Port of Vancouver Hires Firms to Lobby State, Federal Lawmakers

By Aaron Corvin, January 14, 2013, The Columbian

If the Port of Vancouver fails to win favorable state and federal legislation or funding this year, it won’t be for lack of trying.

 

The port’s Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved two separate contracts totaling $185,000 to hire lobbyists to make the port’s priorities known to lawmakers at the state and federal levels.

 

The port will pay Olympia-based firm R.L. Wickman Inc. $55,000 this year to influence legislation at the state level. The Washington Legislature convened its 60-day session on Monday.

 

The other contract hands Gordon Thomas Honeywell Government Affairs, with offices in Tacoma, Seattle and Washington, D.C., $130,000 to lobby federal lawmakers.

 

Both firms have previously represented the port. The port’s policy, adopted in 2010, exempts government relations lobbying contracts from competitive bidding due to “the uniqueness of these services.”

 

This year, the two firms are expected to continue to advance the port’s initiatives, including its drive to win more money to build out its signature venture: the $275 million West Vancouver Freight Access project.

 

But the firms will be prepared to discuss another high-profile port project: the proposal by Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies to build the Northwest’s largest oil terminal on 42 acres of port-owned land.

 

“It will be discussed in the context of the rail project,” said Theresa Wagner, the port’s communications manager.

 

The companies’ oil-by-rail proposal, which has attracted strong public opposition, would handle as much as 380,000 barrels of crude per day.

 

The proposal is undergoing a yearlong environmental review by the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council. The council will make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has the final say over whether the oil terminal gets built. The lease the port approved with the companies is worth at least $45 million over an initial 10 years.

 

The larger emphasis in hiring the lobbying firms, Wagner said, is to continue to advocate for infrastructure improvements and to keep an eye on legislation “we believe could help or hurt us.”

 

Contract extensions

The port has contracted with R.L. Wickman since 2006. Its point person there is Rick Wickman. To date, the port has paid the firm $375,130 for its work. That work includes helping the port develop its state legislative agenda and crafting positions for or against specific legislation.

 

The port’s recent state legislative agenda has included securing funding for its freight-rail project and supporting Washington state’s former financial share of the Columbia River Crossing, the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project that also would extend light rail into Vancouver.

 

The port has called on Gordon Thomas Honeywell for federal lobbying work since 2007. The firm’s Dale Learn, an attorney, is the port’s key person on federal matters. Learn’s professional experience includes stints on the senior staffs of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., according to the firm’s website.

 

Since 2009, the port has paid Gordon Thomas Honeywell about $600,000 for its services. Those services include helping secure funding for the port’s freight-rail project and for maintenance of the Lower Columbia River navigation channel. In 2013, the port listed several concerns on its federal policy agenda, including federal tax credits for wind-energy production (the port handles wind-energy components), trade restrictions and environmental permitting processes.

 

Both contracts, approved by Commissioners Nancy Baker, Jerry Oliver and Brian Wolfe, last through December 2014. Under both agreements, the port has the option of granting the firms four yearlong contract extensions.

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