BELLINGHAM - Port of Bellingham Commissioner Scott Walker announced Tuesday, April 16, that he will step down when his term is over at the end of this year, ending a 22-year run on the port commission.
Walker made the announcement at the start of the port commission's regular meeting. He said he simply wants more time to relax, although he regrets leaving before waterfront redevelopment gets underway and airport terminal expansion is finished. Walker said he has already stayed on the port commission longer than he had intended.
"There's always some reason to be here for the next four-year term," Walker said.
He is retired from a position as manager of government and community affairs at the BP Cherry Point refinery.
Perhaps the biggest event at the port during Walker's tenure was the transfer of the Georgia-Pacific Corp. waterfront industrial land to the port in 2005, amid a booming real estate market and widespread optimism about how quickly a new neighborhood could take shape on the unused industrial site.
But optimism faded with the real estate collapse, and port officials were soon embroiled in a long public dispute with the city of Bellingham over waterfront planning issues after Dan Pike took over as mayor in 2008.
The port and city now appear to be making progress on redevelopment plans for the area.
Walker has pushed for expansion of the Bellingham International Airport terminal, especially the modernized baggage claim area that is now under construction.
Walker's role in the ouster of former port executive director Charlie Sheldon angered many. In October 2011, about one year after all three commissioners had approved Sheldon's hiring, Walker made his first public demand for Sheldon's resignation. He was outvoted by fellow commissioners Mike McAuley and Jim Jorgensen at that time, as well as on two occasions in March 2012 when Walker again argued that it was time for Sheldon to go. But by early April, Jorgensen said he had swung around to Walker's point of view after hearing from some port staffers about Sheldon's performance.
Sheldon submitted a resignation letter and left office after Walker and Jorgensen resisted an effort at reinstatement that was mounted by McAuley, commercial fishermen, port tenants and others in the community who supported Sheldon.
In November 2012, all three commissioners reunited in choosing Rob Fix, then the port's chief financial officer, to replace Sheldon, even though Fix had not been among the candidates who had appeared at an earlier community meeting.
After Walker's Tuesday announcement, Jorgensen praised his service.
"The legacy that Scott is leaving is something beyond my comprehension," Jorgensen said. "I'm going to really miss him. I'll miss his advice."
Walker's departure offers an open seat for the position in the fall 2013 elections, and that could attract a fair amount of interest.
McAuley's term also ends at the end of 2013, and he has announced that he will seek a second four-year term.
The countywide port district operates the Bellingham airport, shipping terminal, Alaska ferry terminal, marinas in Blaine and Bellingham, and commercial and industrial real estate holdings. Pay is $700 per month plus $104 per meeting, not to exceed $18,384 per year.