The Bellingham Business Journal asked candidates running for commissioner seats at the Port of Bellingham three questions involving port business and the local economy:
The commissioners elected this year will soon face big decisions regarding Bellingham’s waterfront. Do you think plans for the Waterfront District are on the right track? And if you are elected, what would be your main focus as the planning moves forward?
The growth of the Bellingham International Airport has been a major economic story in recent years, and the facility’s latest expansion is nearing completion. But last year’s public meetings regarding the airport’s master plan process brought to light concerns from some residents who say increased jet traffic is creating more negatives than positives.
Do you think a “win-win” situation is possible here? And how should these competing interests be handled as activity at the airport continues?
Do you think the port has a good relationship with the local business community? And if you are elected, what are some specific things you will do to reach out to business owners in Bellingham and Whatcom County?
Part 1 of the online version of this Q&A features responses from Dan Robbins and Renata Kowalczyk, candidates for the Port of Bellingham Commission District No. 1.
Part 2, which was posted online on Wednesday, Aug. 7, features responses from Michael McAuley and Ken Bell, candidates for Commission District No. 2.
The Q&A also appears in the August print edition of The Bellingham Business Journal.
In the past it seemed as if there were some unnecessary delays and that the city of Bellingham and the port were not on the same page. Now there is a shared vision so the project can move ahead. It is important to develop this prime property correctly for generations to come. This exciting opportunity should provide the public with a great place to enjoy and revenues from jobs that will improve our economy and support the services we all like. I am excited about participating in this very important process and gathering opinions from Whatcom County residents before making decisions as a commissioner for the Port of Bellingham.
Whatcom County should be proud of its international airport. When I grew up in Bellingham there were no jets flying in and out taking people from our little airport to their destinations. It is a great convenience to fly out of Bellingham instead of having to drive to Seattle. There were 79,890 passengers flying out of Bellingham in 2004. This year that number will be over 600,000!
The need for expansion is a symptom of the success of the airport. The airport contributes greatly to the economic development of our county. Every effort should be made to minimize the impacts to the airport neighborhoods, and I will seek out solutions from the neighbors and experts in airport expansions.
One of the reasons I respect the Port of Bellingham is its successful efforts in keeping the property tax contributions to a minimum. In 2007, the tax was $94.11 for a $275,000 home. In 2013, the tax is $81.97 for the same home. Your taxes have dropped every year for the past seven years for the Port of Bellingham’s share. I would continue with efforts to keep the Port’s portion of the property tax from increasing.
I have met personally with many of the port’s business owners to hear the pros and cons of leasing from the port, and I have found that the majority of businesses are very happy with the port as their landlord. As a business mentor, I will continue to talk with the business community, both those on port property and businesses that are affected by port business. It is important that the needs of local businesses as well as those of individuals be considered in all port decisions. I will continue to foster job creation as one of the main goals of the Port of Bellingham.
The waterfront redevelopment plan requires careful, methodical attention. Though most of the heavy lifting will likely be done before I’m elected, in some ways the plan can be smarter. We want to ensure that we are planning and implementing our plans with future generations in mind. We must get it right today to avoid spending even more public dollars fixing it tomorrow.
It’s important that we are able to deliver the kind of predictability and stability that developers and businesses come to expect in a big project like this. We must have a working waterfront—fresh seafood that can ship direct to restaurants and grocery stores from our waterfront processors is something most places no longer have; new jobs in sustainable manufacturing and industry are possible. We have a great opportunity to connect our farming industry to food processing and shipping directly from the port rather than trucking products—and jobs—elsewhere. And we can build new markets for our local businesses.
My main focus on the project will be to ensure that whatever happens, it happens with three things in mind: the broadest community benefit, the best environmental stewardship and the best financial return for the least cost for our community. This project will require a lot of public financial investment, and it’s important that we are responsible with every single dollar. We need meaningful public access so the public can once again enjoy this waterfront after a century of being cut off from it. We have to make sure the site is safe and healthy for development, habitat and future generations.
I hear and understand the residents’ concerns about the jet traffic noise. I lived 15 minutes south from La Guardia airport in Queens, N.Y., and the planes flew so low over our neighborhood, we could read serial numbers on them. I think we need to be open to a dialog about how to balance our fantastic economic expansion and our quality of life. I am always looking for win-win solutions. I have begun reaching out to other port commissioners in our region for examples and recommendations of what has been done at other expanding airports, and how they address the concerns of nearby residents. I believe the port has done well to hold several public meetings on this subject, and I’d like to ensure that the concerns expressed at those meetings are fully considered and addressed.
The competing interests should be handled by first acknowledging the concerns of the residents and engaging in a good faith dialog. We need to explore all the options.
Based on the conversations I have heard thus far, the relationship between the port and the business community lacks trust, which is the key ingredient of workability in any relationship. Trust, once broken, takes time to rebuild and it can only happen through commitment and consistent actions. That begins with listening—not just for agreement, but also for furthering dialogue.
In my corporate career I designed and implemented a system that managed and reflected feedback, creating open and transparent communication between the providers and their customers. This feedback loop established accountability and safeguarded transparency.
With this same view in mind, if elected, I will:
1. Listen first by meeting with every current business tenant at the port and meeting with our business organizations to understand what port needs to start doing, stop doing and continue doing in support of our business community.
2. Champion a creation of a feedback loop when the information gathered can be made visible, including the follow ups and actions taken or not taken by the port in response to the feedback from our business community.
3. Ensure that relationships—either with the public, businesses, tenants, agencies or other governmental representatives—engender respect, work toward shared goals and reflect our community’s values.