Port of Astoria Commissioner Bill Hunsinger and Jim Knight, the agency's executive director, sparred Tuesday over why the agency turned back a $1.5 million state grant.
The Port had been awarded the money in 2016 from the state Department of Transportation’s Connect Oregon infrastructure grant program. The grant was based on a proposal to repair about 30,000 square feet of dock on the west side of Pier 2, where seafood is landed and brought into processors renting space in the agency’s warehouse.
The grant required a $660,000 local match the Port had yet to secure. Knight informed the state last week the Port was canceling its request for the money.
The Port had attempted to use the state grant as a match on a larger pot of money it has been seeking from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for 2015 storm damage to the central waterfront, but has so far been unable to prove through photographic evidence the damage underneath Pier 2 is attributable to the storms. The Port had hoped to use the FEMA money as a local match for the state grant.
Hunsinger, who took out an ad in The Daily Astorian on Tuesday to criticize Knight’s decision, claimed the Port lied about having a shovel-ready project when the agency applied for the Connect Oregon grant, and that it allowed more than $1.5 million in grant funding to slip away.
“Are we waiting for the dock to fall in and then say, ‘We have an emergency?’” Hunsinger said. “It may take $8 or $10 million to fix everything, but this is a start in the right direction.”
Knight, objecting to Hunsinger’s characterization, said the Port had no choice but to turn back the grant funds because of delays in getting money from FEMA and because of the underlying issues with Pier 2.
“The real problem is the ground itself,” he said. “If we would have used those funds from ODOT, we would have been soundly criticized for knowingly repairing something that wasn’t the full fix of the problem.”
The state grant required construction on the docks be completed by 2020, and turning back the money rather than letting it expire will help keep the Port in good standing for future applications, Knight said.
“I’m upset about your mischaracterization of historical events,” Knight told Hunsinger at one point. “You have a propensity for changing history to suit your needs.”
The Port has previously estimated it will cost $7 million to repair Pier 2, part of an estimated $20 million in needs along the central waterfront. The next step on the west side of Pier 2 is spending about $200,000 on an engineering analysis to formulate a fix to the failing dock, Knight said.
Port Commission President Frank Spence said he has reached out to the region’s state and federal representatives about delays with FEMA and the agency’s dire situation.
Knight and Hunsinger's back-and-forth over why the grant was lost continued until Spence abruptly ended the workshop.