The Port of Astoria Commission voted 4-1 Tuesday to plead guilty to the agency's 2005 dredge violations and pay $170,400 in related state and federal fines.
Commissioner Bill Hunsinger voted no, saying "it is an absolute tragedy that voters and taxpayers should be held responsible for what went on here."
Commissioners Larry Pfund, Kathy Sanders, Dan Hess and Floyd Holcom voted yes.
The board approved agreements with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality admitting the Port illegally discharged dredged material into the Columbia River estuary without permission.
The Port agreed to mitigate the damages by paying civil penalties totaling $125,000 to the Corps and $45,400 to DEQ.
The state and federal violations stem from the same dredging action, which took place during the Port's controversial and costly 2005 dredging season.
Peter Gearin, who was the Port director at the time, has been under a federal criminal investigation and may still be charged for his role in illegally releasing the dredge material from the Pier 3 storage facility into the estuary. Gearin was fired in 2007 to restore the Port's credibility. The Port Commission in 2005 included Glenn Taggart, Don McDaniel and Jim Bergeron, who have since been replaced by Holcom, Sanders and Hunsinger.
"I'm still not happy with the victims - the public - paying for actions done by a few bad apples," Holcom said. "As I told the U.S. attorney, I have a hard time swallowing the fact that the U.S. government is charging taxpayers for what should have been levied at the individuals who made the error."
The Port was up against a tight deadline for dredging the waterfront that year, and some of the material that needed to be cleared from the river bottom had tested positive for contaminants, so it had to be stored on land. The Port only had one place to store contaminated spoils, and it wasn't big enough to accommodate all the dredged material at once.
Last year, Port leaders negotiated with state and federal officials to get the Corps fine reduced from $200,000 and the DEQ fine cut down from $89,400. DEQ is allowing the Port to make payments of $1,435 per month through 2012. The Corps' fine must be paid in full within a year.
"It was well worth it to negotiate that down," said Port Executive Director Jack Crider, who was hired to replace Gearin last summer.
Pfund and Sanders said they were glad to see the ugly chapter in the Port's history come to a close. The violations and the Port's initial efforts to fight the charges have cost the agency around $800,000.
"It wasn't so much what happened as how the Port responded that got the feds involved and caused the Port so much grief and hardship," said Pfund, who was a commissioner in 2005 and says he was tricked into supporting the illegal activity.
Pfund blew the whistle on Gearin in 2006 for a number of botched deals at the Port and was the first commissioner to call for Gearin's dismissal.
"I'm glad to this nearing its end," said Sanders, who replaced McDaniel in the 2007 election following Gearin's departure. "As we know, it was mishandled from the beginning. ... I'm voting yes because I want it to be finally finished so we can move forward and look forward, leave the past behind and have a clean break from this."
In other business, the board:
? Voted 5-0 to add a 3-cent charge per gallon to trucks fueling vessels on Port property effective April 1. The new charge replaces the $10 delivery fee the Port charges for each vessel fueled. Crider said other Ports that charge by the gallon earn hundreds of dollars for large fuel loads.
? Voted 5-0 to approve a resolution supporting the repair of the breach in the Portland and Western Railroad line at Warren Slough in Knappa. Holcom said the line has been down for four years, and because of permitting delays, the repair work might not be able to start within the current in-water work window and would have to wait until November.
? Voted unanimously to select Current Construction of Astoria to renovate the Astoria Regional Airport terminal in Warrenton in anticipation of the March 15 celebration of SeaPort Airlines' inaugural flight.
? Agreed on several priority issues Crider and Pfund will present to lawmakers and lobbyists at a Pacific Northwest Waterways Association meeting in Washington, D.C., Feb. 28 through March 6. The issues include the acquisition of North Tongue Point, funding for dredging and upland dredge spoil disposal sites, sardine fishery assessments being conducted by the industry to improve catch limits, the repair of the Portland and Western Railroad breach in Knappa and the reauthorization of the U.S. Coast Guard captain of the port from Portland to Astoria.
? Agreed to allow Crider to enforce lease agreements with tenants renting hangars at the Astoria Regional Airport in Warrenton who do not own planes and are storing other items in the hangars.