all in place. By the early 70s, she says, the family gathering of 100 relatives -- aunts, uncles, cousins -- at Crescent Bar ended.

Crescent Bar's history is this: Early on, the Grant County PUD wanted someone else to deal with the recreational aspects of the island; the agency was in the business of electricity.

So it leased Crescent Bar to the Port of Quincy for $100 a year. The port put in water and sewer services, and developed a public golf course, restaurant, boat moorage, trailer park and camping area.

But in 1970, the port -- with the PUD signing off -- decided to sublease the land for private development, and in 1973, that sublease was further changed to specifically allow motels, condos and a private trailer park.

"Why? I have no idea," says Curt Morris, a Port of Quincy commissioner. "I can only assume they wanted some kind of development to keep it economically feasible."

The development rush was on.

To a visitor, the island certainly can appear to be a private enclave.

You drive in through a gate. There is a chain-link fence between a designated public beach and the trailer homes. The trailer owners get around in the narrow, paved paths on golf carts, just like you'd expect in a private resort.

Then there is the "NOTICE SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS IN USE" sign.

On the other side of the story, there is someone like Orlan Wood, a retired Boeing manager. He and his wife, Jean, lived in Renton until they moved to Crescent Bar in 1987.

They had visited the year before and fell in love with it, an island where when the sun is just shining so, and there is no wind, the majestic cliffs are mirrored exactly on the water.

The Woods paid $16,000 to Crescent Bar Resort for Lot 343 and spent $30,000 for a 400-square-foot trailer home -- a "park" model that was the biggest allowed on the lot.

But the lot lessees could expand the trailers, and most did.

The Woods expanded their trailer to 1,100 square feet, the remodel costing them around $130,000.

Still, it wasn't a bad investment.

Wood says that during the real-estate bubble he was offered $400,000 for the place. Now, if the lease issue weren't a factor, he figures it'd go for at least $250,000.

Things changed drastically two years ago, when the Grant County PUD was in the midst of renewing its license for the hydroelectric project that powers the farms here. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) had questions about "the large impact of the existing private development that currently exists."

When FERC asks questions, PUDs jump.

After hearings, comments, overviews and PowerPoint presentations, the PUD commissioners voted not to extend the lease.

Not surprisingly, the condo and trailer leaseholders have lawyered up, although Randy Hoefer, a member of the condo owners' lease committee, says they hope the PUD will listen to their proposals.

Hoefer, 39, of Sammamish, is a vice president at a software company. He and his wife, Marti, have two young children. They own two condos.

He says he was aware the condos had the lease clause with the 2012 end date, but says that over the years, the condo owners were led to believe by the PUD that the leases would be extended.

Still, says Hoefer, about purchasing the Crescent Bar condos, "I guess sometimes you have to take a risk. We absolutely loved the area."

He says leaseholders know their annual lease costs need to reflect the market.

The PUD also has received proposals from leaseholders about making the island more friendly to outsiders -- such as adding public parking and creating a park where there now is a golf driving range.

The PUD says it still plans to not renew the lease.

PUD Commissioner Tom Flint, a farmer, says that "it wouldn't surprise me" if it all ends up in court.

The last time Flint went there for recreation was four years ago, he says, when he went boating with his family.

"I was asked to pay to have the boat launched, I think it was 12 bucks, and to park my trailer and rig, I think it was eight bucks. I'm a Grant County resident, and that's public property," says Flint. "In my mind, I wasn't made to feel welcome."

Out in farm country, folks have pretty long memories.
 

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