Port ends membership with Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce

·3 min read

Aug. 5—The Port of Astoria Commission has opted to end membership with the Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce.

Commissioners made the decision at a meeting in July, questioning the task force's service to the agency and citing the importance of how the Port uses resources. The membership cost the Port $2,000 a year.

The commission revisited the topic on Tuesday after Commissioner Frank Spence, who also serves as chairman of the task force's board, requested they remain a member at $500 a year. But no other commissioner supported the move, and the vote failed 4 to 1.

The Port is a founding member of the task force, which was developed in 1974. The organization's council of governments includes representatives from Clatsop County and several North Coast cities, along with Wahkiakum County and Ilwaco in Washington state.

The Port of Ilwaco left the task force in 2015. In 2016, some Port of Astoria commissioners urged the Port to end membership.

The task force assists in the development, management and implementation of habitat restoration projects in the region.

Denise Lӧfman, the executive director of the task force, encouraged commissioners at Tuesday's meeting to maintain the Port's membership.

Lӧfman pointed to the longtime relationship, as well as the continued involvement of Clatsop County and a number of cities, as selling points.

"I know that CREST has not provided any support or real assistance to the Port in the last few years — as the Port has staffed up, you haven't really needed our help," she said. " ... The county (and) all of the cities remain members of CREST and we would really, really like to continue to have the Port be a partner and be able to assist where we can."

Lӧfman also mentioned previous work the task force did with sediment management at the West Mooring Basin.

Dirk Rohne, the commission's president, noted that the organization has done important and beneficial work, but was skeptical if their work was still of value to the Port.

"We've got to be careful with our resources," he said.

Lӧfman noted that in the mid-2000s, the task force had a staff member working "more than part time for the Port."

Will Isom, the Port's executive director, said the Port has an environmental specialist who fills the day-to-day tasks that may have been previously done by outside contractors. Isom did not give an opinion about the agency's membership in the task force.

Commissioner James Campbell was the most vocal critic.

"Can you point out to me, in the last 10 years, what they've done for us, for the Port? It's another layer of government I don't think we need," he said.

In recommending the Port end membership, Campbell cited the aftermath of a tide gate project at the Astoria Regional Airport in Warrenton.

Nearly two decades ago, the task force worked with the Port to make improvements to the Vera Slough tide gate, which included raising the water levels to add acres of wetlands. However, Port staff have indicated that the water table is too high, causing flooding and erosion to some of the airport's infrastructure.

"I really got a bitter taste in my mouth about that," Campbell said.

A grant obtained from Business Oregon will allow the Port to perform a study on the tide gate.

Commissioner Robert Stevens and Commissioner Scott McClaine agreed with Campbell and Rohne's concerns.

"I don't see anything coming our way at all," Campbell said.

"If it does, we can go back in," Stevens replied.