Politics Blog

Bellingham Port Commission candidate Gary Jensen 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: Gary S. Jensen, 59

Education: Ferndale High School, Technical Training

Work Experience: Owner, Operator Sullivan Plumbing Inc. Mayor, City of Ferndale

Previous Public Offices Held: Ferndale City Council Member - 2 years, Ferndale Mayor - 8 years

Endorsements: None

Why are you running for Port Commissioner?

I still have a desire to serve my community. In Ferndale, with hard work and acommunity 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. Some people dream of the future. Some people work to make their dreams become a reality. Whatcom County is such a very special place that can be a successful home for a wide diversity of our citizens. From the blue collar worker to upper management and developers, all should have a voice and direction in that future. The Port needs someone who cares about all of them.

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. It is not just one segment but many different interests and needs.

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

I have attended five port meetings in person, including the double meetings on the Harcourt Contract. I have watched the last 12 months of meetings on line. I attended port meetings before making the decision to run for office. I attended one BIACC meeting on airport issues. I also sat down and studied the master plan and intend to attend their yearly budget workshop. The decision to run for this position was not made on a whim, but one made after careful research.

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

In talking with port staff and existing Port Commissioners, the meetings have always been held in the afternoons. History does not always make things right. I'm a proponent of LEAN thinking. We perform LEAN meetings every week in Ferndale. The basis of LEAN thinking is constant improvement and constantly questioning what we have done in the past and how do we improve it.

An afternoon meeting time is difficult for some members of the public. An evening meeting should be discussed. Evening meetings bring a higher cost to some meetings by having staff work at overtime rates after their scheduled work day. Some of that cost could be mitigated with flex time of technical information presented in the afternoon. Similar to city council committee meetings. Staff presentation could be video taped.

The bottom line is this. Some agendas may not require a night meeting. At times when important decision are made, the public has a right and a need for more options at participating, night meetings should be a priority. With the rise in social media we should be able to converse with our citizens enough to drastically increase public participation in our port meeting. That should always be our goal. Increase participation.

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

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.

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

It certainly would have been an advantage to have more developers offer their services for construction and management at the former G.P. site on Bellingham's waterfront.

With Harcourt being the only multi-site developer to step forward, could cause concern. I attended both meetings when the decision to vote for Harcourt came forward. I have read the documents. There are protections in place if Harcourt can not perform as stated.

It would have been better to get a higher rate of return but timing in business transactions does not always allow higher rates. The contract is signed. It will be a difficult role of the Port Commissioners with experience at large scale projects. Similar to an elected official who helped to build several new buildings in Ferndale. Experience matters.

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

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.

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

The Environmental clean up of Port properties heads this list. There are 12 total clean up sites in Bellingham Bay and 2 at Blaine Harbor. The total estimated cost is 192.8 million.

The capital project fund and reserve fund in the Port's budget looks healthy at first glance. Those funds have been used at present to enhance grant funding for environmental cleanup. Grant funding for the Model Toxic Control Act, based on a carbon fuel tax, is being used for a 34 million clean up of the Whatcom Waterway. That starts very soon.

We will need dedicated, experienced leadership to enhance and maintain the Port's budget to fund the clean up effort. The Port must be self sustaining and profitable to move into this future of environmental clean up.