Elections

Sharon Kivisto: Port district could do more to promote economic development | Friday Harbor Port Commission candidate profile

Sharon Kivisto ... candidate for Friday Harbor Port Commission. - Richard Walker
Sharon Kivisto ... candidate for Friday Harbor Port Commission.
— image credit: Richard Walker

Sharon Kivisto comes to the Friday Harbor 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.

“As a reporter, you’re always on the outside being an observer. I felt like I wanted to be back participating,” she said. “It’s a small community, so it’s not unusual for someone to be wearing several hats.

“I have a lot of knowledge about different jurisdictions and all these different plans. It would be kind of nice to use that knowledge in a different way instead of just writing.”

Kivisto is running for a position on the port commission. She is challenging 18-year incumbent Greg Hertel. Commissioners serve six-year terms and receive up to $11,040 a year and full medical benefits.

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, an online news site.

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.

In an interview with The Journal during the San Juan County Fair, Kivisto talked about the issues.

Why she’s running for port commissioner: “The port seemed the least controversial place to be. I would never run for county, town or fire district. It wasn't like I said, ‘Oh, I want to do one, which one do I want to do.’ I was interested in the port.”

Economic development: “The port has the ability to help with economic development. I don’t think it does enough that way,” she said.

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.

“It's not like I have this plan. I just think we should explore it,” she said.

Friday Harbor Airport: Kivisto 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.

Communication with the public: She said the port’s Web site should have Customs and border information on it. An Oregon doctor was fined $5,000 for failing to dock at the U.S. Customs dock April 1 and phone in after arriving by boat from Canada; he thought he was supposed to walk up to the Customs office and call the number on the door.

She said having the procedures prominently posted on the port Web site might prevent future incidents.

“They can make it more user-friendly,” she said.

Airport Master Plan: Kivisto said the port must move forward with the Airport Master Plan. “If you adopt something, you shouldn’t just put it on the shelf,” she said. “It’s a huge plan — moving the terminal back, separating the taxiway and runaway by 80 feet to make the taxiway safer, putting in pipes for stormwater. The plan was adopted in 2006 or 2007.”

Downtown ferry traffic: Asked if she thought the port district should contribute to the cost of ferry traffic control, she said, “I suppose they could discuss it … but I think it should be part of the contract between Washington State Ferries and the terminal operator. It should be built into that contract.”

Her “day job”: If elected, “I would keep my day job. My business is not closing,” she said. “I would have someone else cover the port meetings. And there are other places people can get news, but I wouldn't want to point them in that direction.”

Final quote: “I’m more future oriented. I’m not saying we can't do that because we didn't do it that way in the past. That's part of the problem going on now.

“I've lived here since 1991. I know a lot of how government jurisdictions intermingle. After all these meetings I've attended, I know what the county's planning, what the town is planning, what the funding sources are, how different things connect. You need background to understand why they’re doing what they're doing, and maybe how to get over that hurdle.”

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