In Our View: Port Election Important Win

Orange’s victory puts officials on notice that public expects transparency

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In analyzing the results from Tuesday’s election, we are drawn to something written last week by Lou Brancaccio, editor emeritus of The Columbian.

“If you want Vancouver to be Vancouver — clean, inviting, the beautiful Columbia River Gorge and the developing waterfront — you vote for Don Orange,” Brancaccio wrote in a column about the race for a spot on the Port of Vancouver Board of Commissioners. “If you want Vancouver to be Houston, you vote Kris Greene. You see, there’s this little thing called the largest oil terminal this side of Uranus that’s being proposed for Vancouver. If built, it would make Houston proud. Ever visit Houston? Don’t. OK, that might be a little harsh, but you can’t take three steps without running into something oil-related. Good for them.”

That effectively summed up the choice facing voters, who rejected the possibility of Vancouver becoming an oil town by electing Orange with more than 60 percent of the vote. Orange opposes the oil terminal lease, which was approved by port commissioners in 2013. Greene claimed to remain undecided, although the extensive funding he received from oil companies cast doubt upon that assertion. Now, Orange is expected to join sitting Commissioner Eric LaBrant in voting to end the terminal lease that is undergoing review by state regulators.

In the end, the result represents a victory for the vision of a robust, vibrant, thriving Vancouver and what the city can be in the future. “We are America’s Vancouver, and we’ve been heard from tonight,” Orange said Tuesday as election results came in. “I never imagined any numbers like this.”

The election does not represent the end of the terminal proposal; there is a process to follow in halting the port’s lease with Andeavor (formerly Tesoro Corp.) and Savage Cos. But the result serves as a rebuke to the process undertaken by port commissioners in approving the lease — and it should serve as an abject lesson for all elected officials.

In approving the project, port commissioners in 2013 engaged in a level of secrecy that belied their duties as elected officials overseeing a public entity. As opposition mounted, commissioners grew strident in favoring a proposal that was in need of more debate and more attention to public opinion. Notably, in two elections for port commissioner since then, anti-terminal candidates have secured easy victories, creating a majority on the three-member board.

The lesson for other elected officials is in how not to proceed on issues of vast public interest. Officials often must make difficult decisions that generate public opposition, and the public often must have faith that those officials have examined the pros and cons of an issue in good faith. But the terminal proposal has undergone four years of public scrutiny and examination from every angle, and port Commissioners Jerry Oliver and Brian Wolfe (who is retiring) still clung to an agreement that was deeply divisive and was the fruit of a poisonous process. Along the way, they stubbornly embraced a plan that runs counter to an appropriate vision for a growing Vancouver.

Building an oil terminal in the city would invite oil-related businesses. It would bring an endless string of oil-bearing trains through the Columbia River Gorge and past populated areas. It would send a message that the region will sell its soul for a few jobs and big profits for companies based in other parts of the country.

Tuesday, the people of Clark County demonstrated that they demand better from their public officials.