PORT TOWNSEND — Port of Port Townsend commissioner candidates discussed fundamental differences during the first community forum this fall.
Chuck Fauls, 66, and Pam Petranek, 59 — either of whom would be newcomers to the port’s Position 1 if elected Nov. 5 — made their case in front of about 75 people Tuesday night at the Port Townsend Community Center.
Fauls, a port employee who said he would resign from his job as a port customer service representative if he’s elected to the commission, focused on economic development factors and called for the port to diversify its portfolio by focusing on areas outside of Port Townsend.
Petranek, a commercial fisherman who has a teaching background, said the port needs to maintain and repair its existing infrastructure rather than look for additional investments.
The successful candidate will replace outgoing port commissioner Steve Tucker, who will finish his second four-year term on Dec. 31. The three-member commission also includes Bill Putney and Pete Hanke.
Moderator Siobhan Canty, the president and CEO of the Jefferson Community Foundation, alternated questions between the candidates.
One of the main topics was the proposed industrial development district (IDD) levy, a $15 million request to voters this November that could be spread across as many as 20 years.
If it passes with a simple majority, Petranek said the commission would determine each year how much to levy and establish a rate based on this year’s tax information.
“There could be a year they could take up to 45 cents per $1,000 [of assessed property value], or there could be a year they take nothing,” Petranek said.
Fauls took issue not with the funds but how they would be used.
“The problem with the IDD is there is some misunderstanding of what it can and cannot be used for,” he said. “The present game plan is to do maintenance and repair.”
Fauls said the spirit of the IDD is to create new economic development opportunities.
“If we can’t agree on how this money should be spent, we should walk away from this,” he said.
Environmental concerns are high on the list for both candidates as the port recently returned to compliance with the state Department of Ecology.
Zinc and copper were found to be elevated for six years of testing with water being released directly into the Puget Sound.
“The shipyard and boatyard are an ongoing challenge as far as environmental quality,” Fauls said. “The port has done an outstanding job of coming into compliance, but that doesn’t mean the job is done.”
Petranek said the environmental focus comes from the executive director.
“We went through a challenging time,” she said. “Now with the past couple of years, we are the star student.
“As one of the last open boatyards on the West Coast, people are joining in on the efforts. They know it could be easily lost if we don’t do that.”
The port commission is on track to hire a new executive director in February or March to replace Jim Pivarnik, whose contract was extended earlier this year through June 2020.
Petranek said she would be looking for someone to have a financial background who has a clear vision for the direction of the port.
“My highest priority is to find an executive director that will bring more success to our port and build upon the strengths we already have,” she said.
Fauls agreed that having “serious financial acumen” is important.
“I think the new director needs to have either port or municipal experience,” he said. “It’s a strange animal with a unique set of qualifiers.
“We need someone capable of unifying various user groups and partnering with the city and county.”
One question asked candidates about potential conflicts of interest.
Fauls reiterated his intention to resign as a port employee if he’s elected and prodded Petranek about her involvement.
“I think it’s more problematic if you have a commissioner who is part of a user group,” he said. “They are actively involved in setting rates and policies for these groups … unless you’re prepared to recuse yourself on a regular basis.”
Petranek said she rents a storage unit from the port at $25 per month, and she serves as secretary for the board of the Port Townsend Marine Trades Association. She also said her partner is a moorage tenant.
“There are other port commissioners at other ports that are moorage tenants,” she said.
The candidates also disagreed with the port’s borrowing capacity to fix the south jetty at Point Hudson.
Petranek said it’s about $3 million, and Fauls said it was $4.5 million with an additional $6 million to $8 million to fix the breakwater.
“The port can fix the jetty,” Petranek said. “It can take out a loan, and it can pay for that, and it can make sure it gets all of its financials very clear before it thinks about the next step.”
Fauls wants to turn to either a public or private partnership.
“What about the current debt?” he asked. “Will our new partner absorb that? That would turn back to the port hundreds of thousands of dollars. Would they take over repairs? That would be great. Are we going to see an actual lease rate that would come to the port?
“If it answers all three of those questions, we should do it.”
Fauls also questioned the timing of port commission meetings and workshops, saying it’s difficult for residents to have direct input. He said he hasn’t been able to attend many meetings because of his job.
“Maintaining regular office hours is going to be even more important,” he said. “Not just time of day, but some on the weekends and some in outlying areas, like Quilcene.”
Petranek said residents providing public input is “one of the greatest things you can do.”
“I have attended every single port meeting I can think of in the last four years, and I have a full-time job,” she said.
Candidates for Port Townsend City Council will debate during a forum at 7 p.m. Oct. 10 at the community center, 620 Tyler St., Port Townsend, and candidates for Chimacum School Board will debate at 7 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Tri-Area Community Center, 10 West Valley Road, Chimacum.
Ballots will be mailed by Oct. 16 for the Nov. 5 general election.
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].