The Port of Astoria Commission is again looking at charging customers on the central waterfront fees for stormwater treatment.
The Port in November 2017 activated a state-mandated stormwater treatment system on Pier 3 that cost more than $2 million to build. The agency borrowed around $1.7 million from Key Bank to pay for most of the construction and now pays more than $100,000 annually on the loan.
The issue of charging tenants for stormwater treatment has taken on added importance with the financially strapped Port facing a $20 million maintenance backlog. A committee of financial experts to help the Port save and find more money, among other recommendations, pushed the agency to ensure it’s being reimbursed for services provided.
Jim Knight, the Port’s executive director, initially said tenants would cover about half the cost of stormwater treatment through a formula calculated by how much square footage they lease in areas of the central waterfront that drain to the treatment system.
But the issue has largely faded into obscurity, except when brought up by Commissioner Bill Hunsinger, a regular critic of Knight’s management. Hunsinger successfully added the item to the agenda of a Tuesday workshop.
“On three different occasions, it’s been told (to) us that Mr. Knight was going to meet with the tenants and come back with the 50 percent,” Hunsinger said. “He said he had no absolute pushback from tenants.”
The Port has received letters from some tenants saying they would not pay the fee, while others have not heard from the Port about the potential fees in years, Hunsinger said. After listening to Hunsinger’s complaints about Knight, Port Commissioner Dirk Rohne asked him if he had any proposals.
“My proposal is I think it’s time for a new administration, somebody we can trust,” Hunsinger said, repeating previous calls for Knight to be fired.
Rohne broached the idea of a meeting with tenants to get their input on potential fees. Frank Spence, the commission’s president, said he would set it up. Knight agreed to gather more information on the coverage and maintenance cost of the stormwater system.
The Port has taken heat over a new fee on passing cargo ships, and a proposed fee on seafood processors for products coming across the docks. Both ideas are meant to recoup the costs of maintaining aging docks.
“I think this was recommended by the special ad-hoc finance committee that we seek reasonable fees for things that we do for our tenants, and this is one of the services that we got into, reasonably,” Commissioner Robert Stevens said. “To the extent that they contribute to contamination of Port property, I think it’s reasonable to ask them for a comparable fee.”
The Port Commission also approved a $12,000 contract for Appraisal Consulting Group LLC to appraise the value of the Astoria Riverwalk Inn, Chinook Building and former Seafare Restaurant. The properties, all arrayed around the West Mooring Basin, have become prime targets for the Port to sell as it tries to find money to deal with maintenance.