Our Voice: Two Tri-City ports lose longtime contributors with Toomey, Wagner departures

December 17, 2013 

While change often brings opportunity, we sure hate to see some folks move on.

A couple of recent retirements will mean significant changes for two Tri-City port districts.

Jim Toomey's retirement from the Port of Pasco is certainly well deserved, but his absence leaves a void that's difficult to fill.

And voters decided to replace Gene Wagner on the Port of Kennewick commission after 12 years. We won't argue with the voters' desire for some new blood, but Wagner's contribution has been significant and his departure could hurt some of the port district's momentum.

Toomey, the Port of Pasco's executive director, will retire Dec. 31 after 22 years there.

We knew this day was coming. Toomey told the port commissioners of his plan a year ago.

Toomey, a humble man, doesn't take credit for the big improvements that have taken place at the port during his tenure. But they are hardly a coincidence.

Toomey has been instrumental in reinvigorating the port, which was in danger of going below the required cash reserve for bonds when he took the job. That's a predicament for an agency charged with economic development.

Two decades later, the port is planning to pay for a $43.5 million expansion and remodel of the Tri-Cities Airport using only airport-related money.

Toomey's conservative approach and calm and candid demeanor have served the port well. Developments under his watch included the Pasco Processing Center, the Foster Wells Business Park, several airport projects, a new roof for the Big Pasco Industrial Center and the building of the Osprey Point Business Park.

The port has several strong tenants at its properties willing to make investments and stay in place for the long-haul.

Reserve accounts were created for circumstances beyond the port's control, such as the cleanup of petroleum at the former marine terminal near the cable bridge.

"How we do things has been as important as what we do," Toomey said.

Toomey also has been a leader. He belongs to a group of top officials from the port, city, school district and Franklin PUD who have met on a monthly basis for two decades. A cooperative like that is a powerful force and having those relationships in place when projects arise has been a big benefit.

He has been instrumental in maintaining the Tri-Ports, working with the ports of Benton and Kennewick.

When people speak of Toomey, they top their list of descriptors with words like "professional," "calm" and "collected."

Toomey, a Navy veteran, worked at Hanford and Tri-City Development Council before landing the job at the Port of Pasco. He applied for the position because it looked exciting. What has happened during his time there has certainly been that, though not without a few bumps in the road.

Toomey's shoes are big ones to fill, but the port had plenty of warning, giving it time to make a decision on his successor. Deputy Executive Director Randy Hayden will take the helm in January.

Toomey has done a great job at the Port of Pasco and leaves a legacy of great things and bigger ones to come, such as the airport remodel.

On the other side of the Columbia, Wagner helped steer economic development efforts at the Port of Kennewick that have led to 800 direct jobs and almost 500,000 square feet of commercial and industrial buildings worth more than $50 million.

Wagner, 73, steps down at the end of the year. He lost a re-election to former Kennewick City Councilman Tom Moak and former Benton County Commissioner Leo Bowman. Moak was elected to the position in the November election.

Wagner opposed plans to expand Clover Island at a cost of about $19 million but supported more affordable improvements.

He was one of the early supporters of buying property along Kennewick's Columbia Drive for redevelopment, was in on the formative stages of Spaulding Business Park in Richland, now one of the port's success stories, with only a single lot left.

He was also instrumental in the purchase of the former Tri-City Raceway property near West Richland. Plans for a cluster of wine-related businesses on the property have yet to materialize, but Wagner has worked to ensure West Richland is a full partner in the port.

Our community is better because of the efforts of both men. Fortunately, we expect more contributions from them in the future.

Wagner still plans to take an interest in the port, along with spending time with his family.

For people like Wagner and Toomey, enjoying retirement can be a challenge. But Toomey says he is giving himself permission to do just that, and plans to volunteer and ride his bike.

Always a team player, we don't expect this is the last we'll see of Toomey. Many an organization will likely pursue his interest in community service, whether that be on a nonprofit's board of directors or other forms.

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