A new era for the Port of Astoria Commission officially started Tuesday night.

After taking their oaths of office from Port counsel Jeff Bennett, new commissioners Ric Gerttula, Stephen Fulton and James Campbell started their first special meeting learning about their roles on the Port Commission and hearing from their attorney, Business Oregon and Bruce Conner, the Port’s cruise ship marketer.

“I hope we can all work collaboratively with one another ... and move this Port forward,” said CEO?Hank Bynaker, passing the baton off to Bennett to provide commissioners with a crash course in their roles, responsibilities and bylaws as Port commissioners.

Commissioner Bill Hunsinger listened in via teleconference; the fifth commissioner, Jack Bland, was out sick.

“From my perspective, as the Port’s attorney, I think it’s important for you to have the 30,000-foot view of what ports do,” said Bennett, first visiting ORS?777, the state statute that helps govern Oregon’s 23 ports and was created one year prior to the creation of Clatsop County’s Port.

“No specific commissioner has power under any statute,” emphasized Bennett later in the meeting, adding that commissioners can be personally liable when overstepping their bounds. “You act as a commission, and you direct your executive director and staff as a commission.”

He touched on what Port commissioners are explicitly allowed to do within the statutes, and what’s implied from those statues.

A special statute – ORS?777.210 – applies specifically to Tongue Point, a portion of revenues from its operation going to the Department of State Lands, which credits the funds to the state’s Common School Fund.

“This really encourages there to be a partnership between the Port and the State Land Board, in regards to Tongue Point,” said Bennett.

Former Port Commissioner Floyd Holcom has previously said the Port shouldn’t have to pay the agency about $200,000 a year for the fund when it’s already trying to promote economic development and support Clatsop County school districts.

Fulton asked about the validity of the previous statements.

Bynaker said it’s a viable question, after which he reminded commissioners of a meeting he’s trying to set up with new DSL Director Mary Abrams to address such issues.

Dave Harlan, a former Port reporter for The Daily Astorian, former director of the Port of Hood River and currently ports manager for Business Oregon, gave his take on the Port’s relationship with the state agency. Business Oregon, the common name for the Oregon Business Development Department, is a business development agency that has regularly provided financing to the Port for projects.

It offers three funds to support ports, said Harlan, including the Port Revolving Loan Fund, the Port Planning and Marketing Fund and the Marine Navigation Improvement Fund.

The third fund, he said, was put into play the the Columbia River Channel Deepening Project, completed in 2010, and is meant to help with new dredging projects connected to federally authorized channels. The fund, he added, can pay the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge.

Harlan said a lot of his work helped reestablish ports, which have often had bad reputations, in the minds of policymakers, as economic drivers in the community.

“We want to reinforce success,” said Harlan about how the agency chooses which projects to support. “We’re not looking to reinforce failure.”

He said that Ports that are successful in gaining state financing have been creative in their partnerships on projects with nearby agencies, showed long-term competence in following the rules and comprehension of which projects are feasible.

He said Business Oregon is starting to create a new economic impact analysis of all the state’s ports to show the economic benefit in their investment, including not just ports but the multitude of waterfront private entities that benefit from dredging. Spending $400,000 to improve the Chetco River channel in southern Oregon, he said, generates $40 million in economic impacts.

Hunsinger asked about support to dredge the Skipanon River, which has experienced depth issues that threaten vessels’ ability to navigate it to upriver processing plants such as Pacific Seafood and Skipanon Brand Seafoods.

Harlan said Business Oregon has talked to the Corps about sticking its dredge the Yaquina into the Skipanon to clear out access to the mouth.

In regards to the potential rebuild of Pacific Seafood, which was displaced from Warrenton to Tongue Point after a June 4 fire ravaged its processing plant, he said it’s good that the company has existing docks needing repaired. If everyone agrees that it’s good to have seafood processing jobs on the Skipanon, he added, that will help overcome many of the regulatory hurdles to getting state support.

In other news:

• Campbell was named the new president of the Commission, Hunsinger vice president, Fulton secretary, Gerttula treasurer and Bland assistant secretary and treasurer;

• Fulton suggested the new commissioners take a bus tour of all the Port’s facilities;

• Campbell said the Port needs a full accounting of all its projects for the next work session later this month, in order to start prioritizing; and

• Conner reported that 20 cruise ships will call this year at the Port. He said that with couples each spending $125, and 80 percent leaving the ship, the local community stands to make $100,000 per vessel. The Port, he added, averages $17,000 in hard revenue from dockage, wharfage and security.

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