After 30 years with the Port of Benton, top executive has decided to call it quits

This new building means business for Prosser

Deb Heintz, Prosser Economic Development Association executive director, tells about the Port of Benton's new $2.5 million development building in the Vintner's Village in Prosser.
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Deb Heintz, Prosser Economic Development Association executive director, tells about the Port of Benton's new $2.5 million development building in the Vintner's Village in Prosser.

Scott Keller, the Port of Benton’s longtime executive director, is retiring, the port announced Tuesday.

Diahann Howard, director of economic development and government affairs, will serve as interim executive director until a successor is named.

Keller indicated in a news release issued by the port that he was ready to step aside.

“I’ve done everything I wanted to do, now it’s someone else’s turn,” said Keller, who is 63 and had spent 30 years working for the port.

Keller’s retirement appeared to catch port officials and employees by surprise. David Billedeaux, the port’s attorney, said the port’s elected commission will meet in executive session Thursday to map out a process to name a successor.

Billedeaux confirmed that Keller is no longer working in the office.

The attorney said the port is following terms spelled out in Keller’s employment contract, which is 10 years old.

Legal action against port

Keller is a named defendant along with the port’s three commissioners in protracted federal litigation with the Tri-City Railroad and its president, Randolph Peterson.

Scott Keller

Peterson filed a whistleblower complaint on behalf of the U.S. government in federal court two years ago as the port moved to evict his company from port-owned tracks in Richland after accusing the railroad of mismanaging maintenance.

The lawsuit is pending. The port secured a $2.5 million package of grants and low-interest loans from the 2019 Legislature to repair two railroad crossings, one over the Yakima River and the other over Interstate 182.

Diahann Howard

Attempts to reach Keller by phone were unsuccessful.

Keller joined the port in 1989, serving as director of the port-owned Richland and Prosser airports. He also served as assistant executive director under former executive director Ben Bennett. He was promoted to the top job when Bennett retired.

Led expansion of port

As both assistant executive director and executive director, Keller presided over a dramatic expansion of the port’s role in the economic life of its district, which extends from Richland to Prosser and south to the Columbia River.

The Richland Airport has been overhauled and hosts 150 more planes, reflecting Keller’s personal passion for aviation. It established Vintner’s Village and Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center in Prosser and recently expanded to a new phase.

It signed a 20-year lease with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take over Crow Butte Park in 2007, collaborating with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation to transform the once sleepy outpost into a destination park that attracts visitors from across the state.

The Washington Public Port Association named the Port of Benton its Port of the Year in 2007. A year later, it marked its 50th anniversary with a celebratory event in Prosser.

Keller indicated he intends to spend time in his hangar at the Richland Airport, where he is building an experimental plane, and enjoying time with his “soon-to-be two” granddaughters.

Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.