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Port director Dave Harlan steps down

November 26, 2005

The Hood River Port Commission and its executive director, Dave Harlan, have decided that it is time to part company.

“It’s been an honor working for the residents of the entire port district and a remarkable and dedicated staff. But I just felt it was time for me to move on to new challenges,” said Harlan, who tendered his resignation on Wednesday morning.

For the past several weeks, Harlan had been negotiating with the port board for a buy-out of his contract. Both parties said a “mutual agreement” was finally reached that allowed Harlan to pursue other job opportunities.

“Dave has helped the port make progress during his tenure. His accomplishments include the successful multi-million dollar bridge re-decking project, renovation of the port’s Big Seven building which houses Gorge Net and the Columbia Gorge Community College. And development of the port’s Wasco Business Park, including construction of the new building occupied by Humanities software,” wrote Port President Sherry Bohn in a press release.

“Dave has negotiated and finalized many property transactions resulting in retention and creation of local jobs. His skills will be missed. The port commission wishes him the best of luck in future endeavors,” her statement concluded.

In July of 2000, Harlan was hired by the port to utilize his background in marketing and economics to create new jobs. He was the top choice out of 20 applicants because of his experience as director of the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District and marketing manager for the Port of Astoria.

But Harlan immediately encountered strong opposition from citizen activists regarding development of the waterfront. On behalf of the port board, he publicly advocated for a mixed-use zone that would blend recreational and business interests. That plan drew fire from city residents who wanted the 31-acres of industrial land largely preserved as a public park.

For the next three years, Harlan frequently shared concerns about the county’s ability to remain financially stable without expanding its business base. He warned that residential growth required more money in services than government agencies collected in tax dollars. Conversely, Harlan said that manufacturers paid far more in taxes than they required in services.

“It’s the private sector that creates jobs. But it’s the job of economic development entities such as the port to set the table, to develop land and make the public investment needed to allow the private sector to create jobs,” he said.

He asked repeatedly how the park construction and maintenance would be funded. Harlan also questioned whether creating green space was the “highest and best” use of the county’s limited industrial base.

“Those calling for a large portion of the waterfront to be set aside for future park development with no plan to pay for it need to ask themselves how that benefits struggling families who dream of having their child be the first to ever graduate from college,” he said.

In 2003, Harlan joined other local officials to successfully lobby for legislation that allowed more than 160 abandoned mill sites throughout Oregon to be converted into other industrial uses.

He again warned residents that Hood River had a dearth of affordable industrial property that could attract new firms — or even keep expanding companies from relocating to larger facilities in The Dalles and other cities.

That same message has been underscored in 2005 by Bill Fashing, the county’s economic development coordinator. This year he performed an inventory of industrial lands and concluded that only 1.43 acres did not have some type of political or infrastructure constraint to development.

A multi-agency task force is now being organized to further study the issue and seek out options to overcome these problems.

By the end of 2003, Harlan had begun to tire of the political battle that raged over zoning at the waterfront. The city electorate approved a citizen initiative to ban development along the Columbia River – only to have that measure ruled as illegal by state authorities.

However, citizens then demanded that city and port officials respect the “will of the people” in that vote. The mixed-use zone plan was subsequently abandoned and both elected bodies appeared to believe that “building consensus” was the only way out of the political morass.

Harlan thought the focus might return to economic development when Port Commissioners Don Hosford and Fred Duckwall won re-election bids in May of 2005. Both men had championed job creation at the waterfront -- and both beat opponents, who advocated for the park, by a strong margin.

But, in the months following last May’s election, Harlan became increasingly disillusioned over the stalemate at the waterfront. He believed the 20-year battle over use of the property needed to end. And the port needed to fulfill its mandate to create more jobs.

“I do think that my interpretation of the results of the last election and the interpretation by some members of the commission were somewhat different,” Harlan said cautiously following his departure.

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