Local Election

Port of Bellingham candidates differ on experience, goals

Candidates for the Port of Bellingham Commission will join the ongoing debate over how to develop a portion of the downtown Bellingham waterfront.
Candidates for the Port of Bellingham Commission will join the ongoing debate over how to develop a portion of the downtown Bellingham waterfront. The Bellingham Herald

Three candidates are facing off for a seat on the three-member Port of Bellingham Commission, which runs Blaine and Bellingham harbors, the Bellingham airport and is overseeing redevelopment of the city’s industrial waterfront.

The top two vote-getters in the Aug. 4 primary will move on to the Nov. 3 general election.

The District 3 seat covers most of Whatcom County west of Guide Meridian, stretching from northwest Bellingham to the Canadian border. Port commissioner is a nonpartisan office with four-year terms.

The Bellingham Herald asked the candidates a series of questions about their qualifications and key issues for the port. Responses below are verbatim as submitted but in some cases were shortened for length. Full, unedited candidate responses are available online at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog.

The order of candidate responses follows the order they were randomly assigned for the ballot. The candidates are: Gary S. Jensen, 59, currently serving as Ferndale mayor, owner of Sullivan Plumbing; Lloyd Zimmerman, 58, former Ferndale City Council member, works in alternative health care as a nutritional therapist and kinesiologist; Robert (Bobby) Briscoe, 58, works as a commercial fisherman.

Why are you running for Port Commissioner?

Jensen: I still have a desire to serve my community. In Ferndale, with hard work and a community working together, we improved our city. We have built a new library, two new parks, a new Police Station, new streets and a very new Community Center. We improved our water supply and encouraged new business to locate to our small city. All of this was accomplished by many hands and many groups coming together to combine their strengths, dreams and desires to improve our city. It sometimes takes a delicate balance to achieve success in this matter. Experience in performing this is a hard earned, hard learned skill set. A skill set that does not happen overnight. ...

The Port actually touches more jobs that support working families than any other Whatcom County employer. The experience of owning and operating a small business, right here in Whatcom County would be an asset to a Port Commissioner. The Port's portfolio is very diverse from the Airport, Fairhaven Shipyards, Blaine Harbor, to property in Sumas.

Zimmerman: I have deep and profound reasons. The Port plays a pivotal role in this place we all call home. The future of our waters, our livelihoods, our relationship with the Lummi nation and the economic potential of a redeveloped waterfront are all issues that demand an active, informed and engaged citizenry. I heard the call once again and decided to step forward and help my Community and the Coast Salish Tribes in these very turbulent and troubling times. Protecting our legacy, encouraging the people of Bellingham to become active participants in the redevelopment of their waterfront and creating a team based approach to resolving the issues facing all of us are the cornerstones of my vison and our mission.

Briscoe: For a working waterfront for family-wage jobs. In order to create the family-wage jobs this county lacks, the Port must focus on its core responsibility -- the infrastructure that supports sea-going trade and maritime business.

My goals for the Port are to:

▪ Prioritize reconstruction of Blaine Harbor Industrial Area, including environmental cleanups and dock, street, and bulkhead reconstruction, to allow Blaine’s processors, shipyard, and fishing fleet to prosper once again.

▪ Continue overall improvement of facilities for commercial fishing and seafood processing to attract a larger fishing fleet.

▪ Recruit additional shipbuilding and manufacturing companies to port properties.

▪ Maintain a high quality airport for both commercial and general aviation.

▪ Make sure the airport serves local residents first by seeking direct connections to Alaska and an eastern hub.

▪ Revitalize Bellingham’s seagoing trade by improving barge facilities and aggressively recruiting business for the shipping terminal.

What specifically would you like to see done at Bellingham International Airport?

Jensen: The airport business is a constantly evolving competitive business. For example in Seattle, the market has been dominated by Alaskan Airlines, but now Delta Airlines is trying to make inroads to more flights. Bellingham has seen a drop in flights along with the drop in the Canadian dollar. The Port has spent a considerable amount of funds to improve the airport. A new hotel at that site is now under construction. Specifically, the airport needs an updated marketing plan to focus on the new future. A new director will be hired. The departing director did an outstanding job with improving the facilities and allowing for future growth. The new director will need to focus more on flight growth and marketing. A second option for airport access via Kope Road, off Slater Road, should be explored. We have to continue the quest to improve access and management of our airport.

Zimmerman: No answer submitted.

Briscoe: The Port just completed a large upgrade and expansion of the airport, just in time for the Canadian dollar to drop and along with it a large number of airport passengers. That business will eventually come back, and in the meantime, the Commission needs to be sure the facilities are well-maintained to protect the investment we just made in them. In the long run the airport should focus on the transportation needs of Whatcom County residents and businesses.

What should the port’s role be in an industrial or working waterfront?

Jensen: The Port's stated goal is economic development. Recent activity at Fairhaven Shipyards show us the ideal that can be done. The Port assisted a private business in it's quest to expand their building in every way possible. By working together with a private business, jobs and revenue will increase. That is exactly what a good commercial real estate landlord should do. It takes an innovative, experienced team (which the Port has) to continue this direction. Another important component is a Port Commission leadership, with business experience, that knows how to manage and support a large staff of professionals. All those small and large business owners depend on sound leadership that understands varied needs of business. This is not the time for on the job training.

Zimmerman: The fishing fleet and associated support industries need to be protected from being squeezed out or priced out. The Port has the power of the purse strings to help or hurt these historic tenants. As a former fisheries worker, I speak the language. There is enough space in my opinion for expansion of future water dependent industries. I support small business incubation and alliance of the Western Wash. University brain power. The Port is a powerhouse and lead player in making things happen by finding the money and resources and making sure it all comes together for our collective endeavor. The concept of “Experiential Economics,” I feel, is where the heart of our community health, wealth and happiness will be found.

Briscoe: This is job one. The Port of Bellingham holds the resource of a port and harbor in trust for the people of Whatcom County, so that they can ensure good facilities for shipping and commerce in and out of the county. By controlling a large block of land, it can utilize economies of scale to provide infrastructure -- dredged channels and waterways, docks, barge and ship loading, moorage, utilities, and space for support businesses and related industries -- for the benefit of our economy. People are moving to Whatcom County because it’s a great place to live, and there must be an economic base to support them. The taxpayers of Whatcom County have invested in the Port to do that.