Council considering speed boat races by municipal airport

Ron Dillon, organizer of the Big Nasty Hill Climb, speaks to the Ontario City Council during its meeting on July 13 regarding the potential to use part of the former golf course for speed boat races. He was aiming to get an OK from the city to start work on the land as soon as possible in order to prepare for races this fall.

ONTARIO — The organizer of the Big Nasty Hill Climb in New Plymouth will have to come back to the Ontario City Council with a clearer picture of financial details for his proposed project: speed boat races in Ontario. Ron Dillon told the council during its July 13 meeting that he has been working on the proposal with Airport Manager Erik Hartley since they “kicked the tires” about the idea about two and a-half months ago when they were talking about the potential to do motorcycle flat track races at the airport. Getting a motorcycle track tuned in would take some time, Dillon said, however indicated that an area for speed boat races might be able to be set up sooner.

Dillon was pressing the council to “come to terms tonight” for an OK to either lease space at the former municipal golf course for $1,000 or have the city foot the bill, in helping with details, such as installing chain-link fencing and cable, and utilizing dozers and excavators, and allowing Dillon to go out and get funding from the private sector. He also proposed giving the city 75% of the ticket sales in the first year.

However, City Council members hesitated at the thought of signing off on something that the final cost was unknown on, including allowing Dillon to lease the space himself without first knowing more.

“They are crazy to watch — they crash, jump out of the water and flip over,” he said. As such, speed boat race tracks only need to hold about 30 inches of water so that boats are not submerged.

Where that water would come from is also an unknown, however, Dillon said there were two existing wells that could potentially be utilized: a well used by the hemp operation or another well that is used for agricultural purposes.

Building a track on the existing old pond at the golf course would need too much work, according to Dillon. Rather, it would be easier to find flat ground and build out from there.

“Time is of the essence,” he told the council, indicating an OK at the meeting may give them time to have a race on Sept. 24.

The aim would be to eventually host world races, which happen every four years with the next event in 2023. However, in order to do that, a couple of national races would have to take place first, Dillon said.

During the meeting, Dillon told the council he thought speed boat races could pay off as they had for some years in Marsing, where they drew up to 4,000 spectators. Those events eventually came to an end, Dillon said, because of a dispute between the family members who owned the facility.

He cautioned the council about believing “if you build it they will come.”

“They might come — I’ve been astonished and amazed over the years,” of how events turn out, Dillon said.

On paper, he said, it would be better to “have the city do the heavy lifting,” but added “I have no idea your actual hard costs.”

City Manager Adam Brown told the council that Hartley could not be at the meeting but asked to pass on his recommendation to lease the property to Dillon “for $1,000, then let him bring the event.”

Councilor Ken Hart asked whether the FAA would sign off on having a non-aviation activity next to the airport, adding that they were unable to even use the property to address homelessness.

Brown clarified that denial was about housing, and that there may not be restrictions tied to speed boat racing.

Saying he didn’t want to “throw cold water” on any proposal that might bring more business to Ontario, Mayor Riley Hill said he would still like to see more data before the council agreed to such a proposal.

John Briedenbach, CEO/President of the Ontario Area Chamber of Commerce, urged the council to seriously consider the proposal, saying he was excited over the idea, as it could fill up hotel rooms and “put Ontario on the map as a speedway destination.”

After further discussion, he clarified that that the concept would attract tourists. As such, he said it would qualify for a grant. As such, Dillon could feasibly seek the $1,000 to lease the project from a visitor and chambers convention grant.

“There’s no risk for the city here,” said Brown. “It’s almost like when someone rents out a pavilion at the park. They pay the user fee to use and then do what they want.”

Hill clarified he would also want the FAA to say it would be OK.

Hart motioned to table the proposal to explore the idea further, and give staff time to look into any potential issues.

“I don’t want to be a barrier,” he said. “It could be big and great.”

Councilor Michael Braden said his hangup was the lease, adding that he would like Brown to draft up a proposal with terms “for us to look over.”

Councilor John Kirby, who is a liaison to the Airport Committee, said although the conversation had been happening in that group for a couple months, he was also unopposed to tabling the matter for two weeks.

Hill urged Dillon to go back to the Council at its July 27 meeting with a written proposal that includes all the pertinent financial information, as well as details regarding liability insurance.

Saying that he would confer with Chris Bowman, the national president of sprint boat races who was also present at the meeting, to be sure, Dillon said he was uncertain if the delay would give them ample time to get ready for an event this fall.

“Chances are high there will not be an event until spring of 2022,” he said, adding that he appreciated the council’s caution and concerns.

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