GUEST COLUMN — Port of Port Angeles commissioner explains why public waterfront should stay public

Jim Hallett, June 5, 2015, Peninsula Daily News

 

 

EDITOR’S NOTE — James D. “Jim” Hallett is president of the Port of Port Angeles Board of Commissioners, a business leader and former Port Angeles mayor.

 

He is president/CEO of Hallett Advisors of Port Angeles, an investment firm.

 

Hallett and his two fellow commissioners voted May 26 against selling 4 acres of the port’s land to Platypus Marine Inc.

 

Hallett can be reached at jimh@portofpa.com or by calling 360-417-3370.

 

I WAS STROLLING along our downtown waterfront the other day with some friends who were visiting Port Angeles for the first time, showing them the city’s improvements and extolling the virtues of where we live.

 

As we made our way toward the Waterfront Trail, they asked me: “How is it this street is called Railroad Avenue? Were there ever trains here?”

 

Some of you no doubt can recall when we had trains chug through town transporting freight (and people), connecting the western Olympic Peninsula with Seattle and the rest of our country.

 

In fact, there was a time when railroads dominated commerce, drove economic activity and dictated business success or failure.

 

If we turn back the pages of history to early last century, we find railroads and a handful of water-borne transportation businesses had become so powerful, de facto virtual monopolies, that public and private enterprise came together and finally said:

 

“Enough! We need to take back control of our waterfront and create a level playing field that enhances economic development rather than stifles innovation.

 

“We need to attract new business, new opportunities and help support others already here.”

 

So the public and private sector joined forces and asked our state government to support legislation authorizing the creation of port districts.

 

It wasn’t long after this the people of Clallam County voted to create a countywide port district: the Port of Port Angeles.

 

The public authorized the port to acquire land so the public could own and control its waterfront industrial property (and later, land for airports and other economic, job-creating activities).

 

Today, the railroads are gone from our community. Transportation, infrastructure and technology continue to drive change and innovation.

 

As a result, businesses come and go.

 

Yet one thing remains; the land you and I own via the port for economic development.

 

Our grandparents and great-grandparents saw the wisdom in creating and maintaining a publicly governed port to own and operate land for the public good.

 

Now, the people of the state of Washington own and control the world’s largest public port system.

 

Recently, this port was asked to consider selling some of your industrial waterfront property to a private enterprise, a company that currently leases this land from the port.

 

This company’s goal is to expand its workforce and its business capacity, which align with the port’s mission of economic development.

 

The port is offering to extend the company’s current land lease to 50 years and to pay up front for infrastructure improvements.

 

Much of the capital-improvement cost recovery normally paid by the tenant could be reduced or eliminated with economic incentives tied to the tenant’s targeted job creation.

 

Achieving these public and private benefits does not require the sale of public land.

 

One multi-generation community leader called me and said:

 

“My great-grandfather sold the land in question to the port about 75 years ago. It was his belief — and it remains our belief — that this land and all industrial waterfront land remain in public ownership, entrusted to the port to meet current and future economic needs.”

 

Remembering history is helpful. It can help us understand how we got to where we are, and why people made choices and set in place what we enjoy today.

 

How we honor the past and steward the present will be our legacy for future generations.

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