It was an underwhelming evening. The much anticipated meeting of the Port of Astoria Commission ended in stalemate. That was despite the presence of state officials, who were invited to answer questions.

The officials encouraged commissioners to move forward with Pier 2 seafood proposals.

As at its Aug. 20 meeting, the commission split 2-2 Tuesday with one abstention on whether to allow Bornstein Seafoods and Da Yang Seafoods to start planning to build new facilities on Pier 2. Commissioners Bill Hunsinger and James Campbell voted no on a Bornstein proposal, while Ric Gerttula and Jack Bland voted yes.

Commisioner Stephen Fulton abstained once again, saying he had issues with previously unmentioned portions of the potential leases and how much time the Port Commission was given to look over the documents. He demanded to get the staff reports in a more timely manner so he can fully review them, saying that otherwise he wouldn’t vote on anything.

The commission later tabled a similar motion on Da Yang without discussion.

“We’re not voting on a final lease,” said Gerttula, adding that the two companies wouldn’t invest a cent before an agreement was made. “We’re voting on whether we’re going to allow that activity out on that property.”

In August 2012, the Port was awarded $1 million grant from the Oregon Department of Transportation, not including its required match of $250,000, to improve the western face and deck of Pier 2. It awarded a bid on the project to Bergerson Construction and started work on the project. But it underestimated the cost of structural improvements, which went over budget by more than $500,000.

Bornstein and Da Yang, who operate on and around Pier 2 and were represented at the meeting, approached the Port early this year with proposals for their operations to cover improvements on parts of Pier 2, in exchange for the right to expand and potentially build new processing facilities there.

Director Lynn Schoessler and Ports Manager Dave Harlan represented the Infrastructure Finance Authority (IFA). The state officials were prepared to answer questions on the Pier 2 issue. The IFA is an arm of Business Oregon, which the Port owes more than $15 million.

“You might be liable to repay the grant,” said Harlan about the consequences of not completing the Pier 2 project, adding that the state had concerns previously about the cost estimate of Pier 2’s improvement.

Schoessler said the Port should take advantage of the offer of private investment to advance its agenda. Harlan, a former Port reporter for The Daily Astorian, added that the Port had an agreement with the state to use Pier 2, built in 1920 and not in the best of condition, for seafood processing.

Hunsinger continued his opposition to the seafood proposals, saying the Port should focus on bringing in cargo that would add more tonnage and that additional seafood processing would add undue traffic and parking problems to the pier.

Lektro involved

The larger context of Tuesday’s meeting was the Port’s debt to the state. The IFA loaned the Port $1.298 million to support the expansion of Lektro, the electrical vehicle manufacturing company located at the Astoria Regional Airport in Warrenton. The loans could become grants if Lektro created and/or retained the equivalent of 88 full-time jobs, of which it’s only reached 63.75.

Harlan said that leaves the Port on the hook for more than $400,000 for the approximately 24-job shortage. The state has not enforced the loan requirements, waiting for the three recently elected Port Commissioners to come up with a solution.

Commissioners raised the possibility of using jobs created by the Pier 2 or other projects to fill the gap in Lektro’s employment. Schoessler said he would consider it, depending on the number and quality of the jobs, their pay, fringe benefits and other factors.

“I’m going to find that a step in the right direction, for sure,” he said about the Pier 2 seafood proposals.

“I’d like to see you take some of those good jobs we’ve created, and put it toward Lektro,” said Hunsinger, referencing increased employment from Westerlund Log Handlers, Englund Marine and Industrial, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and other operations the Port has started.

“I applaud your accomplishments,” said Schoessler, adding later that he wouldn’t count those previously created jobs. “I don’t discredit that at all. But what’s next?”

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