Both Port of Kalama commissioner candidates want to keep Kalama a good place to live, but the two have different ideas of what that means.
Incumbent Alan Basso said he wants to continue work on the many projects the port already has underway, including the controversial proposed methanol plant.
Meanwhile his challenger, Gary Wallace, who strongly opposes the methanol project, said he would think outside the box to come up with new ideas to bring tourism and business to the port.
Northwest Innovation Works wants to build the $2 million project at the north port. It would convert natural gas piped to the site into methanol for shipment to Asia. The company said it would create 1,000 construction jobs, 200 permanent positions and generate millions of dollars in local taxes.
Basso said the project is part of the port’s responsibility to bring in revenue, jobs and create a stable tax base for local taxing districts.
“I think this is a great project,” Basso said.
The state Department of Ecology is reviewing shoreline permits for the project, but its decision is on hold after earlier this month it asked for more information on the project’s greenhouse gas emissions.
According to environmental studies, the plant would emit 1.1 million tons of greenhouse gasses, but Basso said NWIW will offset all in-state emissions, which is “something no one else in the state is doing.”
Wallace said a decision on the project’s future is now outside of the port commission’s purview. However, he said he hopes the port, county and state stop spending money to move the project forward.
“People ask me, when do we vote on this?” Wallace said. “This is it. This is a chance to steer away from fossil fuels to a more positive direction.”
Wallace said he wants to preserve Kalama as a green space of the region. A “heavy industrial” project like the methanol plant would deter people from recreating in the area, Wallace said.
“It’s not a good fit for Kalama,” he said. “We’re looking at an oxymoron in vision.”
Development and recreation
Both candidates said developing the port’s 70-acre Spencer Creek Business Park off of Kalama River Road is another priority.
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Basso said the port is taking its time to develop the area and “do it right.” Attracting new businesses to move to the park will take time, he said. Basso also said he and the other commissioners hope to bring in light industry, professional offices and possibly a vocational college.
“We want to compliment downtown Kalama, not compete,” Basso said.
Wallace said he too would like to see light industrial companies, as well as businesses to cater to visitors like a hotel and gas station. He said the area could also include a small golf course.
Both candidates said they want to increase the port’s recreation areas.
Basso said he would like the port to take over Kress Lake’s maintenance from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and expand trails in the area.
Wallace suggests the port could create a wetland wildlife viewing area at the marsh area off of Meeker Drive north of town. He said he wants to see the port create more recreation opportunities, especially for young people.
In addition, the port has neglected the 1973 pedestrian overpass linking West Frontage Road and North Hendrickson Drive, Wallace said, noting the bridge is not ADA accessible, which restricts access to downtown for many port visitors.
A new bridge is on the port’s capital budget but the project is set for years from now. Wallace said he would like to see it happen sooner.
Basso said since the pedestrian bridge is in a tight spot, it will need elevators rather than ramps, and will cost about $4.4 million. The port just needs to come up with the money, he said.
Basso said he hopes to continue his work with the port as the community has already invested seven years in him as a commissioner.
“We’re a good team, work together well and have things on the horizon,” he said of his commissioners. “We want to keep Kalama a good place to live.”
Wallace said he would like the port to work more with the Cowlitz Economic Development Council and other ports in the area to pursue larger projects to diversify jobs in the area.
“You can wait for things to come to you or you can find what you want and go get it,” he said.