By Kristi Pihl, July 15, 2013, Tri-City Herald
Three Tri-Citians with long histories of public service are competing for the Port of Kennewick District 2 seat.
Gene Wagner, the incumbent, is hoping to extend his 12 years as port commissioner so he can continue planning for the community’s future.
Leo Bowman is asking for the chance to drive economic development using connections he’s built in 16 years as Benton County commissioner.
And Tom Moak, former Kennewick councilman and mayor, hopes to drive economic development projects he worked on during his 12 years on city council.
The two who get the most votes for the nonpartisan office during the Aug. 6 primary will advance to the general election Nov. 5. Port of Kennewick voters can expect to see ballots in the mail after July 19.
Port commissioners will earn $1,075 monthly starting next year, plus $104 for each meeting they attend. The office has a six-year term.
The District 2 seat includes the urban portion of the port area, close to the Columbia River between Interstate 182 to the west and the cable bridge to the east.
Wagner, 73, of Kennewick, said he hopes to continue in his role advocating for the entire Tri-Cities. He’s the port commission’s longest-serving member on the three-man board.
He got involved in the port after joining the Clover Island Yacht Club and opposing plans to grow Clover Island by adding fill. He is proud of the port’s efforts to develop Clover Island and to clean up the island and Duffy’s Pond, he said. He described the yacht club as among the most beautiful in the state.
Wagner, a retired Columbia Basin College vocational teacher, said one of the best decisions he’s made in his time at the port was hiring Tim Arntzen as executive director. Arntzen and the port’s skilled staff have been instrumental in seeing projects like Clover Island and the Spaulding Business Park move forward.
He hopes to see some development occur on the former Willows Trailer Park along Clover Island Drive soon. In the past six years, the port has bought about 16 of the 28 acres on the north side of Columbia Drive between the cable bridge and Clover Island Drive as part of its efforts to inspire redevelopment.
Wagner, a Kennewick resident since 1945, stands behind the decision port commissioners made recently to close Vista Field Airport. Considering the cost of keeping open an airport used only by a handful of people, closure for redevelopment was the best decision the port could make, he said.
He anticipates seeing the business area around Vista Field becoming even more of an asset to the region.
Bowman, 74, of Richland, says his background as a small business owner for 32 years and his years making policy decisions as county commissioner set him apart.
He will be able to help the port’s economic development efforts by capitalizing on relationships he has built as county commissioner, he said.
Bowman can provide the vision for what the community needs for the future, he said. The port has many promising “clean slate” projects, including the redevelopment of Columbia Drive and Vista Field and the former Tri-City Raceway property near West Richland.
Bowman is supportive of the port commission’s decision to close Vista Field for redevelopment.
And he sees the Tri-City Raceway property as ideally situated once the Red Mountain interchange is funded and built.
It’s important for the port to ensure that it isn’t competing against private industry, Bowman said. He cited the Spaulding Business Park as a success — the port provided infrastructure, but came out ahead after selling land to be developed by private businesses.
Bowman would advocate for setting graduation deadlines for businesses who use the port’s incubator space, he said.
He has been attending port commission meetings.
Moak, 60, of Kennewick, said he wants to improve the working relationship between the city of Kennewick and the port.
The biggest projects on the port’s agenda — Clover Island and the Columbia Drive development and Vista Field redevelopment — are in Kennewick, he said.
Moak, manager of the Kennewick branch of Mid-Columbia Libraries, said the projects have the potential to be huge assets for the entire region.
The 34-year port district resident says he has the ability to work with people and help move those projects forward.
The port has started cleaning up the waterfront, but Moak expressed frustration with the pace of redevelopment. He said the port needs to move forward on a plan that has buy-in.
While development can take time, Moak said the port still needs to speed up Columbia Drive planning and development.
The port needs to support West Richland and the proposed Red Mountain interchange because of the potential regional benefits, Moak said. The future of the Tri-City Raceway property is tied to West Richland’s efforts to include the property in its urban growth area and the interchange being funded and built.
Moak is the chairman of the Kennewick Housing Authority, a Columbia Basin Badger Club board member and a member of Kennewick’s blue ribbon commission.
He has been attending port commission meetings.