Port of Port Angeles candidates address election forum
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Paul Gottlieb/Peninsula Daily News
Port of Port Angeles candidates Del DelaBarre, Colleen McAleer and Paul McHugh, from left, chat Tuesday before their primary election forum at the Port Angeles Business Association’s meeting.

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Three candidates vying for a six-year Sequim-area position on the Port of Port Angeles commission made efforts to distinguish themselves in a primary campaign forum Tuesday that focused on the role of the port, the openness of the agency's operations and impending projects such as the cleanup of Port Angeles Harbor.

Incumbent Paul McHugh, a former Realtor, and challengers Colleen McAleer, the port's director of business development, and Del DelaBarre, owner of an event services company and former owner of a program-management consulting company, spent about an hour fleshing out port-related issues at a packed Port Angeles Business Association breakfast meeting.

The port offers “the largest opportunity to increase and attract business on the Peninsula,” PABA program Chairman Andrew May said in introducing the candidates.

“They have the land. They have the infrastructure.”

Only Sequim-area Port District 1 voters will vote in the Aug. 6 primary, ballots for which will be mailed July 17.

The top two vote-getters will advance to the Nov. 5 general election.

McHugh, 56, a former member of the Sequim City Council and Clallam County Planning Commission, has served on the commission since January 2012 while filling out the unexpired term of current county Commissioner Jim McEntire, who resigned.

Composites, forests

McHugh said he supports the port's efforts to spur composites manufacturing, pledged to push for “no net loss” of working forests and asserted that he is pleased with the partnership between the port and the city of Port Angeles in redeveloping Lincoln Park so that nearby, port-operated William R. Fairchild International Airport has “full operational capacity.”

The cleanup and redevelopment of the port-owned former Peninsula Plywood mill site and the advancement of marine-trade businesses offer “the best opportunity to develop quickly,” he said.

Identifying himself as a citizen and not a property manager or engineer, McHugh said he was best capable of knowing what the community wants from the port and how the port might reach those goals.

DelaBarre, 75, said he was just starting to understand port strengths and weaknesses, adding that he recognizes that McAleer and McHugh have a more basic knowledge of the port's day-to-day operations.

'Lackluster'

“The bad news is they must accept some of the responsibility for the apparent lackluster performance of the port facilities,” DelaBarre said.

DelaBarre said his system engineering and management background leads him to believe that decisions at the port have been made without complete information and that those decisions should be made by viewing the port “as an element in the larger system, which is Puget Sound, and managed as such.”

McAleer — who if elected would become the first woman commissioner in the port's 90-year history — said she took the position of port director of business development 19 months ago for the same reason she is running for office now.

Help create jobs

“I can effectively help our community, help create jobs,” McAleer said.

She said poverty in Clallam County “is just plain crazy,” citing high unemployment and an average annual wage she said is far below the statewide average.

The port should focus on aerospace, composites and environmentally friendly energy markets, said McAleer, also a former Army intelligence officer.

“We need to be a target in those industries and a player in those worlds,” she said.

'Transparency' of port

Realtors Dick Pilling and Dan Gase, both of Coldwell Banker Uptown Realty of Port Angeles, questioned the candidates on the “transparency,” as Gase put it, of the port.

Gase noted the departure in recent years of port property manager Pat Deja; the departure, return and departure of Dave Hagiwara, whose trade and development director position was eliminated; the retirement of airport-marina manager Doug Sandau; the retirement of finance director Bill James; and port Executive Director Jeff Robb's “big raise” of 12 percent, beginning in January, to $138,000 a year.

“Does this seem normal?” asked Gase, who himself faces no opposition for a Port Angeles City Council position in the upcoming general election.

“What are your observations on such a huge turnover?”

McAleer said some of the departures were retirements.

“I got my job because [Pat] Deja started a new opportunity,” she said.

Commenting on the departures, McAleer also cited “a new level of expectations.”

McHugh agreed, adding that many of the departures occurred before he took office.

Turnover “is a direct result of attitude,” DelaBarre said.

“When you create a good environment for employees, they tend to stay.”

Harbor cleanup

Edna Petersen, owner of the downtown Necessities and Temptations gift store and former City Council member, asked the candidates how they would proceed with the impending cleanup of Port Angeles Harbor, a process being driven by the state Department of Ecology.

McHugh acknowledged Ecology's role but said “there's no way” the port, the city and other private industries who are also responsible for the cleanup — Georgia-Pacific LLC, Nippon Paper Industries USA and forest services company Merrill & Ring — would ever have the resources by themselves to accomplish it.

The port has committed more than $1 million over the next couple of years for research and development of a plan to mitigate harbor pollution, McHugh said.

DelaBarre said the port should go beyond the parties directly involved in the cleanup.

“We have to get in and identify every resource to finance it,” DelaBarre said.

The port has several different harbor leases and subleases but “can do better than the policies of the past that have brought us to this,” McAleer said.

“This is a position which we didn't understand what those typical industry practices were doing to our environment,” she said.

“We need to make sure we are taking care of the environment today.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: June 18. 2013 6:10PM
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