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Guest column: Questions for the Port of Astoria

Published on January 12, 2018 10:46AM

Bill Hunsinger

Bill Hunsinger

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Transparency and public trust are gone from the Port of Astoria. At the last Port meeting, I asked a question about a $1.7 million Key Bank loan for our stormwater project. I’d like to know more about the terms of the loan to build the stormwater system. It is my understanding the first year had no payments, the second year required interest payments only, and not until the third year is the Port of Astoria required to make principal and interest payments.

The administration convinced the Port Commission to approve the stormwater loan because the Port of Astoria would only pay half, and the impacted tenants would pay the other half. Port of Astoria Executive Director Jim Knight told the commission that he had no push back from the tenants on this loan payment issue.

Knight’s excuse was, “we haven’t done anything with the tenants because we wanted to make sure it works before we ask the tenants start paying their share.” I guess that means if it doesn’t work, the tenants don’t have to make the payments, and the Port of Astoria/taxpayers have to pay for this cost.

Over the last 18 months, the commissioners have asked for “stormwater” to be an agenda item. I have been told by Commission President Frank Spence that it would be an agenda item, but it has never happened.

Questions asked by commissioners that have not been answered:

1. What is the actual total price of the stormwater project?

2. Do the tenants know the terms of the stormwater loan, and shouldn’t they have been part of the loan discussion?

3. Which tenants are responsible for half of the total loan cost, and have they been contacted?

4. Shouldn’t the Oregon Department of Transportation be responsible for a big part of the loan, since the U.S. Highway 101 toxic residue runs downhill into the Port of Astoria?

5. How do we get new tenants to come to the Port of Astoria properties, and what would be their share of this infrastructure cost?

6. When the project was completed, the Port of Astoria staff stated the stormwater project was $200,000 over budget, where The Daily Astorian reported it was $750,000 over budget (“Stormwater project at Port behind schedule,” March 29, 2017). Why wasn’t the commission informed about the over-budget costs by the administration, instead of reading it in the paper?

7. What about the cost of the Department of Environmental Quality fines for non-compliance with the Port of Astoria’s general National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System stormwater discharge permit(s)?

The actual questions are:

• Is the stormwater project working, and properly processing the water prior to entering the Columbia River?

• Were the DEQ-required tests of the outflow, which were supposed to be performed in 2017, ever done?

• What are the results of the stormwater tests?

Months ago I asked Port of Astoria Finance Director Will Isom, “Can the Port of Astoria not afford to make the payments?” His answer was, “Yes we can.” His unspecific comment was interesting to me, knowing well we had upcoming litigation, $100,000 in fines to DEQ, and $660,000 in match money for our Connect Oregon grant that is long overdue, or on the books.

Bill Hunsinger serves on the Port of Astoria Commission.


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