Port of Camas-Washougal commissioners contest up in the air

Candidates differ on cash surplus, plans for Grove Field

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter



The differences between Bill Ward and Neil Cahoon, candidates for the District 2 seat on the Port of Camas-Washougal board in the Nov. 8 general election, don’t end at Grove Field airport.

Bill Ward

Education: Master’s degree in business administration from the University of Portland; bachelor’s degree in engineering from Oregon State University.

Occupation: Owns an engineering consulting firm.

Community involvement: Current commissioner for Port of Camas-Washougal; past president of Camas-Washougal Rotary Club; regional director/national officer for American Society for Engineering Management.



Education: Master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology; bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Occupation: Flight officer for Delta Air Lines.

Community involvement: Air Force major, retired; president, Camas/Washougal Aviation Association.


Take, for instance, the port’s finances.

Noting the port’s budget has a cash reserve of $7.1 million, Cahoon said that’s too much. “If you’re taking in more money then you need in a down economy it seems to me your feathering your own bed,” he said. If elected, Cahoon said, he’ll look out for taxpayers and prod the port to do more with less.

“I don’t want my government entity to be in great financial shape,” he said. “I want my government entity to be lean.”

Ward, the incumbent port commissioner, said he’s focused on accomplishing the port’s top projects, including redeveloping the 25-acre former Hambleton Lumber Co. mill and preparing Steigerwald Commerce Center — 120 acres of undeveloped, industrially zoned land — for development.

It’s those and other planned projects that require the port to maintain a cash reserve of at least $7.1 million, Ward said, because that money will be used to acquire land and to build infrastructure to spur business expansion.

“Anybody who says that having reserves available for investment in property and infrastructure is a bad thing is extremely naive,” he said. “They don’t understand the mission of port districts.”

Encompassing assets

Ward and Cahoon are competing for an opportunity to help guide the port, which voters established in 1935.

Ward owns an engineering consulting firm in Camas. His educational background includes a master’s degree in business. He’s running for a second four-year term as a port commissioner. Cahoon, who has a master’s degree in engineering and is a flight officer for Delta Air Lines, is running for public office for the first time.

The port’s three elected commissioners oversee an agency with operating revenues of $4.4 million and several community assets, including a 400-acre industrial park, the 79-hangar Grove Field and a 350-slip marina.

Port commissioners receive $104 for each day they conduct port business, including attending official meetings, although the annual total cannot exceed $9,984. Each commissioner receives $350 per month.

Commissioners also are eligible to receive medical, dental and vision insurance benefits.

People who live inside the port district, and who own a home assessed at $200,000, pay about $82 in port property taxes annually. The port does not use its property-tax revenue to pay for day-to-day operations. Rather, the port spends it on infrastructure and other capital projects.

Other sources of port revenue include airport and marina fees, and lease agreements with industrial tenants.

Airport issue divides

In the Aug. 16 primary, Ward garnered about 62 percent of the vote, and Cahoon received about 28 percent. A third challenger, David Luse, received 9.5 percent of the votes cast.

Cahoon said the port’s current board — Ward and commissioners Mark Lampton and Bill Macrae-Smith — hasn’t done enough to involve the public in its decisions. “It’s not the opportunity to talk that provides transparency,” Cahoon said, “it’s the opportunity for dialogue that establishes communication, and that hasn’t been the case.”

Ward disagreed, noting the board has made the port more open to citizens, including allowing more opportunities for public comment during its regular hearings and changing the time and date of those hearings to accommodate people’s schedules.

“Our interaction with the public is higher now than it has been for a long period of time,” Ward said.

If elected, Cahoon said, he would try to put upgrades to Grove Field airport back on the port’s front-burner. He called the board’s unanimous decision in July against pursuing federal funding for a $10 million plan to improve the airport “stupid.”

Cahoon said the airport is a local and regional asset, and that commissioners erred in passing on a project that would have “cost the local folks next to nothing.”

Ward and his fellow commissioners looked at the airport project “very parochially,” Cahoon said, failing to see its broader economic and safety benefits.

In defending his vote, Ward has said there were too many risks — both for the port and taxpayers — and uncertainties in accepting federal money for an airport the Federal Aviation Administration has said operates safely in its current configuration.

Ward, who has said he supports the successful operation of the airport, said his “global view” of how the port serves citizens contrasts with Cahoon’s “one-trick pony” focus on the airport.

Ward added that he’s proud of his and his fellow commissioners’ accomplishments. “There’s nothing in the record that needs to be defended.”

Aaron Corvin: http://twitter.com/col_econ; http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; 360-735-4518; aaron.corvin@columbian.com