A divided Port of Astoria Commission voted 3-2 Tuesday to cover $3,000 in back-due moorage and utilities for the Astoria Ferry Group at North Tongue Point.
The nonprofit is trying to restore the Tourist No. 2, a former Columbia River ferry, before purchasing the vessel from owner Christian Lint. The ferry docked at North Tongue Point in August 2016 after a journey from Bremerton, Washington, around the Olympic Peninsula and down the coast to Astoria.
Until this month, when the Port ended its tenure at North Tongue Point, the ferry group was a tenant and had paid more than $12,000 in rent and utilities. But the lack of public exposure and difficulty in access has severely restricted the ability to raise money, the group said in a recent letter requesting a grant from the Port to write off the remaining debt.
“With much help, we are again making progress,” the group’s letter said. “We very much want to square our balance with the Port of Astoria. Your grant of $3,000 would put us within striking distance.”
Tom Brownson, an Astoria city councilor, mariner and member of the Astoria Ferry Group, represented the nonprofit, asking the Port to play a small part in helping the group restore a piece of regional maritime history. Commissioners Dirk Rohne and Bill Hunsinger and President Frank Spence supported the Port writing off the debt.
Commissioners James Campbell and Robert Stevens took issue with giving public money to help a privately owned boat. The Port has several hundred boat owners who could see this as a precedent, Campbell said. He and Stevens, a former Coast Guard commander who said he helped with the floating of the USS Missouri memorial in Honolulu, wondered whether the Astoria Ferry Group has the wherewithal to get the ferry back on the river.
“The highest bar the Coast Guard has for vessel inspection and approval is when you carry passengers for hire,” Stevens said.
Brownson estimated $500,000 to get the boat ready for inspection by the Coast Guard. Inspectors had been aboard the ferry and didn’t see anything that would get in the way of certification, he said.
In August, the ferry group’s leadership called out for $100,000 and new membership, warning the restoration effort would end otherwise. After the appeal, local hotelier and restoration advocate Robert Jacob helped marshal support to keep the effort going.
Lint started visiting Astoria to help fix up the ferry. Tongue Point Job Corps Center’s seamanship program provided student labor. The group went to work polishing the vessel for a move to a more accessible, visible space at Pier 39, where work would continue in a more public setting.
“In the next couple years, we want to get it back in shape and hold events dockside,” Brownson said.
Last month, the ferry was added to Restore Oregon’s list of the state’s most endangered places, opening avenues for possible support. The group recently raised about $5,000 through Fort George Brewery’s Magnanimous Mug charity drive and has other pending grant requests. The group hopes to move the vessel to Pier 39 early next year.
In other action:
• The Port Commission voted unanimously to renew the contract of Airport Manager Gary Kobes for a year. Kobes is a contractor for the Port through his company, Landside Resources Inc. The Port originally hired Kobes, a pilot and former member of the Astoria Regional Airport Advisory Committee, two years ago.
• The Port Commission voted unanimously to contract Advanced Remediation Technologies for $38,968 to characterize sediments along the central waterfront for a new dredging permit.
• Hunsinger questioned Port Executive Director Jim Knight about a litany of issues, including the status of how the agency planned to pay off a $1.7 million loan taken out to finance construction of a stormwater treatment system on Pier 3. Knight had previously said the Port would go to tenants served by the system about a cost-sharing agreement once the Port could be sure it worked. The system was recently activated.
Knight said staff would appreciate a fair opportunity to discuss the stormwater system, instead of an off-the-cuff question. He claimed Hunsinger, a frequent critic, was just trying to publicly slam him. After broaching several different issues, Hunsinger’s questioning was eventually cut off by Rohne.