Hertel elected to fourth term on Friday Harbor Port Commission
November 3, 2009 · Updated 8:26 PM
Greg Hertel was elected to a fourth six-year term on the Friday Harbor Port Commission tonight.
As of 8:16 p.m., Hertel received 1,531 votes to online journalist Sharon Kivisto's 967.
Hertel was unavailable for comment. He spent Election Day off-island. Kivisto, owner of sanjuanislander.com, also could not be reached; she is doubling as candidate and election-night reporter.
Port commissioners serve six-year terms and receive up to $11,040 a year and full medical benefits.
The election results seemed to be an endorsement of Hertel's record and the course the port district has taken in his 18 years as a commissioner.
During his tenure, the port district built Skagit Valley College San Juan Center, leased land to San Juan County Fire District 3 for the main fire station on Mullis Street, purchased San Juan Marina and rebuilt it as Spring Street Landing, leased land to the Animal Protection Society for an animal shelter, installed a boat launch at Jackson's Beach, installed ADA-accessible ramps on the main dock at Friday Harbor Marina, and developed a traffic turnaround at the end of Front Street to improve the movement of traffic.
Shortfalls: Hertel spearheaded efforts to establish regularly scheduled passenger ferry service between Friday Harbor and Bellingham, as a transportation alternative to state ferry service between Friday Harbor and Anacortes. But the latest effort died when it was determined to be too costly.
“The port was enthusiastic that this was something we could do,” Hertel said during the campaign. “But if you put in having to buy a boat, from that standpoint it looks like not going to happen unless the economics change considerably. We were pumped up about the thought of having a transportation connection to another community. It would have been a good thing to do but not at public expense. It can be done privately, but we can't do it without a sizable subsidy.”
Currently, San Juan Island property owners pay a property tax levy to the port district of 13 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. “We are authorized to take 45 cents per $1,000, but we don't want to burden taxpayers for a lot more tax,” Hertel said.
And while gates for emergency vehicles were finally installed this year on the Mullis Street side of the airport, across the street from the District 3 fire station, Hertel couldn't pinpoint why it took so long. The fire station was built in 2001.
Hertel is a retired Friday Harbor High School teacher and track coach, a former commercial fisherman, and a licensed boat captain. He earned a bachelor of science in geology from Portland State University and a master’s in natural sciences from Western Washington University. He and his wife, Lunnette, live in the Wold Road area of the island, where they raised two sons.
During his latest term, Hertel was elected to the San Juan County Board of Freeholders, which wrote the county charter adopted by voters in 2005. He shared the honor of Journal Citizen of the Year with the other freeholders. The next year, he ran unsuccessfully for county auditor.
Generally, he’s pleased with the direction the district is going. In his latest term, long-time port director Steve Simpson retired; the commission elevated port auditor Marilyn O’Connor to the director’s office. Long-time airport manager Pat Mayo retired; the commission hired Dave Ryan as his successor.
“I’m really happy with Marilyn and our new airport manager,” Hertel said early in the campaign. “And we haven’t had a lot of turnover.”
He’s equally pleased with the district’s finances: Total revenues of $3.4 million, total expenses of $2.8 million, with the balance going into reserve to pay for future improvements.
Kivisto came to the Port Commission race with a unique perspective: She’s a former elected official who knows what it’s like to make decisions affecting quality of life and tax dollars, and she’s an online journalist who has been observing and reporting on government for more than 10 years.
Kivisto served on the San Juan Island School Board from 1995-99. She worked in The Journal’s darkroom and as a reporter for much of that time, and left the newspaper in December 1999 to launch sanjuanislander.com.
Since launching sanjuanislander.com, she has never shied away from offering her opinions at public meetings or shining the spotlight on possible or obvious violations of the Open Public Meetings Act.
She believes the port district could do more to promote business development, should lease rather than sell airport hangars, could do a better job of communicating with the public, and should implement the airport master plan.
She’d like the port to lease more of its land for business development (about 45 businesses lease land from the port district, according to www.portfridayharbor.org). She’d like to engage the San Juan County Economic Development Council, the San Juan Island Community Foundation and other groups in discussion of how to promote more business development on port land.
She said the district should “put more energy” into how it runs the airport. She supports more hangar construction – “The waiting list has gone on forever” – but would like the port to own the hangars and lease them out rather than allow others to build and own them. She said the leases could create an additional revenue stream for the port.