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Mayors, senator seek sweeping change at Port of Astoria

A countywide group has formed to make big changes to the Port of Astoria.
By Edward Stratton

The Daily Astorian

Published on October 1, 2014 11:11AM

Last changed on October 1, 2014 2:56PM

The Port of Astoria’s dredge Felkins, named after former Executive Director Steve Felkins, clears out Slip 1 in December 2013.

Daily Astorian file

The Port of Astoria’s dredge Felkins, named after former Executive Director Steve Felkins, clears out Slip 1 in December 2013.

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Mike Morgan

Mike Morgan

Don Larson

Don Larson

Dianne Widdop

Dianne Widdop

Sen. Betsy Johnson

Sen. Betsy Johnson

Should the Port of Astoria Commission be elected in Clatsop County or recommended by local mayors and appointed by the governor?

That’s the essence of what a group in Clatsop County, along with state Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, propose to ask Clatsop County voters in the May 2015 election.

Only two of Oregon’s 23 ports — Portland and Coos Bay — have appointed governing bodies.

The local effort, named the Committee to Restore, Revitalize and Reorganize the Port of Astoria, will in the coming weeks start gathering signatures to create a ballot initiative for a local election May 19. Its three primary petitioners span North and South Clatsop County, including Astoria businessman Dan Van Dusen, Gearhart Mayor Dianne Widdop and Steve Phillips, owner of Phillips Candies in Seaside. Joining them are Mayors Mike Morgan of Cannon Beach and Don Larson of Seaside, former Port commissioners, employees and other local businesspeople.

They have Jay Flint, the former director of the Sunset Empire Transportation District and now a lawyer at Campbell & Popkin in Seaside, drafting the initiative.

The initiative would:

• Rename the Port of Astoria as the Port of Clatsop County.

• Have the five Clatsop County mayors and chairperson of the Board of Commissioners of Clatsop County submit to the governor two names each, or a total of 12 possible Port appointees.

• Have the governor appoint five commissioners to the Port, four of which would be residents of the county, and one who could be from outside the county.

• Retain all employees and financial arrangements of the Port.

• Have a new commission take control as soon as ballots are certified.

The mayors of South County have voiced their displeasure with the Port’s representation of their interests over several months, penning a letter earlier this year seeking the reorganization of the agency. The Port Commission recently appointed Cannon Beach resident and Port Commissioner Robert Mushen and dispatched its members to governmental meetings throughout the county to talk about the Port.

Widdop said the initiative would need about 1,000 to 1,500 signatures, or about 10 percent of the number of Clatsop County voters in the 2010 gubernatorial election, to make it on Clatsop County’s ballot. The committee has already filed all the necessary paperwork, she said, and needs to register on ORESTAR to start collecting money for advertising, legal fees and other incidentals.

“We are not going to pay people to collect signatures,” said Widdop. “We’re going to do it all ourselves.”

Meanwhile, there’s a parallel movement on the Port at the state level.

Betsy’s bill

“My bill is a mirror of what the mayors want to do,” said Johnson. “It’s a matter of how the question gets to the voters.”

Johnson met today with Port Commission Chairman John Raichl to inform him of her legislation.

She made sure the concept of her bill was filed by the presession deadline Sept. 22. Submitting it, she said, put the bill in the queue for issues to be tackled during the February session. Legislative counsel, she added, is now drafting the legislation and has until December to finish and send it back to her.

The voters of Clatsop County approved the formation of the Port in 1910. Since then, Port Commission members have been elected by county voters. Current commissioners include Mushen, James Campbell, Raichl, Stephen Fulton and Bill Hunsinger.

Coming Thursday: State Sen. Betsy Johnson and Gearhart Mayor Dianne Widdop talk with The Daily Astorian. Former politicians, commissioners and employees involved in the Port of Coos Bay share experiences from its transition state-appointed port commission in 1987.


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