Port Action Positive Step for Vancouverby Tom Koenninger, editor emeritus
The Columbian, February 14, 2007
As a long-range economic move, the Port of Vancouver's decision to purchase the defunct Alcoa smelter is superbly visionary.
The port has stepped forward in a big way on this move, and -- separately -- to deal with the port property at Terminal One, including the Red Lion Hotel at the Quay. But the action to buy 218 acres of dormant industrial land owned by Alcoa and Evergreen Aluminum LLC for $48.25 million is the blockbuster.
Many in Clark County have lamented the exodus to Portland and vicinity as thousands of Washington residents cross the two Columbia River bridges daily to work in Oregon.
Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard has complained frequently about Vancouver's status as the second-largest city "in the state of Oregon" producing revenue for that state. The mayor said Clark County ranks as the third- or fourth-largest "tax-paying county in Oregon."
In his Jan. 28 State of the City speech, the mayor said: "Our ultimate wish is to not have our residents' jobs based in Oregon. We want 60,000 people crossing the bridge to come here to work, not the other way around." Was the port listening? You can bank on it.
Yes, the port, rushing to meet a Feb. 13 deadline or wait another year, has caused a ripple of criticism at the lack of public input.
The deal was announced on a Friday, and port commissioners approved it unanimously the following Monday. Larry Paulson, port executive director, said discussions with Alcoa and Evergreen "became serious" two weeks before the announcement. He said letters of intent between the port and property owners confirming the purchase were signed just a day before the transaction became public. This is the second and final Industrial Development District levy allowed by law.
Now, two women, Lisa Ghormley and Deb Elliot, both of Vancouver, said they will seek 9,000 signatures on petitions to force an Aug. 21 primary election vote on the levy. They have 90 days.
They are right to criticize lack of public input, but they would do the community a major disservice if they managed to punish the port by sabotaging this opportunity.
Port commissioners proceeded legally. They were elected to make decisions on behalf of the public. If we don't like the decisions, they can be voted out of office, or recalled.
Community response anticipated
Commissioners knew they would take heat for this sudden, dramatic imposition of a tax burden on residents of the port district, and then they looked at the benefits. "This property is one of the last waterfront industrial sites of its size available on the West Coast. It will allow the port to capitalize on exploding growth in international trade to generate economic value and nearly 5,000 new jobs for our community," Paulson said in a press release.
He based that statement on a survey by John Martin & Associates indicating 4,673 jobs with an annual payroll of $225 million will be generated by the purchase.
Another 2,000 construction jobs will be created by the development. The new levy will increase the tax on a $250,000 home by $112 annually for six years, starting in 2008, and will raise about $78 million. Considering the benefits, that's a small down payment on our economic future.
On the other port project -- deciding the future use of 10 waterfront acres owned by the port at Terminal One at the Quay, and the public docks and amphitheater on its west side -- there was plenty of public input. That came at a standing-room-only public forum at the port offices. The options were to maintain it as is, redevelop it, lease it or sell it.
While Port Commissioner Brian Wolfe said, "I thought we'd get more direction," I think the port received plenty of direction.
The majority of speakers said they wanted the area maintained as public access to the river.
That may fit the vision of Gramor Development, which is buying adjacent land. Both projects point to an exciting, positive direction for the Columbia's north shore.
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