Twenty-eight lights illuminate the Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink, but they are rarely used all at once. File photo by Don Nelson

Twenty-eight lights illuminate the Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink, but they are rarely used all at once. File photo by Don Nelson

By Don Nelson

The Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink’s board president assured the Winthrop Town Council last week that the rink’s operators are determined to find solutions in response to complaints about “light pollution” from the outdoor facility.

Jill Calvert, representing the Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink (WISR) board, a nonprofit that operates the rink under an agreement with the town, faced some tough questioning from town council members about how the lighting issue is being addressed.

Calvert said WISR is exploring a number of ways to reduce the impact of rink lighting. “We are really trying,” Calvert said. The board is open to ideas, she added, while noting that some suggestions from the council and community — such as lowering the lights, putting hoods on them or replacing them with dark sky-compliant lights — are either impractical, too expensive, or may create unsafe conditions for skaters.

Earlier this month, the rink’s board approved a resolution stating that “as proponents of the dark skies, WISR will continue to explore options to decrease light pollution at our facility with the resources we have available.”

WISR board members have consulted with David Gottula, manager of Okanogan County Electric Cooperative, about low-impact lighting options, and also consulted a lighting expert in Seattle who estimated it would cost a minimum of $60,000 to install new fixtures that meet dark sky standards, Calvert said.

WISR is currently involved in a campaign to raise $312,000 in cash to help match a $497,000 state grant to install refrigeration under the existing rink. The grant from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office will also fund a storage shed and an extension on the existing building for expanded office and rental space, changing areas and public restrooms. The grant can’t be used for new lighting, Calvert said, because lights were not included in the original grant request.

Calvert noted that the recent hockey tournament at the rink, which drew five youth teams from around the region, was a huge success, generating an estimated $35,000 – $40,000 in food and lodging revenues.

But it’s “risky business” to promote a hockey tournament without the assurance of good ice, which is not currently possible because the rink does not have permanent refrigeration, Calvert said.

Also at last week’s council meeting, Julie Muyllaert, co-owner of Winthrop Cycle and Sport and president of the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce, gave a report on how the chamber used hotel and motel tax receipts to promote Winthrop during 2013, under contractual agreements with the town.

The two tax sources totaled more than $197,000 in 2013, she said. Additionally, the town generated more than $265,000 in sales and use taxes during 2013, another annual increase from the recession-affected low point of 2010.

Social media efforts were more effective after the chamber’s website was updated during the year, Muyllaert said.

Goals for 2014 will be to promote what she called the everyday experience — activities not associated with specific events, and a greater effort to promote tourism during the winter and “shoulder” seasons of spring and fall.

Two new events in 2014, Muyllaert said, will be a brew and bike festival in June, and a wine festival in July.

Muyllaert told the council that the chamber is proposing a change in oversight of the marketing funds. Currently, a chamber marketing committee advises on how the funds are used. Muyllaert said the chamber is suggesting that the town instead create a committee to handle the advisory function.

Town clerk Michelle Gaines said the new committee would involve town representatives in the marketing process. “We need to change our [existing] agreements [with the chamber],” Gaines said. “They are outdated and need to be more clear.”

Muyllaert said the chamber will have a proposal ready for the council’s next meeting.

In other business, the council also approved several consulting contracts with Plateau Archeological Investigations LLC of Pullman, related to various town projects: $3,985 for a cultural resource survey of the ice rink site, which includes reviewing the site for any potential culturally significant findings such as native artifacts; $2,000 for a cultural resource survey of the Susie Stephens Trail extension project; and $4,265 for cultural resource survey of the Riverwalk Trail project. All the surveys are required as part of the state grant, which calls for consideration of potential impacts on historic properties.