Port of Bellingham Commissioner candidate Q&A: Briscoe and Jensen

Two candidates are running for the open District 3 seat on the Port of Bellingham commission. The position, currently held by Jim Jorgenson, covers northwest Whatcom County— west of the Guide Meridian and north of downtown to the Canadian border. The winner of the Nov. 3 general election will start a four-year term next year.

The Port of Bellingham oversees harbors in Bellingham and Blaine, as well as the Bellingham International Airport and industrial properties in Whatcom County. It’s mission, according to the port’s website, is to fulfill essential transportation and economic development needs in the region and provide leadership in maintaining the county’s economic vitality through the development of facilities, programs and services.

Two candidates emerged from the Aug. 4 primary election—commercial fisherman Bobby Briscoe and Ferndale mayor Gary Jensen.

Bobby Briscoe [Photo courtesy to the BBJ]
Bobby Briscoe [Photo courtesy to the BBJ]

BOBBY BRISCOE

BBJ: Is the waterfront redevelopment project on the right track? What should the port’s priorities be for waterfront redevelopment?

That may well be the $64 million question. I’m not sure anyone can correctly answer this question. I believe we all hope it is on the right track. Not being involved at the commission level at this time, and not knowing all the intricacies of the project, I will decline a yes or no answer. A great number of people spent a great deal of time, money and energy trying to come up with the best plan possible. Some like it and some don’t. As your port commissioner it would be my responsibility to bring the people of Whatcom County’s concerns forward and make sure those concerns are answered. After all, the people of Whatcom County own the Port of Bellingham and Port of Bellingham commissioners and staff must be held accountable for port business.

That said, this will be a huge task with lots of moving parts to make it all happen—clean up, building infrastructure, recruiting long-term industrial and commercial tenants. This has the potential to create hundreds of new jobs for our citizens. The master plan has been adopted but there are many, many decisions yet to be made. To do it right the first time, the commission needs people who know waterfronts like I do.

BBJ: After ranking among the fastest-growing airports in the country for several years, traffic out of Bellingham International Airport shrank with the Canadian dollar. What should be the priority for the airport?

I feel the priority for Bellingham International Airport should be as follows:

1. Maintain high standards in all areas of the airport facility.

2. Try and recruit other airlines and flights to increase local use of the airport, if feasible.

3. Research and explore the feasibility of other businesses that could be located on airport property.

I believe flights that have been canceled by Alaska Airlines will resume over the next few months and business at our airport will be better. All that being said, the Port of Bellingham must be ever vigilant in exploring more ways to improve our airport productivity.

BBJ: What kind of businesses do you hope to attract to the Port of Bellingham? How can Bellingham compete for those businesses with other ports?

As a port commissioner I would ask the Port of Bellingham to pursue shipping business as well as barging companies. We have a great deep water port facility. I would like to see a boatyard repair yard for vessels as large as 150 feet, both recreational and commercial.  I want to see big businesses on our waterfront that will provide economic stability and good living wage jobs for the residents of Whatcom County.

BBJ: In a perfect world, what is one specific business you would like to have on port property?

If the port were operating in a perfect world then I could give a perfect answer. But seeing as we are living in the real world I would prefer offering a real world answer. I envision attracting many good businesses to the port properties such as shipping, barging, and possibly a repair yard for our larger commercial and recreational vessels. My standards would be high. Long term business relationships would be a priority. I would like future businesses to draw their support needs from our existing businesses so all may prosper.

The people of Whatcom County need businesses with stability and longevity that offer family wage jobs for our young people. It is the port’s job to ensure those things will happen for Whatcom County and it will require more than one specific business. It is going to be a difficult task, but one that I truly believe can be achieved.

BBJ: What is the most important issue facing the port in the next four years?

Financial stability and working our way out of debt and staying in the black should be the top issue for the Port of Bellingham. The port needs to operate as efficiently as possible in all areas and stay within the budget set for each year. I know many people feel I should come up with a specific project that should be the top priority but the projects at hand are not going to be finished if we don’t have the money. If the Port of Bellingham has to find more funding they will have to raise the money through property taxes or borrow the funds needed. Neither of those options are palatable for Whatcom County. The issues and projects will prioritize themselves if the Port of Bellingham is financially stable.

BBJ: As a commissioner, how do you think you would differ from your opponent?

I am presently a commercial fisherman. As a port commissioner I would differ from my opponent in the fact that I am a fourth generation waterman born and raised in south Bellingham. I have owned and operated my own fishing vessels up and down the West Coast of the United States and in the waters of Puget Sound for 41 years. My fishing career has provided me with valuable experience and knowledge of various port operations and what the people and businesses require to operate within our ports efficiently. I do not believe my opponent has near the insight and experience in the waterfront environment that I do. Many major projects such as harbor rebuilding and waterfront redevelopment are on the Port of Bellingham’s plate. I can pass on my knowledge to the commissioner’s office and help create a very positive outcome for the Port of Bellingham and the residents of Whatcom County.

 

Gary Jensen [Photo courtesy to the BBJ]
Gary Jensen [Photo courtesy to the BBJ]

GARY JENSEN

BBJ: Is the waterfront redevelopment project on the right track? What should the port’s priorities be for waterfront redevelopment? 

Some of the redevelopment is on the right track and with other aspects it is too early to determine. The All American Marine addition in Fairhaven is the perfect example of a port using its abilities to help a private company expand and succeed. By use of cleanup funds and creative space management All American Marine is on track to add 27 new full-time, well-paid employees and construct new modern facilities. This will include one of the largest dry docks in the Puget Sound. A new 25-year lease with All American will ensure a sound future.

As for other waterfront development, such as the former G-P site, that is beginning soon. The waterway clean up project is underway. Harcourt Developments will begin redevelopment of the Granary site in 2016.

There are, however, many projects that need completion before the port can increase its “Working Waterfront” potential. For example a local company [Haskell Corporation] was performing module work but investments in dock improvement need to happen for that segment to continue. This work has a potential of $20,000 per month and is essential for future jobs. We must have a healthy mixture of development that includes a job component.

BBJ: After ranking among the fastest-growing airports in the country for several years, traffic out of Bellingham International Airport shrank with the Canadian dollar. What should be the priority for the airport?

It is very true that the airport is experiencing an economic downturn. As a business owner and soon-to-be former mayor, I understand economic challenges and how to react to them. A downturn forces all business to look inward for cost savings and efficiency. The port employees at the airport are doing this now. A new airport manager will be hired very soon. This new person will have increased marketing skills and require support from port commissioners who have a background in business management and marketing. I am that candidate.

The table is set for a new direction and success. We have a new, modern terminal. A new hotel will open on the airport property. The airport can grow again.

BBJ: What kind of businesses do you hope to attract to the Port of Bellingham? How can Bellingham compete for those businesses with other ports?

The Port of Bellingham has a vast portfolio of property and economic potential. For example, the Wood Stone Oven Corporation started on port property in Sumas. By supporting business incubation the port gained a tenant that has grown and prospered. The company’s new large building on airport property shows how the port can be a partner in business success.

From the waterfront to the airport, Blaine Harbor and Sumas, the port must continue to seek out many, many opportunities to help business succeed. We are blessed with a blank canvas on the former G-P site and with improvements we can bring well-paid employment back to that site. That is a benefit to downtown Bellingham and Whatcom County.

BBJ: In a perfect world, what is one specific business you would like to have on port property?

I would love to see a manufacturing business on the waterfront. The business would manufacture and retail products that embrace the giant recreation potential we have on the water. In Whatcom County, 42 percent of single parent families with female heads of household live below poverty level. Bellingham Technical College has a program to help and encourage females to enter that workforce. Manufacturing, retail and recreation enhancement along with living wage jobs does not have to be a dream from a “perfect world.”

BBJ: What is the most important issue facing the port in the next four years?

The port must continue to secure funding for environmental cleanup requirements. State and federal grants plus insurance funds will only take cleanup so far. The port’s income producing segments must continue and improve where possible.

BBJ: As a commissioner, how do you think you would differ from your opponent?

The port has a very diverse set of priorities: airport, commercial real estate, industrial clients, professional services and a commercial fishing industry. I also have a diverse background and intend to be a full-time commissioner. I have attended every port meeting and the yearly, all day budget workshop.

The port commissioners also attend the Whatcom Council of Government meeting on traffic solutions for all of Whatcom County. They also attend the Small City Caucus. Again, the role of a commissioner requires experience and a 12-month a year commitment.

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