Port runs risk of losing competitive advantage

No port at the mouth of the Columbia River or the largest ports on the Oregon Coast has a seafood tariff. Not Ilwaco, not Newport, not Coos Bay.

Why then would the Port of Astoria Commission consider burdening its seafood processor tenants with a new fee? Why would the Port choose to make itself less competitive?

Andrew Bornstein suspects the answer is that Port Commissioner Bill Hunsinger aims “to destroy the seafood cluster that (former Port Director) Peter Gearin created.” That cluster includes Bornstein Seafoods, three other seafood processors and Englund Marine & Industrial Supply.

Gearin made some fatal errors as Port executive director, but his concept of a seafood and marine cluster made abundant sense. It was his great achievement. Gearin’s concept was driven by a realization that the Port of Astoria would never become a general cargo port. The lack of rail and freeway connections as well as the relatively small area of the Port’s docks were why it made no sense to pursue cargo such as goes upriver to the Port of Portland.

Commissioner Hunsinger is a longshoreman, and he promotes an agenda that is the polar opposite of Gearin’s concept. Hunsinger nurtures the belief that cargo can return to the Port docks. He appears willing to sacrifice seafood jobs to make way for his dream.

Bornstein notes that two sites are being considered for cold storage plants: at the Port of Astoria or Ilwaco. If the Port of Astoria adopts a seafood tariff, he asks rhetorically: Where do you think the cold storage plant will be built?

In hiring the new Port executive director, Commission Chairman John Raichl was wise to create a panel of community experts to interview the candidates. That brought a broader perspective to the Port’s hiring decision.

In a similar vein, the commission should consult with an economist or two about the prospective seafood tariff. Taxation can drive location.

The Port of Astoria cannot afford to be governed by a narrow, longshore perspective.

Port commissioners would be foolish to enact this seafood tariff.

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