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Posted on Jul 17, 2015

Staff recommends PUD keep island golf course

Citing a lower initial capital investment and the ability to collect greens fees to offset operating costs, Grant PUD staff members are recommending that commissioners retain the Crescent Bar Island golf course for the time being.

Keeping the golf course meets Grant PUD’s commitment to maximizing public recreation at Crescent Bar, said Shannon Lowry of the utility’s natural resources department. The golf course complements other existing and future public recreation opportunities there, and it extends the recreation season, Lowry said in a presentation to commissioners on Tuesday.

If commissioners agree to retain the golf course, staff then will monitor and measure its usage and the revenues generated. If commissioners determine in the future that the golf course is not working out, they can make an “adaptive decision” at that point, Lowry said.

Lowry described the recommendation as a “wait-and-see” approach.

After listening to Lowry’s presentation, Tom Park, treasurer of the Greater Crescent Bar Owners Association, said he was happy with the recommendation. Crescent Bar property owners and recreationists have been overwhelmingly in support of keeping the golf course.

PUD staff spent much time in the past few months talking to a variety of people and then applied all that information to make an informed decision, said Park, who praised Lowry and her team.

“I think they got it (right),” Park said of the recommendation. “Now we’ll see if the commissioners do.”

However, Commissioner Tom Flint said he is “challenged” by the recommendation. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees the license to the PUD’s Columbia River dams, has stated the Grant PUD is the only utility in the country managing a golf course, Flint said.

“So it’s not a popular thing,” he said.

Commissioners have been presented with two draft options for recreation development at Crescent Bar. Option A retains the golf course while Option B redevelops the 50 acres the course sits on now into a campground and public use area. Flint called Option A “compacted.” He also said he doesn’t like the idea of that 50 acres being used exclusively by golfers.

“I’m struggling with this,” Flint said.

Commissioners are expected to move on the staff’s recommendation at their July 28 regular meeting.

A decision needs to be made soon by commissioners for staff to begin finalizing a new design for the island as well as a portion of property off island that will be turned into a day-use area, Lowry said. Construction is expected to take place from 2016 to 2018.

“We are stuck right now at a conceptual level,” Lowry said.

The redevelopment of Crescent Bar has been a discussion since April, when commissioners approved an agreement that would settle a federal lawsuit between the utility and Crescent Bar Island leaseholders, allowing the residents to remain on the island for a potential 36 more years. That settlement is nearing completion. Commissioners are expected to take final action on a formal settlement agreement at the July 28 meeting.

Under the agreement, access to 80 percent of the Crescent Bar area previously under lease will be fully available to the public. So the PUD is developing plans to enhance recreation on the island.
Staff came up with those two options. Both options include a 55-site RV campground with utility hookups, a three-quarter mile walking trail, multi-purpose day-use area, enhanced boat launch and parking lot, moorage and a concession area.

While Option A retains the existing nine-hole golf course, Option B replaces the golf course with expanded day-use picnic areas, 53 additional parking spaces and an expanded trail system.

On Tuesday, Lowry said that capital costs for Option A will cost about $20.6 million to implement. In comparison, Option B would cost about $24 million, she said. Both costs include the cost of wastewater facility upgrades to the island.

PUD staff also estimates that Option A will provide a net annual profit of between $50,000 and $100,000, while Option B will cost the utility annually between $50,000 and $100,000, Lowry said.
While there are no current statistics on the utilization of the facility, Lowry said, numbers from 2008 show that in a four-month period, 75 percent of tee times were taken at the golf course. Lowry expects more current data to be pulled together after the summer season.

In gathering information for its recommendation, staff reached out to a variety of resources, including the public. A month-long public comment period drew 641 comments, 79 percent of which were in favor of retaining the golf course.

There were several common themes to the comments made in support of keeping the golf course, Lowry said. People use the golf course. It draws people to the area. Leaseholders came to Crescent Bar in part because of the golf course. And supporters want to see the course’s U.S. Golf Association course rating preserved.

Of the 19 percent of comments that were against keeping the golf course, there also were some common themes. People said there a perception that the golf course is exclusively used by the Crescent Bar recreationists. There is a desire to return the area to pre-residential development as well as a desire to create a more family friendly atmosphere. And people believe removing the golf course is in the utility’s best financial interest.

PUD staff also gathered comments from area golf course managers. Across the board, the managers said it’s expensive to run a golf course; however, they are important amenities to the people who live next to them, Lowry said.

PUD staff also consulted the State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Planning document, which provides data to groups that provide outdoor recreational opportunities. SCORP does not list golf among the top 10 outdoor activities that people choose to participate in; it is listed at No. 25, Lowry said. Picnicking, cooking out, walking, wildlife viewing, sight-seeing, hiking and camping are around the top 10.

If commissioners support retaining the golf course, staff will look at how to broaden the course’s use, such as incorporating foot golf (participants kick a ball to each hole) or disc golf (participants use a Frisbee) at the course, Lowry said. Designers may look at creating a “loop trail” on the southern tip of the island, and there may be some room for potential expansion of the campground while maintaining the golf course’s current USGA rating, she added.

— By Jill FitzSimmons,