The Port of Astoria Commission voted to raise its dockage rate on all piers by 4 percent at its regular meeting Tuesday night. Commissioners also filled a vacancy on the Budget Committee and discussed challenges facing the Port's efforts to improve its facilities.

The Commission was told that the Port's dockage fees were 30 percent lower than any other ports in the region. Historically, the Port has kept its rates in line with other Northwest Ports, especially those on the Columbia River.

Even with the Port's rate increase, its dockage fees are lower than those of the ports of Portland, Longview and Vancouver. For example, a 500-foot vessel would pay $2,376 to dock per 24 hours at those ports. In Astoria, the same ship would pay $1,910.

The increase would not apply to the 13 cruise ships scheduled to call here this year. Cruise lines are expecting the increase in 2004, when two ships are scheduled to call.

The Commission also voted to appoint John Lansing to the Port's Budget Committee. Lansing recently moved to Clatsop County and is a manager for Wells Fargo Bank. Bob Lovell and Judy Hansen were reappointed to the Budget Committee.

Commissioners and staff discussed a problem plaguing ports and other businesses engaged in construction and maintenance work in the Columbia River: the shrinking in-water work period.

Activities in the Columbia River, such as dredging and construction of piling, can only be done in the months of January and February. The limit is imposed by federal fisheries managers to minimize harm to migrating salmon protected by the Endangered Species Act.

In addition to the limited time frame, before in-water work can begin, it has to be approved and permitted by state and federal agencies. The permit process is tedious and slow, Port staff said.

This year the Port's permits for work on a dock near Pier 3, part of planned boat lift, were mired in bureaucracy. The Port could not begin working until well into the in-water work period.

Bill Cook, Port deputy director, said it's becoming nearly impossible to complete a job in one year.

Crews have been working overtime in a rush to drive piling and complete dredging operations before the in-water work period ends Feb. 28.

Commission President Glenn Taggart suggested the Port hold a forum to talk with federal regulators about dealing with the bureaucracy that is "shutting us down."

"This is not getting better," he said. "This is getting far worse."

Cook will travel to Washington, D.C., on a lobbying trip with Commissioner Larry Pfund next week.

One of their top priorities, Cook said, will be talking with federal agencies and legislators about the problems caused by permitting and the shrinking in-water work period.

In other news:

The Commission had a day-long strategic planning meeting Thursday in Cannon Beach. Port Executive Director Peter Gearin said the Commission reviewed its concise mission statement, to make sure that it's a "good living document." The mission statement outlines four goals: Improve and strengthen the Port's transportation infrastructure; fully exploit the business and employment potential of the Port's industrial and commercial real estate; expand infrastructure in support of natural resource industries; attain operating self sufficiency, in lieu of dependency on property tax subsidies.


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