Port of Astoria Commissioner Bill Hunsinger is drumming up opposition to the Port’s exit from North Tongue Point.
The Port Commission voted earlier this month to send a letter to North Tongue Point owner Washington Development Co. seeking to prematurely end its lease, which runs through 2019, and allow Hyak Maritime to negotiate a purchase of the property to use as a shipyard. Hunsinger abstained, while Commission President Frank Spence and commissioners James Campbell and Dirk Rohne voted to send the letter.
“This private closed-door agreement to give all of the public investment and control of Tongue Point to private corporate interests is the very definition of crony capitalism,” Hunsinger wrote in an ad scheduled to run Friday in The Daily Astorian. “The fact that was done without public notice to deny community input or scrutiny is disgraceful. If a private purchaser such as (Hyak) Maritime is so interested in fully operating Tongue Point, then why did they never ask for a public meeting, or openly ask to discuss public partnership options with the Port?”
Port staff added the discussion item regarding Tongue Point four days before taking the Aug. 1 vote. Port Executive Director Jim Knight said discussions with Hyak and Washington Development Co. had only recently finalized to the point of bringing the item to the Port Commission.
Hyak’s CEO and co-owner Robert Dorn said the company wants to work with shipwright company and Port tenant WCT Marine to develop a shipyard. The concept has received endorsements from WCT’s co-owners Willie and Carol Toristoja and from fellow shipwright Tim Hill. One of the Port’s first tenants at North Tongue Point, Hill recently sold J&H Boatworks to WCT Marine.
Hunsinger urged people to attend the Port Commission’s meeting Tuesday and send letters and emails to the agency’s staff. “At a minimum, you should demand the Port to pay for an appraisal of Tongue Point so everyone can honestly know what the Port will be giving away to private corporate interests,” he wrote.
Spence said there are no plans to discuss North Tongue Point at next week’s meeting, which will include the interviews of seven finalists for the Port Commission seat left vacant by Robert Mushen’s recent resignation.
“There’s nothing to discuss,” Spence said. “The Commission sent the letter to Washington (Development Co.) to be released, and the 60-day timetable … is working now for Hyak to close their deal.”
A former U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard base, North Tongue Point includes two large former seaplane hangars utilized for ship work and seafood processing, about 30 acres of paved land, several piers fronting a channel of the Columbia River and a derelict rail spur belonging to Portland & Western Railroad. Port staff have said the agency loses about $250,000 annually at North Tongue Point, which has been the subject of many development proposals, none of which have come to fruition.