The Port of Astoria commission voted unanimously to ban boat houses from its marinas and increase the fees boaters pay for moorage by nearly 69 percent at a special meeting Thursday night.

The commission heard testimony from boat owners who objected to such a large increase coming all at once and wondered if the improvements would benefit them.

The Port plans to use the increased revenue generated to pay for part of a $3.1 million renovation of the West Mooring Basin. The renovation, which could begin this winter, would replace an ailing breakwater that protects the marina, create 26 new slips, relocate the fuel dock and build new marina offices and rest rooms.

Stuart Sinclair, a Cullaby Lake resident who has kept his sailboat at the West Mooring Basin for the last seven years, said he didn't mind paying for improvements that will benefit marina users, but that he doesn't want to pay for costs associated with the proposed Astoria conference center.

An executive summary describing the improvement project notes that the proposed conference center "will require the relocation of the fuel tank, marina offices and rest rooms."

Bill Cook, Port deputy director, said, "The conference center is not the driver behind the failure of the breakwater or the redesign of the marina ... If we don't fix that breakwater, we're going to have some kind of catastrophic event. We've been living on borrowed time."

The Port has a $500,000 commitment from the Federal Boating Infrastructure Grant Program to fund a portion of the improvements. One of only eight such grants to be awarded nationwide, Cook said, this is use-it-or-lose-it money.

The remaining $2.6 million must be borrowed from the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department. The increased moorage rates will pay the debt service on the 25-year, 5-percent interest loan.

Annual moorage rates will increase from $16 per foot to $27 per foot effective April 1, 2004. A 35-foot vessel currently paying $560 per year, will now have to pay $945 per year. Increases in monthly and daily moorage rates go into effect Tuesday.

The increases apply to boat owners at both the east and west mooring basins, except boats larger than 49 feet, which pay more to dock at the West Mooring Basin on a daily basis.

Dave Densmore, a commercial fisherman who keeps two boats at the East Mooring Basin, said, "It's a bad deal. I came out against it at first because it comes right out of my pocket book too."

However, after researching rates at ports from Charleston to Port Angeles, Wash., he found that even with the increases, rates at the Port of Astoria are "lower than a lot of others."

The Port estimated an 8 percent decrease in business because of the raised rates, but the increase will cover this loss and still allow it to make the loan payments.

Commissioner Don McDaniel said the steep increase is necessary to take advantage of the grant funds for the project from outside the community.

"The bottom line is we're ending up still getting a lot more than the community is paying for," he said.

The commission banished boat houses from its marinas because "the marina float systems were not engineered for structures with the weight and sail area of boathouses," the Port's ordinance reads. "Two boathouses have previously blown out of the marina into the navigation channel and another disintegrated in a windstorm in January 2000."

No one in the audience voiced opposition to the ordinance. Port staff and commissioners emphasized that they had researched all other avenues for relocating the boat houses.

Also, the commission voted to restrict parking on Port property during certain homeland security alert conditions. The ordinance grants the Port authority to have vehicles parked in restricted areas removed.

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