In Our View: Port Facing New Future

Departure of Wolfe as commissioner brings necessary change

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Brian Wolfe’s announcement last week that he will not seek re-election as Port of Vancouver commissioner serves as a harbinger of meaningful and necessary change. The end of Wolfe’s term on Dec. 31 will provide the port with an opportunity to move forward and provide a new start for a public entity that this year has an operating budget of $85 million.

It is, admittedly, unusual for a change on the port commission to generate much public interest. But these have been unusual times for the port. Since the three-member commission in 2013 approved a lease that would allow Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos. to build and operate the nation’s largest rail-to-marine oil terminal, the port and its operations have faced intense public scrutiny.

The proposal is undergoing review by the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. That council will provide a report for the governor, who will have the final say on the terminal. Meanwhile, many citizens have expressed outspoken opposition to the plan, echoing The Columbian’s editorial position that such a facility would create environmental and safety concerns while running counter to the appropriate vision of Vancouver as a clean, vibrant city.

As we have mentioned in the past, having the nation’s largest oil terminal of its kind is not the type of thing a city boasts about on travel brochures. Rather than enhance Vancouver’s attributes, the terminal would mark the city as an oil town and alter its very nature in a detrimental fashion.

While evidence suggests that a majority of the public agrees with this view — or at least the most vocal members of the public — Wolfe has steadfastly clung to his support of the terminal. He originally voted in favor of the project in a process that later created accusations of untoward secrecy in how the commission conducts its business. He also has voted to extend the lease for Tesoro and Savage while they await a decision from the state — a situation in which his vote could have scuttled the project.

We trust that these were not easy decisions for Wolfe, who has served the community for decades as a lawyer and, since 2005, as a port commissioner. And he often has articulated how difficult the issue has been for him. The guess is that, when he initially was elected as a port commissioner, Wolfe never could have envisioned becoming a focal point for such a contentious community issue.

Wolfe is to be thanked for his service and his commitment to the community. But in the end, he has remained on the wrong side of the oil terminal controversy and, we believe, has failed to act in the best interest of that very community he wishes to serve.

There is no telling how the future of the proposal will play out. The lease has been extended to June 30, providing Wolfe with another opportunity to provide the swing vote that cancels the project if the governor has not rendered a decision by then.

And there also is no telling who will be elected in November to replace Wolfe beginning next year. But the candidates for the job will have a heightened understanding of the community-altering importance of the port commission and its capacity for generating controversy with decisions that will resonate for generations.

Regardless of what the future holds, the issue of the proposed oil terminal has changed the fashion in which the port is viewed by the public. With a new CEO in Julianna Marler and, next year, a new commissioner, the Port of Vancouver will be positioned to move on from what has been a tension-filled four years.