Press Talk: Getting into someone else's pile

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian editor

Published:

 
photoLou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor.

There’s an adage about piles, and it goes something like this:

“You stay out of my pile, and I’ll stay out of yours.”

There is honor among thieves — or say, politicians — and so they usually abide by this.

Look, we all have a pile of horse dung we build up, and we prefer to keep our dung to ourselves.

Now, on occasion, this golden rule simply has to be broken. Take the city of Vancouver’s upcoming dog fight with the Port of Vancouver over a proposed oil terminal.

I don’t want to make this too complicated, but it goes something like this:

Even though land at the port is only 15 percent of the city of Vancouver, the port controls 100 percent of the local decision to bring the largest oil terminal in the Pacific Northwest here.

Sure, the governor will ultimately give the final word on this, but if the port had said no to it, there would not have even been a discussion.

But the port said yes.

The city — feeling enormous political pressure to say something — will soon pass some sort of a resolution telling anyone willing to listen that the port wasn’t thinking clearly when it said yes.

See, the city is in the port’s pile.

The city — of course — recognizes it broke the unwritten pile rule. So in the resolution the city will approve banging the port upside the head, it will also profess its deep love for the port overall. Still friends?

But here’s an update. If it wasn’t enough that the city jumped into the Vancouver port’s pile (dramatic pause required here), another port has jumped into its pile as well! And I should say — for all the world to hear — it’s a good thing when politicians jump into other piles.

It’s democracy at its best! So thank you, Bill Ward.

Ward is a Port of Camas-Washougal commissioner. And back in February, I wrote a couple of columns on how the city should get off the dime and oppose this oil terminal. One of the points I made was this:

“The port has a mission; it’s to bring business into the port. Now, I’m not saying the port doesn’t give a rat’s behind about the city as a whole, but its focus is port business. And I can appreciate that.”

I essentially gave the port a pass.

And that’s when I unexpectedly heard from Ward.

“I have to take issue with the ‘get out of jail free’ card you gave the Port of Vancouver. I can attest to the fact that the mission is not simply ‘to bring business into the port.’ The mission of each port is to improve the quality of life.

“You might want to take another look at where to point fingers.”

That sounded a little like political mumbo-jumbo to me so — to be clear — I asked Ward if he felt the proposed oil terminal would improve our quality of life.

“Does it sound like I do?”

Ward went on to say there are a number of other positive developments being proposed in the vicinity of the planned oil terminal, including a massive waterfront project.

“These initiatives are being jeopardized by the (proposed oil terminal).”

Ward concluded with this:

“I have been leery of this scheme since it was first announced. The best interests of the entire region are being ignored.”

I don’t personally know Ward, but I’ve been told he’s an intelligent guy with an engineering background and someone who isn’t always interested in simply going along to get along.

Hey, how do you not like that?

• • •

After listening to Ward and a number of other commenters who felt that earlier I was too easy on the port, I have to admit I was wrong.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I think Port of Vancouver commissioners are bad guys. Quite the opposite, frankly. I know Commissioner Brian Wolfe and have found him to be a bright, dedicated community member. And I’ve appreciated his openness to talk about this topic.

But I also appreciate guys like Ward. More political types should jump on in.