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Eruption blows ill wind toward Tri-City tourism

"I hope it never happens again. It nearly ruined 1980 for us."

Bobbi Bennett, director of the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau, was talking about the eruption of Mount St. Helens one year ago.

Many Tri-City businesses suffered, most notably the hotel-convention trade. But the he first Tri-City fatality of the volcano probably was the he 140-passenger, 83-foot Island Holiday charter boat, which operated out of Clover Island in Kennewick.

Miss Bennett said the boat, owned by Earl and Phyllis Knutsen, was an important part of the tourist business.

The Knutsens have left the Tri-Cities and the boat has been sold to the Rosario resort in Western Washington, she said.

The week the mountain blew the Knutsens had four cancellations. More followed.

Most Tri-City businesses suffered because of the eruption, she said. But probably the hardest hit was the hotel and convention business.

The overall number of convention delegates in 1980 dropped more than 6,000, from 39,858 to 33,698. The Tri-Cities attracted 140 conventions in 1980, compared with 169 In 1979.

"We may have been close to reaching the record number of 1979 delegates if we had not lost conventions as a result of the eruption of Mount St. Helens and the informational pickets at two of our convention hotels," said Idelle Hultgren, past president of the convention bureau.

Wayne Roberts, manager of Cavanaugh's Motor Inn in Columbia Center, said he studied the impact of the eruption and estimates his hotel and restaurant lost $44,593 in potential revenue from May 18 to June 2.

"I'm sure the other hotels experienced the same thing," Roberts said. "In the first five days directly after the explosion, we lost 11 banquets."

Don Marshall, manager of the International Dunes Motel in Pasco, said his business dropped 20 percent after the explosion.

Business is still down, he said, "I don't know if Mount St. Helen is the whole reason, or whether the Hanford labor dispute contributed to it."

Russ Cox, manager of the Red Lion Motor Inn in Pasco, said the impact of the volcano "was pretty severe. A lot of convention groups canceled. People couldn't get to this side of the mountains."

He said the total damage to the Thunderbird chain's hotels was about $1 million. Cox said about 12 of the chain's hotels were affected. The worse damage was to the roofs of hotels in Yakima, Spokane and Kelso, where special roofers had to be hired to clean the roof.