Port budget committee punts on fiscal plan

The Port of Astoria’s Pier 2 seafood processing warehouse.

The Port of Astoria has returned a state infrastructure grant of more than $1.5 million because of delays in proving winter storm damage from 2015.

The Port in 2016 received the state money to repair about 30,000 square feet of decrepit dock on the west side of Pier 2, where seafood processors handle much of the catch in Astoria. The grant would have required a one-third local match.

The agency attempted to use the state grant as a local match on a larger pot of relief money it has sought from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover significant damage to the central waterfront from the 2015 storms.

Jim Knight, the Port’s executive director, blamed delays with FEMA for why he decided to return the state grant money.

“It was their strongest recommendation that we return the money and preserve the relationship,” he said of the Connect Oregon grant program, run through the state Department of Transportation.

The Port has gone back and forth with FEMA, trying unsuccessfully to prove that issues under Pier 2 were caused by the storms.

As of last fall, FEMA was offering less than $1.5 million overall, while the Port has estimated that between $6 million and $10 million is needed to repair storm damage. During the negotiations, the Port has repeatedly applied for extensions with the state to keep the 2016 grant available.

“We are still processing claim requests and reimbursements with FEMA,” Knight wrote in an email last week to the Department of Transportation canceling the grant. “However, it has become clear that FEMA has no intention of funding storm damage to our Pier II.”

Using the grant to repair the dock on Pier 2, while not addressing the underlying issues, would be a waste of money, Knight said, and returning the grant to the state preserves the relationship for future requests.

Knight’s decision has drawn heat from one of his regular detractors, Port Commissioner Bill Hunsinger, who took out an ad in The Daily Astorian to voice his displeasure.

“Port staff continues to operate without publicly telling the commission what is going on,” Hunsinger wrote.

The state has ceased offering Connect Oregon infrastructure grants through this year while it funds several specific multimodal projects around the state.

Katie Thiel, program manager of Connect Oregon, said the money meant for the Port will go toward funding those projects. The future availability of Connect Oregon grants will depend on revenue returns from a new 1 percent tax on the sales of vehicles, she said.

Edward Stratton is a reporter for The Daily Astorian. Contact him at 971-704-1719 or estratton@dailyastorian.com.

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