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Feb. 5, 2023

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Candidates not in step on port’s direction

7 in race to succeed Commissioner Baker address issues at forum

By , Columbian Port & Economy Reporter

In the Port of Vancouver primary election, the number of candidates who say the port’s decision-making process and economic development priorities need to be reformed far outweigh those who say the port is largely on the right path.

That was clear during a jam-packed public forum — held Thursday at the Vancouver Community Library and sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Clark County — during which the seven candidates fielded a series of questions from a moderator.

Their answers varied in tone, emphasis and detail. Yet themes emerged. Candidates Nick Ande, Scott Dalesandro, Bob Durgan, Peter Harrison and Eric LaBrant all took positions that the port, which manages roughly 2,100 acres for industrial and marine development and is overseen by three elected commissioners, must move in a different direction.

By contrast, candidates Bill Hughes and Lisa Ross both made largely positive appraisals of the policies and leadership of the port, which handles a variety of cargoes, including wheat, Subaru vehicles, wind-energy components and scrap metal.

Thursday’s forum included the occasional zinger. Harrison said he’s attended 10 port commission meetings this year, while “most candidates attended just two.” “Simply put,” he said, “I show up, and the others do not.”

Addressing Harrison’s remarks, Durgan said he attended a five-hour port commission workshop last Monday and that “Peter didn’t go to that meeting.” The workshop involved interesting details about the port’s budget, Durgan said. “So I’ve got more questions than I have answers, and that’s why I want to run for commissioner.”

The candidates are running to succeed Commissioner Nancy Baker, who is not seeking re-election to a third, six-year term as the District 2 representative on the port’s three-member board. All seven will appear on the Aug. 4 primary ballot. The top two vote-getters from the primary will move to the Nov. 3 general election.

Port commissioners serve in paid part-time, nonpartisan positions. Their responsibilities include overseeing the port’s CEO, and reviewing and deciding leases, budgets and strategic plans.

Thursday’s forum included comments from candidates about the port’s lease for what would be the nation’s largest rail-to-marine oil transfer terminal, whether there’s been an erosion of public trust in the port and about the types of employers and industries they support. Here are some highlights:

• Nick Ande

Ande, 30, is managing director of The Couve Group Inc., a marketing firm. He opposes the oil terminal, proposed by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Cos., that would receive some 360,000 barrels of crude per day.

Ande said the port should pursue clean, sustainable jobs that pay family wages. The oil terminal would place limits on the community’s economic opportunities, he said. A priority, he said, should be to avoid turning the Northwest into an “industrial armpit.”

As to public trust, Ande said he’s “seeing closed-door meetings. I’m seeing potential law violations.” He added, “I want to get back to being accountable to the public.”

• Scott Dalesandro

Dalesandro, 63, is general manager of Columbia River Logistics. He opposes the oil terminal. But if it’s built, he said, he believes it will be built safely. “It’s the trains and the vessels going up the Columbia we have to be worried about,” he said.

Dalesandro said the port should focus on attracting “lots of small businesses” instead of going after big employers. In discussing public trust, he said, “People have lost 100 percent, I believe, of any trust (in) the port commission right now, and also including Mr. Coleman” — a reference to port CEO Todd Coleman. The oil terminal lease “was rushed through,” he added.

• Bob Durgan

Durgan, 68, is a retired vice president of development services for Andersen Construction. The port “really did lose public trust,” he said, but it goes back further. When he ran for port commissioner in 2003, he said, he ran against “any more development” in the (Vancouver Lake) lowlands. But the commission later allowed former port executive director Larry Paulson to purchase the former Alcoa-Evergreen aluminum site, Durgan said, which is now home to Terminal 5, where the oil terminal is proposed.

That purchase “wouldn’t have happened under my watch,” he said. “You wouldn’t have had a Tesoro, because it’s not where I could see a cost-effective return on investment.” To attract high-tech jobs, Durgan said, the port should focus its resources on partnerships and development sites outside its immediate environs.

• Peter Harrison

Harrison, 54, is a business systems analyst, technology consultant and tech-sector journalist and writer.

He said he’s against the oil terminal but that he’s making oil-train safety a priority because oil trains will move through the community whether or not the terminal gets built.

Harrison said it’s important for the port to continue developing its Centennial Industrial Park to make room for more small businesses.

He said the port approved the oil terminal lease behind closed doors. “So they blew it, and then they had a public meeting to do a do-over.” Meanwhile, he said, key parts of the oil terminal lease remain redacted, including deadlines the companies must meet. “That’s not really keeping faith with the public and public disclosure.”

• Bill Hughes

Hughes, 87, said he’s a merchant marine veteran “so I know something” about ships and cargoes and “all that goes with it.” He’s also told The Columbian he’s retired from self-employment in transportation.

Hughes said the port may be able to lower property taxes because it has enough revenues coming in. He said he would like to see the port’s waterfront become home to cruise ships.

Addressing public trust in the port, Hughes said, “I haven’t heard too many complaints. The only complaints I hear are pros and cons” on the oil terminal. He said he favors the project because it will produce “a lot of jobs.”

• Eric LaBrant

LaBrant, 34, is a collections specialist at UTi, a global freight forwarding company. LaBrant said he opposes the oil terminals — a reference to both the proposal by Tesoro and Savage, and a separate, smaller proposal by NuStar Energy. “I don’t think we want to brand our city as an oil town,” he said.

LaBrant said the long-term industries that are viable in Vancouver include advanced manufacturing, advanced materials and aerospace. “If we want to bring jobs,” he added, “we attract those kinds of companies.”

LaBrant said he favors measuring how much time port officials spend behind closed doors and to use the data to “look at ways of reducing that.” If elected, he said, the first thing he’d do is make a motion to release an unredacted copy of the Tesoro-Savage oil terminal lease.

• Lisa Ross

Ross, 48, currently works for Oregon Ice Cream LLC by way of Accountemps. Noting she ran for state representative last year, she said she was the “only politician that actually testified in favor of the oil terminal.” But that project isn’t why she’s running, she added. She said she’s running for all businesses at the port.

She said the port has recently posted “record revenues” and that it’s making “enough money” that it could potentially “let us off the hook for half of our taxes.”

Ross defended the port commission’s handling of the oil terminal lease, saying commissioners approved a revenue-generating lease with Tesoro, which has operated safely at the port for many years and which has handled “the kind of materials” that would move through a “new, state-of-the-art” oil terminal. She added, “I don’t think they deserved the loss of trust that they got.”

Columbian Port & Economy Reporter