Candidates running for positions on the Port of Columbia County Board of Commissioners answered questions from the audience at a forum Wednesday night, April 24.
Patrick Trapp, who was appointed to the commission last year and served as the port's executive director from 2011 to 2017, is running against Nancy Ward and Stephan Hanson.
Mike Avent, who has been involved in the port for 16 years, is running for re-election against Chip Bubl, an extension agent for Oregon State University.
Incumbent Larry Ericksen is running unopposed.
The mostly civil forum at one point prompted raised voices from Avent when audience members said they had frequently experienced the Port Commission not reading submitted written testimony before voting on an issue.
Ward said she has asked many people why they don't attend port meetings, and said she has repeatedly heard the same sentiment.
"It doesn't matter what I say, it doesn't matter what information I bring, I am not going to make a difference," she noted of the responses to her question.
Experts present information to the port "and it isn't read before [the commissioners] make a decision," Ward asserted.
"That's how you tear communities apart," she continued. "That's how you build an 'us-versus-them.'"
Current commissioners were asked to respond to the accusation.
"Nobody knows what I'm looking at or doing, but yet they can come in front of everybody and say, 'You didn't read that,'" Avent said. "Well, how in the heck do you know what we read and what we didn't?"
Audience members spoke out to back up Ward's claim, ending in shouting between Avent and a few people in the audience.
Trapp, Avent and Ericksen, the three commissioners hoping to retain their positions, defended the progress of the port in recent years and stressed that the port's primary goal is economic development, not environmental protection.
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