The Port of Astoria Commission on Tuesday unanimously appointed retired Coast Guard Capt. Robert Stevens to fill the vacancy left by Robert Mushen, who resigned earlier this month because of medical issues.
Stevens, a veteran of 34 years in the Coast Guard and Navy and a merchant mariner, said he will offer calm, quiet confidence to help the Port promote growth and stay fiscally responsible.
“The Port’s received a lot of criticism, some of it justified,” he said during introductions of the seven hopefuls for Mushen’s seat. “I’m here to make this a professional, deliberative body, the way that democracy is envisioned, and I know that several of you believe the same thing.”
He was joined in interviews Tuesday by former Port Commission candidate Pat O’Grady, former Port budget committee chairman John Lansing, land use planner Pamela Wev, former Yamhill County Commissioner Robert Johnstone, South County developer Russ Earl and retired inventor Ronald Meyer.
Stevens, a licensed captain who recently retired from teaching and evaluating captains of offshore platforms in emergency management, ran Port Commissioner James Campbell’s successful re-election campaign against former Commissioner Stephen Fulton in May’s special district election. He was encouraged by others to apply for Mushen’s seat and felt he had something to offer the Port, he said.
Stevens, who lives in Warrenton, fielded questions Tuesday from Port commissioners on several of the agency’s big-ticket issues.
A bond measure to fund infrastructure improvements at the Astoria Regional Airport narrowly failed in the May election. Asked by Commissioner Dirk Rohne about his outlook for the airport, Stevens said it was a shame the ballot measure failed, but that the Port can take baby steps to improve the facility, help Life Flight Network find a better location and attract more business.
“I would be supportive of maybe looking at going to the voters again with a bond measure and doing a better job of selling it,” he said. “I’d be welcome to help do that.”
Most of the residents who voted the bond down were in South County, he said, and he is willing to stump for the project on behalf of the Port.
Stevens wants to help get government support on big items, such as the $13.7 million difference between the Port’s and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s estimates on damage from the December 2015 storms, and in dealing with stormwater-treatment requirements, he said.
The Port Commission recently voted to send a letter to North Tongue Point landowner Washington Development Co., seeking to terminate the Port’s remaining lease and allow boatbuilder Hyak Maritime to negotiate a purchase of the property. Commissioner Bill Hunsinger, who abstained from the vote and has blasted the decision, asked Stevens whether he would want more history and public input on the issue.
“Tongue Point appears to me to be a classic example of opportunity exceeding resources,” Stevens said of the property, which staff has said costs the Port $250,000 annually in losses.
The Port needs public input on the issue, Stevens said, but also needs to consider turning the property over to private enterprise. “The Washington Group, if they agree with the letter we wrote to terminate the lease early — they come back and say that’s fine — then I think we need to take a look at public comment and testimony and make a decision.”
In other action, the Port Commission voted to:
• Spend up to $29,500 on a rain garden at Astoria Middle School. The Port was fined more than $36,000 last year by the state Department of Environmental Quality for not properly monitoring stormwater discharges. The agency was given the option to lower its fine by spending 80 percent of the total on a local supplemental environmental project. The garden will use plants to collect and treat stormwater runoff, providing an educational site for students.
• Host a booth at the Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle in November. The Port was prepared to abandon the expo after staff said the benefits of the event were not worth the expense. Hunsinger, a commercial fisherman, argued for the event, with other commissioners seeking an option to share costs with Port customers attending.
• Extend a lease in the Pier 1 building with the General Services Administration, which manages the lease for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Port Executive Director Jim Knight said the lease extension will run through 2034 and increase the Port’s revenue by $2,000.