A letter from Michael McElwee, Port Executive Director
From the Winter 2022 Newsletter
The Port of Hood River has a long and rich history of public service. I came to work here in 2006 from a love for the Hood River Valley and a chance to be part of that legacy. Now, over 15 years have passed. Every day of work has been a privilege. I have been truly honored to work with all the staff, Port Commissions, agency partners and many citizens who have contributed so much to the Port mission. One of the core values I’ve tried to emphasize in my time here is Stewardship, which can be defined as “…the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” I like to say that the Port really doesn’t “own” anything. It is a public agency, managing public property, for the public good. That means stewardship decisions involving the Waterfront, Airport, Bridge and other Port assets need to consider next summer and next year, but often next decade, even next generation.
Who makes stewardship decisions? Port staff, a small but incredibly smart, hard-working, and dedicated group, make them every day. Port Commissioners, acting as a group, have significant responsibility. These elected officials are truly volunteers. They play a vital role in stewardship, providing leadership, and setting policy and budgetary direction. In most of my time here I have been blessed with incredibly effective Port Commissions. All shared similar qualities of collaboration, thoughtfulness, and dedication, while being both supportive of staff and constructively critical when needed. A well-functioning Commission is critical for good stewardship decisions. Finally, the public is perhaps the most important factor. Wise stewardship of public assets requires public oversight and input. The Port’s management of public property means it is the responsibility of citizens of this community to offer suggestions, ideas, and criticism.
I have found that thoughtful public input, delivered clearly and in a positive spirit, is the most important factor in the Port’s decision-making. Everyone that uses the waterfront, the Ken Jernstedt Airfield, the Bridge or any Port building or asset is a Steward.
Stewardship is often not easy. Public agencies can be frustrating, bureaucratic, slow to move, even immovable. I’d like to think that the Port is nimbler than most, but sometimes that is not the case. Often a slow pace is due to ongoing challenges not readily apparent. Sometimes it’s due to the need for thoughtful, methodical, long-term decision-making. Occasionally it is due to inertia. Here are two examples that include all of these:
Waterfront: In 2006, the Waterfront was a very different place. Mostly vacant, the major amenity was the Event Site and the Port’s “Boneyard” at Portway Ave. and 8th St. Today, things looks dramatically different—a continuous, paved ped./ trail, Waterfront Park, Frog Beach, new roadways, and an estimated $86 million in public and private investment. This was delivered by an incredible mix of citizen involvement, City and Port collaboration, business interest and developer expertise. This effort is an example of long-term, shared stewardship by many groups and individuals who sometimes disagreed, but who all saw the great potential of the Hood River Waterfront and shared a common love for its future. I will always consider myself fortunate to have been involved in many parts of this transformation.
Bridge Replacement: Nothing speaks of the challenges of long-term stewardship than the multi-decade effort to replace the bridge. Not readily apparent are the many efforts over the years that have brought us closer to a new bridge. The challenges have been enormous: small market, big price tag, languid federal or state support and significant regulatory hurdles. The replacement effort started to accelerate in about 2015 following a State of Washington-driven “Type, Size and Location Study.” The Port Commission, with Commissioner Brian Shortt in the lead, resolved to re-double our efforts. After two years of hard work, in 2017 the State of Oregon committed $5 million to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) and convey specific authorities to manage and construct a new bridge. These were very significant commitments. They showed the State was willing to invest in the project. It jump-started the momentum that has increased to this day. Five years later, the EIS is nearly complete and the Port, with support from many quarters, has obtained an additional $15 million in state and federal grants for the next phase of engineering. Legislation to establish a Bi-State Bridge Authority, to finance, construct, own and manage a new bridge is on its way for passage in both states. I am very proud to play a role in this accelerating stewardship effort.
Looking ahead, there will be new commissioners, staff and citizens to uphold the value of Stewardship at the Port. The Port values stated in our “Strategic Business Plan” include Integrity, Responsiveness, Transparency, Collaboration, Stewardship, Innovation, Quality, and Diversity. All are vitally important.
But Stewardship is the greatest because it includes all the others.