Hope floats for St. Helens police boat

by: John Brewington SAIL AWAY — The St. Helens Police Department hopes to raise around $40,000 to rebuild a Navy surplus hull so they can easily reach Sand Island.

Sand Island is so close yet so far away for the St. Helens Police Department.

That may change with the help of a new fundraising committee.

Though St. Helens is the only city in Oregon with a municipally-owned island within its city limits, there's no reliable way for police officers to access Sand Island. With the help of the new 'Float a Boat Committee,' the city hopes to raise about $40,000 to completely rebuild a Navy surplus hull Police Chief Steve Salle acquired for free several years ago.

The St. Helens Police Department would not use the refurbished boat to patrol the river, the way the Sheriff's Office or Oregon State Marine Board do, according to Salle. 'The key is just to have unlimited access to [the island],' he said.

Stephanie Patterson, chair of the new committee, told City Council Wednesday at its last work session meeting that the boat could also be used to respond to other emergencies along the Columbia River.

An agreement between the police department and Columbia River Fire and Rescue would allow the regional fire district to use the boat in case of other river emergencies, Salle said.

The committee is currently made up of five community members, including Salle's wife. He's staying away from the fundraising efforts because of that. The Oregon Commission on Government Ethics made that recommendation earlier this summer.

The committee will receive city support, however. City Council agreed at their work session meeting Wednesday to set aside its own money to pay for fee waivers, so the committee can use city resources to raise funds.

Online responses to the committee have been critical so far, with a number of residents questioning the cost of outfitting and performing maintenance on the boat.