By Tyler Graf, August 5, 2013, The Columbian
Two direct mail fliers appearing in Woodland voters’ mailboxes are asking what a long-serving Port of Woodland commissioner has to hide.
The fliers are the work of Joerg Bleeck, owner of Columbia River Carbonates, who’s been locked in a legal dispute with the port for more than a year. The company alleges that in 2011, commissioners sold a parcel of land to a riverfront RV park for below market value after holding improper executive session meetings.
In May, a Cowlitz Superior Court judge dismissed the lawsuit. Columbia River Carbonates and nearby property owner Michael Landels, a co-plaintiff, are appealing that decision.
The port commissioner at the center of the mailings, Jerry Peterson, said the fliers unfairly single him out. He called the opposition the result of Bleeck’s “failed lawsuit” against the port.
Peterson, a 28-year veteran of the commission who’s currently running for re-election against John “JJ”Burke and Richard Harsh in Tuesday’s primary, said Columbia River Carbonates didn’t actively pursue purchasing the disputed property, a narrow, 1.35-acre strip near Dike Road, before it was sold to Columbia Riverfront RV Park.
“They never came to a meeting,” Peterson said, referring to company representatives. “That’s what upsets me. They never turned in an offer for the land.”
But Reed Sherar, an attorney for the company, said the port held backroom deals to ensure Columbia River Carbonates didn’t acquire the land, instead dealing it to Columbia Riverfront RV Park for a fraction of its value.
“I don’t think it’s fair or prudent to sell public property for less than 25 percent of fair market value,” Sherar said. “There’s something wrong with that.”
Some independent appraisals have placed the value of the property at around $200,000. The port sold the property for $44,000.
Peterson said the port knocked down the price because the RV park had spent money sprucing up its property, immediately adjacent to the RV park.
Columbia River Carbonates did express interest in the property, Sherar said, but the port didn’t give public notice for the sale.
In a 2010 email to Erica Rainford, the port’s former executive director, Sherar wrote that the company would be interested in buying the land. Rainford wrote back that the RV park had first right of refusal on the property.
The land in question extends from the Columbia River to Dike Road, and Columbia River Carbonates would have used it as a buffer, easing the development of a $10 million barge facility the company plans to build immediately south of the RV Park. Having the land, company officials said, would have provided more room to conduct industrial activities.
Columbia River Carbonates plans to use the marine terminal to unload raw material shipped from the company’s Alaska quarry. Established in 1985, the company supplies ultrafine calcium carbonate to various industries, including manufacturers of PVC piping, paints and plastics.
Bleeck has spent $3,653 on the direct mailings, hiring Allied Communication Strategies out of Tumwater for the work.
The full-color fliers allege Peterson, through his position on the Port of Woodland board of commissioners, gave a “sweetheart deal using port district taxpayer funds” and held “private meetings to secretly discuss the sale of public property.”
Peterson called the allegations ridiculous.
“I think we did everything right,” Peterson said. “I know we did.”