Vancouver Port Commissioners: The candidates in their own words

While the region’s largest economic engine wrestles with aggressive revenue generation and development plans, an important seat opens

Following are excerpts from a conversation with port commissioner candidates Brian Wolfe and Bills Hughes, extended from a more abbreviated version published in the Oct. 14 edition of the Vancouver Business Journal.

Brian Wolfe and Bill Hughes are vying for the vacated Vancouver Port District No. 1 seat in the Nov. 8 general election. Current commission president Robert Moser is leaving the position after 18 years. Port of Vancouver Commissioners are elected to six-year terms.

Bill Hughes began his life in transportation during World War II while serving in the Merchant Marines, and since then has worked for three railroads and five truck lines. Hughes has lived in Vancouver since 1957, and in 1983 formed "piggyback" transportation company Pronto Pig. He sold the business, which was generating annual revenue of $6.9 million and had 14 employees, in 1989. Hughes has been involved with labor unions throughout his career. He has traveled extensively for business and pleasure.

Brian Wolfe has been a lawyer in Clark County since 1969 in civil and municipal capacities, representing Battle Ground and Ridgefield since 1986. Wolfe has been immersed in the community through his association with many organizations. He was a member of the board of directors for the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce for 15 years. He founded the Columbia River Economic Development Council and served as chairman for 10 years. Wolfe also served on the boards of Identity Clark County and Leadership Clark County.
VBJ: Do you think the current commission’s decision to approve a six-year industrial development district levy is the best way to fund aggressive development plans for the port’s Columbia Gateway?

Wolfe: I haven’t been involved enough in the port activities over the past 10, six or four years to know whether the industrial development district is the best method of funding the development or not. But the port is quite limited in how it creates funds. There are very few stand-alone, self-financed ports in the country.

Hughes: Just because they have the taxing authority doesn’t mean that they should necessarily use it. It should only be a last resort, and if they do actually impose a levy I would like to see a sunset clause. I would like to see the day when it is self sustaining. I believe that day could happen.
VBJ: Communication issues caused a postponement of the levy. How would you improve communication from the port to its constituents?

Wolfe: I think the use of the word miscommunication probably identifies what happened this spring as best as anything. The staff realized that they were going to need a lot of money to develop the Columbia Gateway and the Rufener properties. And realizing that, they looked around and found that they had the Industrial Development District funding available to them, but also that they had to give a notice. I think the discussion of that tax was inadvertently short timed. I would prefer that there be a lot of opportunity to have discussion.
Hughes: It was a bungled up job of communication. I think they should have ran it up the flag pole to see if anybody saluted it before they presented it to the commission. They didn’t have any time to do the necessary research and background to make an intelligent decision, and there are three intelligent people down there.
VBJ: How will you help direct the conversation regarding development of the waterfront? How would this development affect the Vancouver business and development community?

Hughes: With the traffic jams they are having on the railroad, it is going to be difficult to develop that Boise Cascade property in the matter in which I would like to see it done. I would like to see something like Will Macht’s plan be implemented at least to a certain extent with a mixed-use of that property – condos, light manufacturing and certainly retail. I was really impressed by River Walk in San Antonio, and I can really envision one on our Columbia. Under that plan it would bring more business to the community. The city is having a lot of success around Esther Short Park and I think it can spread down to the waterfront.

Wolfe: I am a believer in making the shores of the Columbia River accessible to the public. The port is given the cards it is dealt, and with the Interstate Bridge on one side of the property and the railroad bridge on the other side, the idea that that property could be developed into a deepwater port is foolish. I really admire Macht’s plan for the Boise Cascade area. I think it was a good place to start. I think there needs to be a mixed use of some residences and commerce, but I think it has to capture allowing public access back to the waterfront. I am not sure that continued use of the Quay property by the port is in its best interest. I know the city wants to involve more use of the waterfront and there is already an amphitheatre that the port built several years ago that is really underutilized, and maybe the city could better utilize it.
VBJ: The port has made a contractual commitment to connect Vancouver commercially to the Port of Portland. How important is regional cooperation to economic development this side of the river?

Hughes: It’s not a matter of choice. I think they are both going to have to cooperate to survive, because we do share some things in common, including the river and the rail lines. We are not all trying to pick at the same bone, any traffic into the Columbia River is bound to help all of the communities. We each have our own specialties and we are both doing a good job. There has not been animosity or back-biting between the two ports.

Wolfe: I agree that it is mandatory. We are on the far end of a river that most ocean-going boats prefer to avoid, but at the same time the major ports of the West Coast are inundated with new business. If the ships don’t want to come 100 miles in, then we need to find a market niche to get them to come. And to compete with Portland, Longview, Kalama or Astoria, Ore., would be foolish I think. There should be cooperation among all of those ports to generate the inflow and exporting of cargo by the ship traffic. Kalama, Longview and Vancouver are the leading grain exporters in the county and we need to enhance that.