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Greg Hertel: Satisfied with direction of the Port of Friday Harbor | Friday Harbor Port Commission candidate profile
Greg Hertel has known successes and shortfalls – but no regrets -- in his 18 years as a Friday Harbor port 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. “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.
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.
Now, Hertel is seeking a fourth term as a port commissioner. The election is Nov. 3. He is being challenged by Sharon Kivisto, an online journalist and former school board member.
Commissioners serve six-year terms and receive up to $11,040 a year and full medical benefits.
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.
Generally, he’s pleased with the direction the district is going.
During his last 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. “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.
Hertel talked to The Journal at the San Juan County Fair about the issues.
Airport improvements: “We haven’t had big construction. We’ve improved around the airport and filled in available building spots,” he said.
Stormwater drainage and access gates for emergency vehicles are being installed on the Mullis Street side of the airport property. He didn’t know why it took so long for emergency access gates to be installed; the fire station was built on Mullis Street in 2001.
“I don't know. It’s one of those things we had in the budget. There hasn't been a crash on the airport for many, many years, but we finally decided it was something we needed to finish.”
Marina improvements: The marina had net revenue of $460,000 last year, which the port is investing into reserves for emergencies, as well as installing new electrical wiring on the docks and moving transformers inland from their perches above the water.
Marine environment: Hertel said the port allowed the Town of Friday Harbor an easement on port property for installation of an upland sewer line; the sewer line replaced an underwater sewer line that had decayed and frequently leaked. The port is responsible for maintaining system pumps on port property.
The port also installed systems to capture fuel that might leak at the fuel dock. Floating restrooms were installed to make restrooms more easily accessible to boaters on the outer docks.
Transportation improvements: The port district has twice participated in the Intermodal Transportation Planning Committee, which included town, county and state transportation officials in developing ways to improve the movement of vehicles and pedestrians in the downtown area.
After the 1998 and 2006 plans were developed, Washington State Ferries announced it had no money to implement them.
One result of the earlier plan was the traffic turnaround at the end of Front Street.
“Good ideas came out of it,” Hertel said of the 2006 effort. But he doesn’t expect anything to happen “until the economy settles down.”
Hertel believes in downtown ferry traffic control, which took a big cut this year; the town, county and WSF allocated enough money for a flagger during the 12:10 p.m. ferry, the busiest of all the runs.
Hertel empathizes with the financial plights of the town and county governments, which depend so much on sales tax and had to reduce their commitment to ferry traffic control. But he doesn't foresee the port district being a financial partner in providing that service.
Relationship with San Juan County Fire District 3: The port district is raising the fire district’s lease payment for the Mullis Street fire station site, thanks to a new assessment of property value.
“When the FAA loans us money for land, we're supposed to collect fair market value,” Hertel said of the lease amount. “The land had to be reassessed.”
As a result, the fire district’s payment will climb from $6,500 to $11,000 a year over four years.
Relationship with U.S. Customs: Negotiations continue with U.S. Customs on construction of a new Customs building at the end of Front Street.
The port, a port of entry into the United States, has had to adapt since 9/11 to changes in border security requirements: Structural changes to Spring Street Landing so it can be closed off while international visitors clear Customs. Temporary fences at the breakwater dock so visitors entering there can be cleared. Tougher security checks at the airport.
Hertel takes the changes in stride. “We have never had an attack by Somali pirates in the Port of Friday Harbor,” he quipped.