Port of Kennewick projects to be put on hold

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldOctober 10, 2012 

Port of Kennewick commissioners approved a list of projects to work on next year, but it will be swept off the table because of two large public record requests and a potential lawsuit related to Vista Field.

Port Executive Director Tim Arntzen told commissioners Tuesday that the port doesn't have the resources for the work plan, record requests and the potential lawsuit.

Arntzen said the port should reshuffle its priorities to deal with the record requests, lawsuit and the Vista Field Airport alternatives study ahead of the 2013 work plan commissioners passed unanimously Tuesday.

Carl Cadwell's Spokane attorney, Nicholas Kovarik, recently wrote the port commissioners asking for a meeting to discuss damages his client claims Cadwell Laboratories is suffering from because of the port's "flip flop" on the decision to keep the airport open and attempt to close Vista Field.

Kovarik submitted a records request for 22 items related to Vista Field, as well as Clover Island and employment contracts and travel expenses for some port employees.

Arntzen said the second records request is more in-depth than the one the port received more than a year ago from attorney John Ziobro.

The port is not even halfway through the request filed by Ziobro, which asks for expense and travel records, he said. Ziobro has not named his client.

State law requires record requests to take priority, Arntzen said. And it would be foolish not to focus resources on the possible lawsuit, he said.

"This Vista Field thing is a very thin slice of what you do," Arntzen said.

It has the potential to affect all of the other parts, which may cause disappointment from the public and the port's development partners, he said.

Arntzen said the port may need to close the port office a few hours a day so receptionists and staff can help with the records request. The marina office may need to close for some days as well.

That would be a temporary change, but could last anywhere from six to 18 months, he said.

Projects that may need to be canceled or deferred include pursuing new grants, planning work such as with the Tri-City Raceway property, public amenities such as artwork, pathways and shoreline enhancements and projects not currently under contract, according to Arntzen's memo.

He also suggested in the memo that the port consider contracting for additional staff as necessary to assist with the records request.

Port Commissioner Don Barnes said the port can't ignore the record requests and possible litigation. Reasonable prudent measures are necessary, he said.

The port has finite resources, including a staff of about 10, Barnes said.

Port commission President Skip Novakovich said he's like to see a formal plan that lays out the office closures, and discuss the issue during a workshop session that includes representatives from the port's development partners.

"I don't think we have any choice," Novakovich said.

The public and development partners should look at what has put the port in this situation, Novakovich said.

The work plan includes projects such as improvements to two business incubator buildings at the port's Oak Street Industrial Park, said Larry Peterson, the port's planning and development director. Most of the projects are focused on caring for the assets the port has.

The plan already includes the $225,000 Vista Field Airport alternatives study.

The port recently hired Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. of Portland to examine three options for Vista Field, which include keeping it open as is, making significant investments in the airport and closing the airport for redevelopment.

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