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Aberdeen council shows support for sprint boat track

Imagine going zero to 80 mph in the span of 80 feet. Now imagine doing it in a 14-foot boat, outfitted with a V8 motor capable of supplying more than 500 horsepower.

Add a few doughnut turns and figure-eights around grass-covered islands in a 14-foot-wide canal filled with 3 feet of water and you’ve got the basic idea of sprint boat racing.

A meeting at Aberdeen City Hall last week left much of the City Council talking positively about the prospect of bringing a venue for such a sport to the city. A vote on the issue is expected next week.

The proposed Grays Harbor Aberdeen Sprintboat Park, or GHASP, would take up space on the city-owned plot of South Aberdeen land known as the Bishop Athletic Complex.

The idea came to Ward 5 Councilman Alan Richrod after hearing about the sport from a family friend and finding videos of races online.

“I decided, jeez, we could do this here,” Richrod said, adding that race boats used to run up and down the Chehalis River years ago. “This is a sea-faring community; we’re tied to the water and everything.”

Richrod presented the idea to local construction businessman Tim Quigg, who also serves as a volunteer for the Aberdeen Revitalization Movement. Within a matter of seconds, Richrod said, Quigg was onboard.

Already 576 people have liked the GHASP Facebook page.

Among the supporters are Karen Rowe, Janet Bess and Deb Blecha of the United Abergals, a group that has organized events like Aberdeen’s Founder’s Day Parade, Oktoberfest and a number of street dances. The three now serve as the entity overseeing the project, and intend to lease the land from the city.

“We were like, ‘OK, we can do this, this is so feasible,’ ” Rowe said.

Sprint-boat racing, Rowe said, began in 1981 in New Zealand. After spreading to Australia and the U.S., it remains popular in the Pacific Northwest, with both sanctioning organizations based in Washington: Port Angeles’s American Sprint Boat Racing, a for-profit corporation co-owned by driver Dan Morrison; and the United States Sprint Boat Association, based in Washougal, headed byRick Harris.

Both Morrison and Harris attended the council meeting.

Much like a rally race, drivers, with the help of a passenger as navigator, race through the track one at a time, trying to log the best time. The route for the track isn’t revealed until the night before the first race.

Morrison and Harris said the races draw thousands of people.

No master plan exists for the track, Richrod said. That would be the next step following approval from the council.

The current concept for the facility includes a 510-foot-by-410-foot track that would take up nearly half an acre of land about 400 feet west of Charlie Creek, which would also supply water for the canals. Standard measurements for the canal, Richrod said, are 14 feet wide and 30 to 36 inches deep.

Richrod added that he’s received verbal approval from state Department of Ecology officials.

With race events lasting an entire weekend, Richrod and Rowe also touted the idea of adding an RV campground to the site.

Richrod and Rowe proposed that the city own the grounds, but lease them to United Abergals, who would then facilitate the events and insurance. Insurance, Rowe said, would come with membership into both sanctioning organizations, as well as additional policies.

The funding goal is set at about $100,000, Rowe said, to go to digging the track, blading the lot, putting up the fences, supplying electrical generators for the track’s PA system, and two EMTs and an ambulance on site.

She said companies have already offered money toward building the track.

Safety was addressed early in the presentation, with Richrod playing a video of a sprint boats careening from the water and into the crowd during a race in Tangent, Oregon, in 2013. Richrod said the Tangent case is the worst the sport has seen and was a result of an improperly installed fence.

Councilman Doug Paling voiced concerns about the population of geese that frequent the area. But many said the native geese would simply find another place to congregate during the summer racing season.

Council members also brought up the noise from the motors, which Richrod said wouldn’t carry far from the track. A berm also could be built around the facility, he said.

“I’m a big proponent for doing something for the people that live here,” said councilwoman Kathi Hoder.

Harris said Aberdeen has been mentioned in certain sprint boat circles as an obvious place for a track. Southwest Washington, he said, hasn’t seen much of the sport’s expansion.

Morrison, who also co-owns the nearest track in Port Angeles, said Aberdeen could be the next big place for the sport.

“There’s always a lot of excitement when we get a new track,” he said. “Aberdeen has as good a chance as Port Angeles, in my opinion, to draw big crowds.”

Mayor Bill Simpson said the attraction could be the draw the city’s needed.

“I’m excited about this coming to our community,” he said. “It'll bring a lot of people here, and that’s what we want — people to stop and visit our community and see how wonderful it really is.”

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