Six running for Port of Columbia County board
Six candidates in the upcoming May 21 election are running for three slots on the Port of Columbia County's board of commissioners.
For Position 1, incumbent Patrick Trapp of Columbia City is opposed by Nancy Ward of Scappoose and Stephen Hanson of Warren. Incumbent Mike Avent of Rainier, Position 2, is opposed by Chip Bubl of Warren. Larry Ericksen of Scappoose, Position 3, is running unopposed.
Throughout campaigning, candidates raised issues of environmental protection, community engagement and jobs.
"We try to keep a broad perspective on everything, but our primary directive is to be an economic driver for the county, to create jobs," Avent said at a candidate forum on April 24.
Trapp, who served as the port's executive director for six years prior to being appointed to the board of commissioners, is a retired captain with the U.S. Coast Guard. Trapp said he is proud of the wide range of projects the port has undertaken.
"We have a huge portfolio of what to choose from so you can place people [industries] where they best fit across the county," Trapp said. "Even though Port Westward gets a lot of attention, we've done a heck of a lot when you look at all the other industrial areas throughout the county."
Ward, running against Trapp, commended the variety of industries at the port. "That's where I have great faith. I believe in steady, slow, sustainable. I believe in attracting businesses that aren't dependent on huge profits, that are in it for the long haul ... I think everything we see at Port Westward indicates that isn't happening, except for PGE," Ward said.
"I am extremely wary of glitz and glamour and million, billion dollar projects, because my history tells me more times than not they are a failure and they leave behind empty jobs and empty buildings and piles of debt that the taxpayers have to bear," Ward, who has a background in property management, said.
"The direction of the port is toward a sustainable job, but not a sustainable industry," said Stephen Hanson, another Position 1 candidate. Hanson is a retired longshoreman who has lived in Columbia County for more than four decades. "I believe in family-wage jobs," Hanson said, adding that he would like to see the jobs be union. "I believe the things that happen around here are important, (affecting) the water, the climate ... I'm afraid the direction we're going is not going to be sustainable."
Hanson said he is not a fan of the oil industry. "We need to get a different direction. We need to go a different way. We need to try to get industry around here that has a future. I don't believe that oil has a future in 20, 30 or 40 years," Hanson said.
At public forums, Ward campaigned on a message of community engagement. "The thing that is really missing on the board of commissioners is a really sincere desire to include the community," Ward said.
Avent, running against Chip Bubl for Position 2, rejected criticism that port commissioners don't adequately listen to community feedback.
"We've got to go through so many layers to get anything done, and there's always more layers to go," Avent said at a candidate forum on April 29. After forum attendees complained that the port's morning meetings are inaccessible to many, Avent suggested to the port commission that evening meetings be added to the future schedule.
Though not the most vocal member of the board, Avent said his background in business makes him an asset to the board. "I do a lot behind the scenes, so when we're talking leases or things like that, I feel really comfortable with that," Avent said.
Avent, who has served on the commission for 16 years, will appear on the ballot alongside Chip Bubl and Amie Jo Kopecky. Though Kopecky's name is on the ballot, she is not eligible for the position because she lives just outside the port district boundary. Bubl, who has worked in Columbia County as an extension agent for Oregon State University since 1978, said he has observed good decisions and mistakes made by the port. "I believe, for example, that the Port Westward facility is a crucial facility for the structure in this region as we go toward sustainable energy," Bubl said.
Bubl also noted the amount of taxpayer funds invested in Port Westward and the flaws in the physical site, including earthquake risk and the uncertified dyke at the port. "I think the money being spent at Port Westward—outside of what's supporting the PGE gas fire terminal, which I think we need—I think is questionable," Bubl said.
All the candidates voiced concerns about the rail, both in terms of traffic and the risks of transporting hazardous cargo like oil. Trapp, who has sat on emergency management committees for the county and state, has said that to make the rail as safe as possible, the port has taken every precaution short of eliminating rail use.
Larry Ericksen is chairing the traffic study the port is starting. The study will look at rail and highway traffic in the county. Ericksen said he is concerned about the possibility of trains blocking intersections during emergencies. While many community members don't seem concerned with train traffic, according to Ericksen, growing rail use in the county could change that.
"If we ever got to four trains in and four trains out every day, there wouldn't be a politician who had a hand in it left standing," Bubl said, echoing Ericksen's concerns.
Though running unopposed, Ericksen said he doesn't take his position for granted. "I've never felt, ever, that I own this position," Ericksen said. "The port is all about people. People want good paying jobs and people want the security that a fully funded county tax base affords us all."