WARRENTON — Fishermen and users of the Hammond Marina are voicing their support for a fishing guide after the city decided to not renew the lease of his shop.
James Fowler owns and operates Big Game Fishing with his wife, Jennifer, at the Hammond Marina. Big Game Fishing offers guided tours, fresh bait, ice, as well as services such as fish cutting, vacuum sealing and the freezing, packaging and shipping of fish.
In September 2021, the city approved a lease transfer of the property from Paul Leitch, who operated Sturgeon Paul’s, to Fowler. The transfer originally faced holdups due to several lease violations on the property. Leitch also had outstanding personal property taxes.
The buildings on the property have long faced deferred maintenance and derelict boats, vehicles and trailers began to pile up in a section of the land. The city has ownership of the property and one small structure in the space.
During the agreement, Fowler made a commitment to getting the property cleaned up in hopes of turning the Hammond Marina into the “crown jewel marina on the North Coast.”
On Monday, the city sent an email to the Fowlers indicating that the city was planning to not renew their lease, which expires in September. City Manager Esther Moberg said she received guidance from the City Commission in December to move on, citing commissioners’ longtime concerns about the property and their belief that the progress had not lived up to what was promised by Fowler.
At a City Commission meeting Tuesday night, a number of fishermen, marina users and fishing guides rallied to Fowler’s defense, asking the city to reconsider their decision.
“I have a boat slip in Hammond. I buy a lot of ice, a lot of bait and (do) a lot of my fish processing at Jim’s business in Hammond Marina,” Gordy Webster, a fishing guide from Gresham who fishes out of Warrenton, said during public comment. “Without Jim’s business there, it’d be a major inconvenience for me and my customers. In fact, I would not be mooring my boat in the Hammond Marina if there wasn’t a shop there.”
Webster, pointing to the potential of the marina, said he thinks the space needs more services, not less, and added that many fishermen may move their boats to Astoria or Washington state if Fowler’s lease is not renewed.
The city received 20 emailed comments in support of Fowler’s lease prior to Tuesday’s meeting, Dawne Shaw, the city recorder, said.
Fowler, who also gave a public comment, said receiving the email was a “gut punch.”
“We’ve only been here a year. And we took on a problem,” Fowler said. “That place was a problem, the previous tenant was a problem. I’ve had my own problems with him … but we went to work, and we went to work in that back lot.”
Fowler said that he has put $15,000 into cleaning up the property and had more work scheduled to be done.
“The docks are in shambles and all the facilities there are in shambles,” Fowler said after the meeting. “The city doesn’t seem to have the money to do any of it, and I’m saying I think I can pool together the private money to help do something incredible here. I need to work with the city. If we work together, I think we can do something amazing.”
Fowler said he believes there is a disconnect between the fishing community in Hammond and the City Commission. He also thinks the city does not understand the backing he has from the community.
The decision to cut ties with Fowler’s lease comes as the city looks to reassess its strategies as a landlord. In a work session Friday, the City Commission gave direction to city staff to pursue shorter-term leases at market rates while increasing enforcement of lease guidelines.
Mayor Henry Balensifer said a part of the effort is trying to maximize the value out of city-owned properties for taxpayers. When discussing the lease with Big Game Fishing on Friday, Balensifer said that issues persist with the building and that it eventually will need to be removed or replaced.
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