POLSON – The Seattle-based boat racers that brought their competition to Flathead Lake last summer recently made a visit to Polson to gauge public support for a two-day event in August.
The Unlimited Light Hydroplane Racing Association is in the midst of a lawsuit with locally owned Anderson Broadcasting, which sponsored the event for two years.
The radio station group asked to cancel last year’s race because of the lack of a major sponsor and the declining economy, but racing officials held an event anyway and have sued, contending they are owed the remainder of a contract.
But Land Washburn, the group’s risk manager, told Polson Chamber of Commerce members his trip had nothing to do with lawsuits and everything to do with taking the pulse of the city.
“I hope if it’s to the advantage of Polson,” he said. “I hope it can be a good thing for the town. We’re trying to do what we can to keep broad community involvement. It’s a community deal.”
ULHRA held the race on Polson Bay last summer. A course was situated east of the Armed Forces Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, but few boats showed up, promotion was sparse and wind closed down the course and the second day of competition.
In acknowledging last year’s shortfalls, Washburn explained the ULHRA is about racing and usually depends on a local sponsoring organization to coordinate logistics and promotion.
But chamber members said there is no group or organization that could take control and establish the race, especially given the short time frame.
“My concern is the (short) time,” Chamber President Jackie Cripe said. “It’s a lot of work in a short amount of time.”
Washburn said the drivers like the Flathead Lake location and the organization is willing to hold the event under its own auspices.
Chamber past-president Jeremy Morgret and others said there isn’t local opposition to the race.
“It was very, very positive,” he said of past races. ”From my point of view the city would be cooperative.”
Washburn proposed moving the race course further east on Polson Bay with the pit area situated at Salish Point, near the Kwa Tuq Nuk Resort, where two other events also will be held Aug. 20-21.
He said the Salish-Kootenai Tribe “has been quietly supportive,” adding that Tribal Attorney Ranald McDonald has been asked to prepare a permitting ordinance.
Tribal Spokesperson Rob McDonald, however, said in an email that he understood the council asked Ranald McDonald to write a policy to handle requests like this so as “to better spell out an understanding of what’s expected.”
“We’ve been talking for many, many months,” said Washburn, who also met with city officials.
City Manager Todd Crossett said he has not seen anything on paper but preliminary discussions have been ongoing.
“I don’t have any reason to believe that we’re not on track,” said Crossett. “Certainly we’re supportive of it. If it brings money to town, that’s a good thing. We just need to be sure we know in time and have a plan and do it right.”
The racing group’s website, www.ulhra.org, lists Polson among six verified races this summer (Aug 20-21) featuring four classes of boats.
“We don’t operate in a vacuum,” said Washburn. “We don’t really come to town to step on toes … We see it as a great idea for Polson.”
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