Politics Blog

Bellingham Port Commission candidate Bobby Briscoe Q&A

Three candidates will face off for the District 3 seat on the three-member Port of Bellingham Commission during the Aug. 4 primary election.

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

District 3 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. Find the answers submitted by other candidates at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog.

Candidate: Robert “Bobby” Briscoe, 58, 4th generation Whatcom county native.

Education: Graduate, Sehome High School

Work Experience: 41 years as a commercial fisherman

Previous Public Offices Held: none

Endorsements: Bellingham/Whatcom County Fire Fighters IAFF

Whatcom Commercial Fishermen’s Association

Whatcom County Democrats

Why are you running for Port Commissioner?

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.

How many port meetings have you attended and/or watched online?

To be honest, none. I have been around the port for years, working, and haven’t found the daytime meetings very easy to get to. The video of meetings have only been on-line for about a year, and I didn’t know about them until recently. I have not been planning this run for Port Commission -- I was approached about running during filing week and decided in about two days time -- so I have some catch up to do.

Do you think the Port Commission should meet in the evening or in the afternoon? Why?

We have to open up the decision-making of the Port so all can participate. We need to hear ideas from working people who use port facilities and know what is going on. Right now, Port meetings are held during regular work hours. I support evening meetings, and meetings broadcast on cable and on-line, so we get the broadest input possible, and make the best decisions for all of us.

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

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 do you think of the waterfront development deal with Harcourt Developments?

A lot of thought has gone into what to do to redevelop the waterfront, and I'll certainly give all the past ideas and recommendation serious consideration, but we can't dwell on missed opportunities and past mistakes -- we need to go forward from today.

I will not support the selling of any waterfront land going forward. The original and current purpose of the Port is to hold and develop critical port access and infrastructure for the public benefit, and selling land to private entities defeats that purpose. We have only so much Industrial and commercial zoned land and we need to hold it for the future. We might not have industry right now ready to build, but if we degrade it by breaking it up and selling it off, or putting urban village-type housing in the middle of it, it will not be usable for industrial or commercial purposes.

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

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.

What is the most important issue the Port of Bellingham will need to tackle in the next four years?

On top of most people’s lists is the clean up and redevelopment of the former Georgia Pacific industrial site. That’s a huge asset for the citizens of Whatcom County, but it does not come without serious problems. As I mentioned before in the answer about the Harcourt deal, we need to put everything we know, and everyone’s ideas, on the table, take a good hard look at what our options are, and make some common sense decisions so we can make the most of this asset.