[See this comment for an update.]
Yesterday I received a phone call from Shawn Karambelas, owner of SK Northwest (I had left a message for him last week). This is the company currently in escrow on a lot just south of OMSI on the Willamette River, smack dab in the middle of a potential trail connection between the Eastbank Esplanade and the Springwater Corridor Trail (for background on this story see this post).
He was clearly frustrated by the community push-back he has received so far and I could sense the anxiety in his voice. I had to re-assure him several times that I wasn’t out to get him and that I just wanted to find out more about his intentions.
What I heard from Karambelas is that he came into this deal initially willling work with the City of Portland on the trail easement issue. However, the person he’s buying the property from, Wayne Kingsley (more on Kingsley), has added a clause in the purchase contract that says Karambelas must fight against the trail if he wants to buy the property. According to Karamebelas:
“Kingsley has made it crystal clear to me that he doesn’t want a trail across this property. Initially I wanted to work out a deal with the city, but he (Kingsley) put a new clause in the contract that said if I continued to want the propery I must agree to fight the trail. Basically my hands are tied, I’m screwed.”
But Karambelas isn’t exactly all for the trail either. Like Kingsley, he has major concerns about safety, especially not wanting the liability exposure in case of an accident. He described the potential scene:
“The trail would go through a busy area full of fork lifts, packing crate material, trailers, and ATV’s and I don’t want that kind of exposure.”
He suggested that in order to avoid all this, some sort of bridge would have be built. But after estimating the potential costs in his head he added, “Unfortunately, it’s cheaper to fight the trail than to build it.”
I asked Karambelas if he thought there was any way to find a solution that includes the trail. He didn’t really have much optimism for this and even seemed incredulous that the community was still fighting for the trail. Because, in his words:
“It’s like I’m an island (between Portland Spirit and Ross Island Cement) and there’s no way a trail can be built on either side in the foreseeable future anyways.”
I told him that many people in the community were concerned that his proposed dock – which he claims would be for repairs only – would be a trojan horse that would lead to a free-for-all of motorized recreational use of the river. Clearly frustrated by having to defend this point again, he said the dock will only be used by technicians to test and diagnose watercraft. He also added that, “besides, the area is currently zoned industrial so that limits the potential for recreational use.”
Karambelas told me that he was a former member of the rowing team at Oregon State University from 89-’93 and that he can relate to people’s concerns about motorized vehicles running amok in the Willamette. He said, “I was a rower myself and I have no intention of ruining that experience for anyone else.”
If that’s true, I asked why doesn’t he just use indoor water tanks for testing and repairs, to which he replied:
“Despite some of the comments I’ve read on your site, test tanks are not adequate for what we need. We must use open water to properly test the engines.”
At this point, this case will go before the City of Portland Bureau of Development Services for a decision. According to Karambelas, his lawyers think he has a very strong case and he thinks it’s very likely he will win and move forward with his plans. He said Kingsley has already successfully fought and won a case very similar to this.
From my perspective, this situation is in critical condition. Since my conversation with Wayne Kingsley, I’ve learned he’s a powerful figure who has stymied and vehemently opposed many transportation projects in the past. My fear is that if he wins this battle, we will not only lose the potential of an important connection of the Springwater Trail, but we might lose the peaceful and relaxing experience of riding along a calm and quiet Willamette River.
If you’ve ever been near a personal watercraft as it whips through the water, spewing exhaust in the air and river, sounding like a Harley on water, you’ll know why I’m concerned.
[Although the comment period is officially over (as of 4/27), the case is still pending and I urge everyone to contact Kate Green at the Bureau of Development Services and CC the message to City Council. Use this handy link to email all them at once.]