Port of Vancouver Commission District 1 candidates Don Orange and Kris Greene expounded on and, in some cases, defended their politics during a meeting with The Columbian’s editorial board on Friday.
The closely scrutinized race is seen by some in the community as a referendum on the fate of the Vancouver Energy oil terminal, the controversial crude-by-rail terminal proposed at the port that would be capable of processing about 360,000 barrels of oil per day.
The state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council is examining the project and will make a recommendation to the governor whether the project should be built. Gov. Jay Inslee will make the ultimate determination whether it will or not. However, the port and Vancouver Energy are in a lease that automatically renews every three months and can be canceled by either party so long as enough notice is given.
Orange has campaigned heavily on canceling the lease between the port and Vancouver Energy and correcting what he alleges is a historic lack of transparency by the port commission.
Greene, meanwhile, has campaigned on boosting business-linked educational opportunities within the port, and fostering the port’s economic development.
Greene said he’s been unfairly framed as being for the terminal and explained that he supports the state-level evaluation process the terminal is currently undergoing.
Orange then produced an email Greene sent in March to the current port commission with the subject line “I Support the Oil Terminal at the Port Of Vancouver” and a line near the end that finished that the port commission should “bring the oil terminal home.”
Greene conceded that was accurate, but didn’t tell the whole story.
“It also says the process needs to be completed,” Greene said. “As a new campaigner, so to speak, I’ve learned over the last few months to be a lot more clear about my position. And I did state in that email that the process needs to be complete.”
But he demurred when pressed to declare how he’d vote today if the project’s fate was solely decided by the public, saying he couldn’t say right now because all the research of the project’s potential impacts isn’t finished yet.
“If I did all the research and I completed all the research and it showed that it was going to be safe, I would say ‘Yes, it’s safe,’ ” he said. “If the process that I used determined it was not safe, I would say, it’s not safe, therefore I would not vote for it.”
Hedging against the possibility that the terminal won’t be built, Greene said he has talked with other possible tenants that could fill the space.
Orange flatly said he would “absolutely vote against this project.” He also said the port commission’s negotiations with the companies behind the oil terminal didn’t adequately involve the community. While he respects the state’s process, Orange said port district residents should be allowed to decide whether they want a terminal built.
“I do not believe that the people that live on Puget Sound, which is Olympia, are as qualified to decide what goes on with our city and our river, as we the people of Vancouver,” he said.
Rather than oil, Orange said the land could be used for shipping or roll-on, roll-off type freight.
Orange said he thinks the port in the past had a “serious problem” with transparency when it negotiated the lease.
“I think everything from finance to safety should be discussed and put out in front of people before we have meetings with the corporations behind closed doors,” he said.
‘My own man’
But the two easily agreed that the port should keep the public aware of its plans and decisions.
“That’s about every project we’re doing, not just the terminal,” Greene said.
When asked about recent campaign contributions, Greene acknowledged the controversy surrounding his receiving of a $5,000 campaign contribution from Tesoro Corp. — one of the companies behind the oil terminal — and a $75,000 contribution from Vancouver Energy.
“It’s actually a problem for my campaign, but I’m not in their pocket. I’m my own man,” he said. “There’s a lot of benefit having that money come in, running campaigns are very expensive. … And we wanted to make sure people knew we were serious about running a great campaign.”
Orange moved into District 1 so he could run for the port commission. It was a choice that proved controversial with some and resulted in an unsuccessful challenge to his voter registration a few weeks ago. Orange defended his move to the editorial board, saying he vetted his plans with an attorney before he moved and he followed his recommendation. Orange also qualified his decision by saying that he has been heavily involved in port and city issues for the last several years.
“There was no one ready to run that had my view,” he said. “I moved to District 1 — as (current District 1 Commissioner) Brian Wolfe did — two months before the election. I live there and I plan to continue to live there.”
Orange and Greene both lamented the county’s lack of available industrial land and said the port could facilitate acquiring and developing more industrial property.
Greene said he’s proposed two different projects in the port district to make it happen. Among them, he wants to see property in Chelatchie Prairie developed for industrial use.
He also said he wants to see more parking made available at Terminal 1 and along the Vancouver waterfront. He proposes building two parking garages in the area to accommodate the residents, businesses and visitors to the property. He suggested they could paid for by bonding by the port or a partnership with the city or a business.
Orange said he wants to see land east of the Interstate 5 Bridge considered for development by the port. Doing so, he argues, will benefit the residents by creating more jobs and also creating more taxing revenue for schools.
As to parking at Terminal 1, Orange said he doesn’t support the port paying for parking garages.
“I’m not interested in the port borrowing money to build parking spots,” he said. “The port needs to be investing in facilities that will generate jobs for people.”