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Industry v. tourism spotlighted in port debate

By Joe Smillie, Forum Editor

 

Candidates for the open seat on the Port of Port Angeles commission sparred in a Forks Chamber of Commerce forum this week over whether the port should retain its focus on industrial development or expand into more support of tourism.

 

In the luncheon debate before 30 people at JT’s Sweet Stuffs on Wednesday, Del DelaBarre said the port should prepare for the “new reality of Clallam County’s economy” by putting more of an emphasis on promoting tourism.

 

“How do we profit from what’s going to happen as we project our economy into the next 25 years?” asked DelaBarre, co-owner of an event services company.

 

Colleen McAleer said tourism is not included in the port’s strategic plan.

 

“You can’t just do that,” she said. “Then what it is is a gifting of public funds. We can’t do that any more than we can start arresting drunk drivers on Highway 101.”

 

DelaBarre, 75, and McAleer, 46, are running for Position 1, the Sequim-area commissioner’s seat now held by Paul McHugh, who did not advance past the Aug. 6 primary.

 

They split in their response to the proposed Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, federal legislation that would designate 126,000 acres of Olympic National Forest as wilderness.

 

“I doubt that it would have any impacts to jobs,” DelaBarre said. “If anything, it would bring in more tourism, which would actually create jobs.”

 

McAleer opposes the legislation, saying it would put too many restrictions on harvesting timber from Olympic National Forest.

 

“It’s amazing to me how little is done with these federal lands,” McAleer said.

 

McAleer said the port needs to focus more on helping the timber industry open up opportunities.

 

“We’ve got to support the timber industry any way we possibly can,” McAleer said. “They’re doing it in a more environmentally sensitive manner.”

 

DelaBarre suggested the port do more to attract industries that will process lumber and its byproducts, on the West End especially.

 

“We need to create jobs here, not just cutting down trees and sending them to China,” he said.

 

McAleer, director of the port’s business development wing, said again she will quit her job at the port if she wins the election.

 

Ballots for the general election were mailed Oct. 16. They must be returned to the Auditor’s Office with a postmark of Nov. 5 or sooner to be included in the count.

 

McAleer took aim at DelaBarre’s campaign focus that the port needs to lead more coordinated economic development efforts throughout the county.

 

“You speak about partnership, innovation and leadership, but what specific things can you do to make that happen?” she asked her foe.

 

“The port’s got to take a leadership role,” DelaBarre said. “That comes not from doing the work but from providing leadership.”

 

The two split on a port initiative on the ballot to expand the commission from three members to five.

 

DelaBarre said the measure would increase representation for the West End, noting that District 3, now represented by Commissioner John Calhoun, contains a “big chunk of Port Angeles.”

 

“We do have a representation problem,” DelaBarre said.

 

McAleer, though, said a five-member commission would be less efficient than the three-member setup, meaning the expansion would not be worth the cost, which she said would be around $90,000 a year.

 

“We have to have people that are highly qualified so you don’t just have yes men or women on the commission,” she said.

 

DelaBarre said the port needs an outsider’s perspective after a “disastrous spring” in which Executive Director Jeff Robb resigned and was given a lesser job of port director of environmental affairs with the same $138,000 salary.

 

“We all lost a certain amount of credibility and respect,” DelaBarre said.

 

With staff turmoil, he said, several opportunities to grow the port’s reach were dropped because of a “lack of completed staff work.”

 

McAleer filed a whistle-blower complaint about inconsistencies in port leases in an internal report that led to Robb’s resignation.

 

She said the port is “understaffed,” with employees working 70- to 80-hour weeks.

 

She proposed hiring short-term employees in a sort of surge to straighten out the port’s accounting practices.

 

“Are we subsidizing business lines? I can’t say, because it’s all mixed together,” she said. “We need to make a real effort to straighten that out.”




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