Fixing the Port of Portland

September 19, 2015

Steve Duin Oregonian Editorial "You Can't Fix the Port If You Don't Think It's Broke"

Click on You Can't Fix the Port if You Don't Think It's Broke to access a perceptive, insightful and informative 9/13/15 Oregonian editorial on the Port of Portland by Steve Duin.

Also included in this posting is an article from our archives dating back to January 2, 2007 by Robert Bailey, a highly regarded Washington County activist with a successful track record in addressing land use, environmental and citizen's rights issues. He currently serves on the board of Save Helvetia and is also a member of the Intel Air Quality Advisory Committee. At the time the article was initially disseminated a group of citizens were proposing statutory changes including a recommendation that the Port of Portland Commissioners be elected rather than appointed by the Governor. Though the effort failed, in the interest of protecting and defending fundamental democratic principles, it remains a worthy cause.

Please note: The article below refers to Hillsboro Aviation's flight training school. The school underwent a name change to Hillsboro Aero Academy in 2014 after it was sold to two out of state, east coast investors - Renovus Capital and Graycliff Partners.

The Port of Portland: A Major Overhaul is Long Overdue

by Robert Bailey

Ever wonder why the Port of Portland seems unresponsive to citizen concerns? One reason may be that, unlike all the other port authorities in the state of Oregon, the Port of Portland's commissioners are not elected by the people they supposedly represent.

And why does the Port continually ignore livability concerns? Perhaps it's because the Port's charter tells the commissioners to focus almost exclusively on the financial gain of the Port and its tenants.

Many of the frustrations and obstacles that concerned citizens encounter in dealing with the Port of Portland are caused by the way the Port was structured when it was created over 100 years ago. It's time to bring this dinosaur of an institution into the twenty-first century.

A group of concerned Washington County citizens drafted the following proposal for legislative change.

ORS 777.005 through 777.953
And ORS 778.005 through 778.990

To Balance and Modernize the Mission
To Make Accountable the Governance
Of The Port of Portland


Over 100 years ago, there must have been a rationale for not allowing the voters to elect the commissioners to the board of the Port of Portland. Likely, the greater good of the entire State of Oregon at the time compelled the Legislative Assembly to empower the Governor to instead nominate the board commissioners for approval by the Senate. Since then, however, all other ports throughout the state have gone to elective boards. The Port of Portland taxes us, impacts our daily lives, has grown and expanded substantially since its inception, yet the Port of Portland remains beyond the reach of voter accountability. An organizational arrogance has set in, and community impacts are not adequately addressed or respected. After 100 years, the time has come to put community accountability into the Port of Portland equation. Regionally elected governments have shown success. This bill allows voters in the tri-county Portland area to determine the majority of port commissioners: 2 each from Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington Counties. The remaining 3 may be nominated by the Governor, subject to Senate approval, and they must be residents of the State of Oregon for the decade previous to nomination.


In 1891, the Oregon Legislative Assembly passed a statute that created the Port of Portland. ORS Chapter 777 describes the organization, powers and functions, the taxing power of ports, among others. Ports are defined as "export trading corporations" and organized as "municipal corporations". The Port of Portland was initially charged with developing the port facilities and maritime capacities of the greater Portland waterways, and to benefit the surrounding communities and region. This legislation created a quasi- government corporation that was part public and supported by tax dollars. Through time, aviation was added to the mission.

The Port of Portland was also organized as a business corporation promoting commercial and industrial interests of the immediate and greater region, connecting the Willamette Valley and the Columbia's "inland empire" to the Pacific. The Port grew to become the significant facilitator of international trade and commerce for the region and the State of Oregon.


It is clear that such a quasi-governmental organization has and will continue to benefit the greater good of our communities and our region, allowing our goods affordable access to world markets while bringing affordable products to our markets.

Organizational Structure and Governance

This quasi-governmental corporation predated the conception of a regional government such as Metro. Governance of the Port was defined by ORS and managed by the Governor's appointees to the Port Board of Commissioners. Two commissioners each were to reside in Multnomah County, Clackamas County, and Washington County. The other three could come from elsewhere, but had to be residents of the State of Oregon. The Governor recommends appointees to the Senate for confirmation. Terms are 4 years. The CEO of the Port is hired by the Board of Commissioners and serves the Board, performing duties under supervision of the Board. The CEO can be removed by a majority of the Board of Commissioners.

This governance has been amended through time as Port districts have been added and responsibilities broadened. However, now and after 100 years, the Port of Portland continues to have a non-elected Board of Commissioners. Through time, the other ports throughout Oregon have become elective. Other major ports (Port of Seattle, for example) are elective.

Emerging Conflicts

  1. Have the Port of Portland's activities created conflicts with surrounding communities? YES
  2. Is the century old structure and governance consonant with our democratic values of today? NO
  3. Do port commissioners exhibit any standard of stewardship or observable communication with the counties from which they come? NO
  4. Are there effective and representative methods of communicating concerns with the Port of Portland? NO
  5. Does the Port of Portland make decisions impacting one county while making that decision in isolation and near secrecy? YES
  6. Does the Port of Portland enter into financial decisions without taking into account impact to community livability? YES

Taxation without Representation

Look at your recent tax statement. The Port of Portland tax is among those listed, yet it is the only entity receiving your tax dollar for which you have no direct vote. You do vote for Educational Service Districts, Water Districts, Fire Districts, school districts, county governments, regional governments, and special recreation districts. The Port of Portland continues to operate within a historic statute that lacks democratic sense in today's context.

No Representation of Community Interest

When the Legislative Assembly created the Port of Portland, they did not create direct representation. They directed the governor to appoint the Port commissioners. What was the original intent of having two commissioners come from the three metro counties within the Port of Portland's jurisdiction? This must have been a method of assuring representation to the respective counties and related communities. Yet over 100 years have passed and now little, if any, communication links current commissioners to the respective communities they supposedly represent. Most citizens are unaware of these historic stipulations. Individuals with very little historic connection to communities might be appointed, and they do not report back to those communities in any observable way. It is only recently that the Port commissioners met in Hillsboro, under pressure, for the first time ever.

The Port of Portland Creates Negative Impacts on Livability, Health, Safety, and Security

The Port of Portland's mission can and does come into direct conflict with communities and residents within its jurisdiction. ORS 778.015 states,

The object, purpose, and occupation of the Port of Portland shall be to promote the maritime, shipping, aviation, commercial and industrial interests of the port as by law specifically authorized.

  • The Port of Portland generates pollution of our waterways as an outgrowth of its activities.
  • The Port of Portland, in promoting aviation interests, facilitates aviation noise that brings conflict to surrounding communities.
  • The Port of Portland promotes air traffic while lacking sufficient equipment to track those flights over our communities. Since much of the Tualatin Valley basin is beyond their vision, this poses a significant security risk.

The Port of Portland lacks accountability to the electoral and taxpaying public. Through this disconnect, the Port of Portland has evolved a culture of hubris, moving beyond the reach of citizens and communities. The director has only to point to their legal mission to defend their activities that come into conflict with surrounding communities and environments. All avenues of remedy are stymied. Spin management is the primary response.

Example # 1

In 1996, the Port of Portland Board of Commissioners met in downtown Portland and voted in support of three 10-year leases with Hillsboro Aviation. The renewal clauses would allow the operator to extend for 10 years, and 10 years beyond that. Within several years of the 1996 contract, Hillsboro Aviation was well on its way to becoming the nation's second largest helicopter training operation in the United States with many international students being trained. Their fixed wing flight training activities also generate significant noise, pollution, safety, and security risks.

This contract was undertaken without any noise assessment or environmental impact study. The contract was undertaken without any explicit community notification or outreach. The Port of Portland profits from the lease contract that produces many decibels of noise daily over residences and communities, both urban and rural. The director refused any apology here and pointed to the statutory mission as excusing the Port from sensitivity to community livability issues.

After years of continual community complaint about the helicopter and fixed wing training noise, Hillsboro Aviation was able to exercise its right to extend the leases for an additional 10 years. The Port of Portland did not convene any public meeting to review the contract renewal or the operator's impacts to surrounding residents and communities. Again this was undertaken in downtown Portland, and never showed up on their public agenda.

The Port of Portland responds to criticism from the community with the "we are legally bound to the contract," or "aviation noise is the sole prerogative of the Federal Aviation Administration." The Port of Portland unilaterally foisted 30 years of flight training noise onto Hillsboro area residents and surrounding communities. While the Port of Portland profits from these leases, residents suffer property devaluation and have their health and safety jeopardized. Try and make a complaint about aviation noise by calling their Port of Portland's noise hotline. You will soon discover the ultimate in "runaround." All avenues of solution are stymied.

Example # 2

Public involvement and input at the Hillsboro Airport were lacking altogether until 2006, when the Port of Portland created HAIR, the Hillsboro Airport Issues Roundtable. The year previous, the Washington County Noise Control Task Force noted the lack of any community involvement in airport activities and recommended the creation of a citizen noise advisory committee. Instead, the Port of Portland created a "roundtable" that is safely protected by sufficient aviation and commercial interests, outflanking any real citizen impact. This shows the Port of Portland to be more interested in "spinning" their public image than in seriously engaging citizens about health, safety and livability issues.

Example # 3

PDX ground run-up testing was occurring outside of any noise dampening facility. The PDX Citizen Noise Advisory Committee zeroed in on this noise source and noted that this was subject to local noise ordinance and management. The Port of Portland was forced by this citizen body to develop funds to build a run-up testing facility that mitigates the resulting noise by 90 %. By its structuring of the Hillsboro Airport Issues Roundtable, the Port assured that Hillsboro Airport is not subject to the pressure of a citizen-based noise advisory committee.

Example # 4

Bill Wyatt, CEO of the Port of Portland has been quoted as stating that "Aviation Noise is the Sound of Commerce." That illustrates a major point of conflict of interest between the Port of Portland and the taxed public. The Port of Portland's current mission is pure commerce, and it does not have to attend to the livability issues of its taxed public. The owner/operator of Hillsboro Aviation had a bumper sticker that read "I Love Aviation Noise." It has become obvious that there is good money in aviation noise.

Revised Legislation

After over 100 years, it is now time to bring balance and modernization to the mission of the Port of Portland. Amend the Oregon Revised Statute to make the mission of The Port of Portland read:

The object, purpose, and occupation of the Port of Portland shall be to promote the maritime, shipping, aviation, commercial and industrial interests of the region as by law specified, while giving equal consideration to livability including noise, environment, safety, security, and health impacts on surrounding communities.

After over 100 years, it is now time to bring democratic value and practice to the governance of the Port of Portland. The culture of hubris will melt and fall and give wing to accountability and stewardship.

The statute should be amended to replace appointment of commissioners by the governor with a vote of the people.

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