Port districts, by their very nature, are unlike most government agencies. School districts, municipalities and county governments essentially provide services we can’t provide for ourselves as efficiently as we can under collective government — schools, police and roads for instance.
Port districts provide publicly-owned infrastructure that private businesses use for commerce. That’s not a port district’s sole purpose, but it’s a primary function — facilitating business. In a community such as ours, suffering financial death by a thousand cuts and all the social and cultural dysfunction that goes with poverty and lack of opportunity, it’s an important function.
The primary issue in the Port Commission race between incumbent Chuck Caldwell and Ron Figlar-Barnes is oil — specifically crude oil shipped here by rail, stored here in huge tanks and leaving here in vessels. Caldwell believes the Port should welcome efforts by two, and possibly three companies that want to ship millions of gallons of oil through the Harbor. Figlar-Barnes says the risk of environmental catastrophe and possibility of physical danger is too high and he doesn’t want Grays Harbor to be an oil port.
What Figlar-Barnes seems uncertain of is how the Port can fulfill its role as a facilitator for business. He says job creation is important to him and he thinks the Port should be nurturing business that produces “sustainable” jobs. But he offers virtually nothing substantive to achieve that. The one broad concept he could point to came to him while at a conference in San Diego. He noticed the waterfront development supporting tourism in a community with an average annual rainfall equal to a wet week in November here and thinks maybe it can be replicated with the help of the Port, creating a hotel complex and conference center.
Figlar-Barnes seems not the least bit familiar with the Port and its resources. He says he’s purposely not been to a Port meeting because he wants to start with a blank slate and make his first meeting as a commissioner to be his first meeting ever. He says he has six years to learn the inner workings. We think he should know what he’s getting into ahead of time.
Caldwell has been a Port commissioner for what has been a fairly remarkable turnaround. For the first time ever, the Port has delivered on its long-stated goal to diversify cargo, adding grain and automobiles to the cargo base, adding millions of dollars in infrastructure paid for by tenants and acquiring the Satsop Business Park. For his past performance and understanding of the need to use the public’s Port resources to create jobs, The Daily World is supporting Chuck Caldwell for Port commissioner.
Caldwell has the attitude that the oil project is a good thing if it can be done safely and says he’s trusting in government safety and environmental regulatory agencies to judge whether that’s so. We think the Port should be taking a more activist role as the community asks three key questions:
• Can the track and bridges between here and Centralia handle the increased traffic and heavy loads of a cargo that has to get to its destination safely, with no margin for error?
• What is the solution to the traffic mess that would occur in East Aberdeen with the current rail infrastructure? It’s nearly intolerable now and with the added rail traffic the oil project would bring, it would be intolerable without major changes.
• And what happens if there’s a spill or some sort of disaster on the tracks between the Port and Centralia, or at the tank farms in the Port, or in the Harbor or on the ocean? Who responds, are there resources to handle it and who pays?
Caldwell says some of those answers can wait until the project is further along. On the Port’s website it says some of the rail infrastructure changes will be paid for by the increased volume of business. We want the Port to push for answers as if it represents the citizens of this county, not the railroad, the oil companies and the tank farms. It’s sometimes hard to tell.
And we want to make sure the companies that profit from the oil project pay for it. Improvements needed in the rail infrastructure, for instance, shouldn’t be on the taxpayers’ dime.
The Daily World editorial board is made up of Publisher Bill Crawford, Editor Doug Barker, City Editor Dan Jackson and Sports Editor Rick Anderson.