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Feb. 5, 2023

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Port of Vancouver candidates look to make a splash

By , Columbian Port & Economy Reporter
Published:
8 Photos
Columbian files
The Port of Vancouver manages roughly 2,100 acres for industrial and marine development, and handles everything from wheat and Subaru vehicles to wind-energy components and scrap metal.
Columbian files The Port of Vancouver manages roughly 2,100 acres for industrial and marine development, and handles everything from wheat and Subaru vehicles to wind-energy components and scrap metal. Photo Gallery

If this year’s primary election is any indication, the days of drowsy politics at the Port of Vancouver are gone. That’s good for voters, who will choose from candidates with a wide range of backgrounds and thoughts about the port’s role in shaping the community’s future.

Seven 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. They are Nick Ande, Scott Dalesandro, Bob Durgan, Peter Harrison, Bill Hughes, Eric LaBrant and Lisa Ross.

For perspective, the last time a Port of Vancouver election featured a contested race was in November 2007, according to the Clark County Elections Department.

Not surprisingly, the port’s decision to approve a lease for what would be the nation’s largest rail-to-marine oil transfer terminal looms large in this year’s campaign. In responding to a questionnaire from The Columbian, several candidates either directly or indirectly raised the proposed oil-handling facility — which is undergoing a lengthy state-level environmental-impact analysis — as an issue. But the candidates also weighed in on other matters about a port that manages roughly 2,100 acres for industrial and marine development, and that handles everything from wheat and Subaru vehicles to wind-energy components and scrap metal.

Those matters included everything from the port’s decision-making and its plans for the Terminal 1 waterfront property to its use of property taxes as part of its funding mix.

In competing for the nonpartisan position, all seven candidates will appear on the Aug. 4 primary ballot. The top two vote-getters from the primary will move to the Nov. 3 general election. Only registered voters in District 2 are allowed to vote in the primary. In the general election, all voters in the port district may cast ballots.

The responses from candidates have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Nick Ande

Age: 30.

Education: Portland State University, studied political science; La Jolla High School.

Occupation: Managing director, The Couve Group Inc.

Campaign website: NickAnde.com

Most recent book or film you read or saw: “Pitch Perfect 2.”

o Why are you running for port commissioner?

For the past several years, I have been an active member of the community. I feel that now is the time for a new generation of leadership to step up and take action in local government. I can no longer stand idly by while young families are underrepresented in decision-making. As a small businessman, nonprofit volunteer and political advocate, I felt that now was the right time in my life to serve.

o What are your top two or three concerns about the port?

I am strongly opposed to the oil terminal. The risks to our safety, environment and future economic opportunities far outweigh any rewards. Our port commission needs to operate with greater transparency and public accountability to effectively represent the people it serves. I would like to be part of restoring the port’s responsibility to be a better neighbor in the community by actively engaging with neighborhoods, regional businesses and local governments.

o If elected, what, if anything, would you seek to change about the port?

We need to move away from policies at the port that threaten to make Vancouver the industrial armpit of the Pacific Northwest. Our port does great things to support the regional economy. Exports are at record numbers and existing space for businesses are full, with opportunities for further growth. I am excited about the future of our port as it works with partners to create a vibrant downtown waterfront and grow public access to Vancouver Lake and other recreational opportunities. My No. 1 priority is growing family-wage jobs with sustainable local businesses at our port. We have incredible opportunities to take advantage of as a community in the global economy, while preserving the things we love most about Vancouver.

Scott Dalesandro

Age: 63.

Education: Associate degree in business, The Pennsylvania State University; bachelor degree in business administration, Robert Morris University.

Occupation: General manager, Columbia River Logistics.

Campaign website: www.scottforport.com

Most recent book or film: Favorite movie is “Armageddon.”

o Why are you running?

I have had a fulfilling career in the private sector and want to give back to the community. I see the port as a good match for my skills and experience, a place for me to take my life learnings and help the community with good-paying jobs and a future for my granddaughters in the county.

o What are your top two or three concerns about the port?

Transparency and trust need to be restored. There is a perception that the commissioners did things behind closed doors, and whether or not it is true doesn’t matter; it is believed. We need to make people accountable and the best way is to do this in a fishbowl. Open the doors and let everyone see in. The other issue is taxes. Commissioner (Jerry) Oliver saw this as a problem with the (West Vancouver Freight Access project) but unfortunately he was unable to convince the others not to vote for the taxes. The loop tracks are great for unit trains but we have forgotten about the little guys. The smaller employers who are the backbone of our community. Small rail shippers have been left out.

o What, if anything, would you seek to change about the port?

The waterfront project is imperative. I lived in Baltimore during the renaissance of their inner harbor. It became the place to go in Baltimore, the shopping, the restaurants, ballparks, etc. That is what I see. Let’s continue with the fine work that Commissioner Baker started. Aside from the waterfront, let’s open the doors for smaller enterprises to come and be part of the port, let’s look at growing the port area. There are other industrial areas that could benefit by being part of the port operation.

Bob Durgan

Age: 68.

Education: Columbia River High School; Clark College graduate; attended Evergreen State Vancouver campus. Earned credits attending continuing law education classes on land use, wetlands, condemnation and environmental issues

Occupation: retired, vice president of development services for Andersen Construction; active, managing partner of ZIAN Limited Partnership; active, management adviser to Gayle Molander, president of Park Place Development Inc.

Campaign website: durganforport.com

Most recent book or film: “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life” and “Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self,” both by Richard Rohr.

o Why are you running?

The Port of Vancouver is a $100 million a year real estate development corporation. I am the only candidate for commissioner who has the background or experience to effectively manage the management at the (port).

o What are your top two or three concerns about the port?

A) Jobs: To achieve a higher return on investment for jobs with port investments. The port must focus on bringing clean, high-tech jobs to our community.

B) Environment: Continued development in the Vancouver Lake lowlands is not environmentally sound nor economically practical as a jobs generator.

C) Infrastructure: Invest in rails and roads for community safety and profitability of the port. The 1908 railroad bridge is crucial for rail transportation on the West Coast. The port needs to be a leader with BNSF (Railway) and other stakeholders creating a 21st century multimodal railroad bridge.

o What, if anything, would you seek to change about the port?

A) Creating land for jobs by partnering with other municipalities where large-scale jobs lands exist.

B) Protect the Vancouver Lake lowlands for wildlife and recreation.

C) Promote transparency, and thereby renew public trust in the value of the port leadership asset.

D) I believe the port can preserve the valuable habitat and farming lands in the Vancouver Lake lowlands by making strategically sound property investments elsewhere in the county.

Peter Harrison

Age: 54.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in biology, minor in chemistry, Washington State University Vancouver; associate of science degree in computer science, Coleman University.

Occupation: Business systems analyst, technology consultant, and tech-sector journalist and writer. Experience includes business systems analyst, Fritz Companies, an import/export broker and transportation logistics firm.

Campaign website: Vote-Peter.com

Most recent book or film: “Interstellar”; “The Martian” by Andy Weir.

o Why are you running for port commissioner?

I have always been driven by the need to serve. I have volunteered at homeless shelters, in community clean-up campaigns, for Red Cross Disaster Action Teams, taught first aid and CPR, and used CPR to save a man’s life last year. Currently, I am a volunteer chemistry educator at Oregon Museum of Science & Industry (in Portland), and teach people of all ages about chemistry and science.

Service to community is in my blood. When I saw the discord over the port commission’s decisions on the oil terminal project, I felt called to serve my community in a new way. I felt my experience as a business systems analyst with transportation-sector experience, business owner, and professional communicator, combined with my ability to absorb and analyze complex information, and my absolute dedication to doing good in this world would be invaluable to the port commission and the community I serve and live in.

o What are your top two or three concerns about the port?

Concern and opposition to the oil terminal is the big issue this election, but there are many other concerns the port needs to address. The port’s mission is to create economic benefit for the people of Vancouver. Our new commissioner will need to press for community workforce agreements that encourage local hiring and equitable pay for workers. The demise of the Columbia River Crossing project means it is more important than ever to grow local businesses and jobs. The port has not kept up with the demand for ready-to-use warehouse space that fosters the growth of local businesses that will create jobs on our side of the river. A growing port will also need to improve street-level infrastructure to support an expanding workforce, improve trucking access, and make sure emergency services have more than one route in and out of port facilities.

o What, if anything, would you seek to change about the port?

Our public port needs to embrace a “sunshine” ethic that maximizes public access to information and decision-making. As a port commissioner, I will work to minimize the scope of private session meetings and contract redactions, make sure materials used in commission meetings are available in advance, and increase the public’s opportunity to participate in the decision -making process. Recently, the commission had a public “Visioning Workshop” that looked at 10 different Terminal 1 redevelopment options. The commission selected three of those options for further development without hearing public comments. After the decision, many people stood to ask questions and offer opinions and ideas. Many comments were insightful and would have led to a better-informed decision. I would have asked for that public input before voting on which three visions should move forward. In other words, I will work to bring “sunshine” back to the Port of Vancouver.

Bill Hughes

Age: 87.

Education: Vanport — forerunner of Portland State, two years.

Occupation: Retired, self-employed in transportation.

Campaign website: No campaign website; email: authorbhughes803@gmail.com

Most recent book or film: “20/20: Perfect Vision Or Political Pipe Dream?” by Bill Hughes.

o Why are you running for port commissioner?

It’s an opportunity to fill a vacant seat without unseating a qualified incumbent. Having traveled worldwide and visiting ports, I may have suggestions to improve the port.

o What are your top two or three concerns about the port?

1) Loss of container traffic. 2) Need to obtain and retain petroleum traffic.

o What, if anything, would you seek to change about the port?

Would like to see Vancouver become a port of call for passenger liners and become another “River Walk” (the tourist attraction San Antonio, Texas).

Eric LaBrant

Age: 34.

Education: Fort Vancouver High School graduate; currently in final semester of earning bachelor of science degree in business management at Western Governors University.

Occupation: Collections specialist at UTi, a global freight forwarding company. Has worked in accounts receivable field since April 2003.

Campaign website: www.ericforport.com

Most recent book or film: “The Blind Assassin” by Margaret Atwood.

o Why are you running for port commissioner?

I’m running because we’ve got too much at stake to continue with “business as usual.” The edge of the Port of Vancouver is a block from my front door. We have a vested interest as a community in making sure that the port not only creates jobs, (but) that it does so in ways that protect the community that surrounds it. We’ve done well at balancing those needs in Fruit Valley, and I’m running to help restore that balance. The health and safety of the community shouldn’t be sacrificed for short-term profits.

o What are your top two or three concerns about the port?

I’m firmly opposed to the two proposed oil terminals, and have been speaking up on this issue for two years. One has tied up port property for two years, creating zero jobs. Vancouver is rated in the top 100 most livable U.S. cities — we don’t want to be branded as an oil town. I lived in a Texas oil town for six years. What the oil business does to a town isn’t pretty.

We need to challenge the practice of negotiating taxpayer-funded contracts in secret without letting taxpayers know what we’re on the hook for. If we’re paying for it — we have a right to know how our money is being spent. The Columbia River Economic Development Council released a report identifying long-term growth industries for our area. We need to focus on these industries to build an economic powerhouse that will make sense in 20, 30 or 50 years.

o What, if anything, would you seek to change about the port?

Currently, port commissioner pay is based upon port revenue, so if a commissioner chooses money over safety or jobs, they get paid more. I’d like to correct that by returning commissioner pay back to a flat rate. I want to reduce the use of executive session to an absolute minimum. I’d like to close the field office in Williston, N.D. And, I’d like to see the port take a more active leadership role in the Vancouver Lake Watershed Partnership. Vancouver Lake is one of the first thing prospective port tenants see, and it draws tourists to the area. The port has a financial interest in keeping Vancouver Lake healthy.

Lisa Ross

Age: 48.

Education: Robert E. Lee High School graduate; bachelor of arts in philosophy with minor in accounting and concentrations in English, biology and math, University of Alabama; bachelor of science in accounting, Western Governors University; master of business administration in management and strategy, WGU-Washington.

Occupation: Currently, Oregon Ice Cream LLC via Accountemps; experience includes Northwest Food Processors Association via Accountemps (fall 2014), Worksystems Inc. via Accountemps (summer 2014).

Campaign website: LisaRossforthePort.nationbuilder.com

Most recent book or film you read or saw: “The Dark Tower” by Stephen King.

o Why are you running for port commissioner?

This year, as I looked at those running, there was no one who was actually running because they believe in the economic potential and vision of the port — they were all running against it. Someone had to step up and stand for the port. I have experience in transportation, and my husband hauled and transloaded hazardous chemicals for over 12 years. I also have a bit of name recognition. I would not be running if (Commissioner) Baker was a candidate.

o What are your top two or three concerns about the port?

We have to commit to doing all that we can to move freight more efficiently in the port. We need to provide a welcome to tourists as they come into Vancouver, whether by rail, auto, mass transit or riverboat. I would like to cut our property taxes for the port in half, since the port is highly profitable without the tax money.

o What, if anything, would you seek to change about the port?

Since the port is a business, and business (changes) with the times, the port is always changing as staff looks for the next need in freight export or manufacturing. Often when one type of industry locates in an area, ancillary businesses crop up all around to service that business. Keeping a variety of tenants helps build the possibility that more ancillary business will be developed. The port has been there to help our country whenever the need was there, and will continue to do so if I am elected port commissioner.

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Columbian Port & Economy Reporter