The finance committee convened to help the Port of Astoria find more money finished its work Friday, finalizing a list of strong recommendations meant to help the agency dig out of an estimated $20 million maintenance backlog and build more credibility with other governments and the public.
The committee is comprised of finance, accounting and economic development professionals. Their recommendations will inform a strategic plan, a requirement for the Port to get more state financing.
Walt Postlewait, the executive vice president of nonprofit lender Craft3, read the final recommendations, blaming the Port’s condition on multiple eras of mismanagement and neglect of infrastructure.
“The current outlook is dire,” Postlewait said. “We must face reality, seek expert help and chart a path forward. This is what the (Port Commission) was elected to do, what the Port manager was hired to do and what stakeholders of the Port expect.”
The committee’s recommendations focus on a more timely, proactive review of the Port’s finances, leases with customers that account for maintenance costs, and better communication between staff and the public and Port Commission.
The committee has pushed the Port to analyze which of its properties are profitable, and which should be sold to help with deferred maintenance. The Port is already preparing to have the Astoria Riverwalk Inn, Chinook Building commercial complex and former Seafare Restaurant building appraised for likely sale.
But while the committee’s recommendations will help the Port financially, the agency will need local, state and federal investment in the long run, Postlewait said.
Jim Knight, the Port’s executive director, bristled at some of the language in the recommendations that he said implied the Port had a bad relationship with the state. He argued that the Port has improved its relationships with the state departments that oversee environmental quality and aviation, along with federal agencies and legislators.
“The relationship with Business Oregon, that’s in trouble,” Knight said. “But that’s not the state. That’s one agency.”
Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency, has loaned the Port nearly $20 million for infrastructure improvements. But it has vowed not to lend any more money until the agency finishes an update of its strategic plan from 2010.
The Port contracted Mary McArthur, executive director of the Columbia-Pacific Economic Development District, who has been working on the strategic plan since late 2016. She is nearing completion and will incorporate the committee’s recommendations.
While some on the committee recognized that descriptions of the Port’s situation were harsh, they largely saw the tone of the recommendations as an appropriate call to action. Local officials and business leaders agree there has been a slippage between reality and the Port’s proposals, said John Lansing, a retired banker who served on the committee.