Heated port race the talk of the town

Incumbents answer questions about their experience, priorities
By Brian Soergel | Oct 19, 2017

Compared to the ho-hum City Council race, the race for three open Port of Edmonds commissioner positions is one that has drawn plenty of community interest.

Three incumbents are seeking to retain their seats: Fred Gouge, Bruce Faires and Steve Johnston, the latter who was appointed after the resignation after 14 years, for health reasons, of Mary Lou Block in March 2016.

The incumbents all have challengers: Angela Harris will face Gouge in District 1, while Lora Petso will challenge Faires in District 3 and Susan Paine is pitted against Johnston in the at-large position, which serves all of the Port’s three districts.

The district includes the city of Edmonds west of 92nd Avenue West, the Town of Woodway and unincorporated areas of Snohomish County south of Edmonds and west of 92nd Avenue West, including unincorporated Esperance, whose residents have an Edmonds mailing address.

Candidates must live in the director district they wish to represent, but voters throughout the district vote for all positions.

The increased interest in the Port races, both from candidates and citizens, is no doubt intensified by interest in the Edmonds Marsh, whose boundaries abut Harbor Square, which the Port owns, and the Port itself.

The Beacon posed a series of questions to the candidates. What follows are responses from two of the three incumbents; Gouge did not want to answer the Beacon’s questions – “No comment” – but instead referred to a prepared statement.

The challengers' answers will be published next week.


Bruce Faires has served as an Edmonds Port Commissioner since November 1999 and has 48 years of experience in engineering design, management and business consulting.

He has a master’s in electrical engineering from Stanford and bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Washington State University.

In addition to his work at the Port, his community involvement includes member of the Edmonds Transportation Committee and Edmonds Economic Development Commission; Edmonds Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Committee; boat owner for 37 years; and resident of Edmonds area for 45 years.

In light of the city turning down the Master Plan a while back, what do you think the future holds for the port and its redevelopment?

The Port proposed a change to the addendum to the city’s comprehensive plan that would have required a change in the zoning for Harbor Square. This change might have allowed redevelopment. Although the planning board recommended approval of the comp plan change, it became clear that the City Council would not approve an economically viable modification.

The city certainly has land-use authority at Harbor Square and the Port respects that.

Following that series of events, the focus of the Port concerning Harbor Square has been to manage Harbor Square within the applicable land use regulations and assume that, going forward, they will not change.

As a result, the Port has replaced – or will replace – roofs, HVAC units and other long-lived elements of the buildings at Harbor Square with new equipment, and entered into long-term leases with tenants.

The Port of Edmonds is not going forward with any plans to redevelop Harbor Square. Nonetheless, your Port will also clearly seek additional opportunities to develop financially sound business opportunities or public amenity facilities that benefit the community.

Have you attended Sea Jazz concerts and gone whale-watching on Puget Sound Express?

I have certainly enjoyed several Sea Jazz concerts and have been out on the whale-watching vessel. I have not completed a total whale-watching experience.

What is your position on both the Edmonds Marsh and the daylighting of Willow Creek? Do you support the buffer recommendations as they stand now?

I believe strongly that the environmental conditions of the Edmonds Marsh should be improved to the extent achievable for a marsh area in an urban setting. I fully support the city’s efforts to daylight Willow Creek.

At least at Harbor Square, the buffers presently in place are 25 feet, although significantly larger buffers may be required if redevelopment were to take place. The city has indicated that 125-foot total buffer/setback is the interim requirement.

However, this requirement is not based on any significant improvement to the health of the Edmonds Marsh since both DOE and the tribe’s scientists have reported that the largest threat to the marsh health is stormwater runoff.

The city and the state DOE have indicated that the applicable buffers will be reevaluated in light of existing urban conditions when a site-specific proposal is made.

Please list a few top priorities for the Port going forward.

The first challenge is certainly to continue the effective work that has resulted from having cohesive and effective commission and staff.

The second important issue facing the Port is insuring that, when is becomes necessary to replace the physical structures at the Port – docks, structures, buildings – we have been sufficiently financially prudent to be able to fund the necessary renovation without any additional taxes on the residents of the Port district.

The third ongoing challenge is to continue the outstanding environmental success the Port has consistently displayed, both relating to the Edmonds marsh and the relatively small effect the Port can have there, and west of the BNSF tracks in our boatyard and marina, where we have consistently won awards for environmental excellence.

Further information concerning these and other issues is available at www.fairescomm.com.

Your accomplishments at the Port?

While I have been a Port of Edmonds Commissioner, many accomplishments, changes and improvements have been made.

The Port’s marina was voted the best marina on Puget Sound by KING 5 TV and the best marina in the entire United States by Marina Dock Age magazine.

The Port is now home to many businesses and almost 1,000 boats and boaters who pay taxes and whose owners frequent businesses in our town.

Your management team at the Port has worked hard at enhancing tourism-examples:

• Puget Sound Express is a growing Whale watching business out of your Port

• Destination Port of Edmonds program attracts Port guests to restaurants and shops in our community

• Executive director of our Port, Bob McChesney, is president of South Snohomish County Tourism organization.

• The grant from the Port of Seattle to further enhance our attraction to tourists from outside our Western Washington region.

Our Port is now in the best of financial health. The Port of Edmonds financially has decreased expenses each year over the past five years, has increased revenue each year over the past five years, and will be debt-free by 2020.

Additionally, your Port has developed a vision for the future replacement of the physical facility which does not require the owners (Port residents) to pay for replacement when it becomes necessary.

Your Port, working with the City of Edmonds, has worked hard for Port residents to make the waterfront a uniquely enjoyable place to visit and spend time. For example:

• The plaza west of Anthony’s restaurant, Jazz on the Waterfront and the boardwalk used by literally thousands of our citizens

• The Edmonds Yacht Club is a great addition to our waterfront and community

• Arnies and Anthony’s on the waterfront are very real assets to our community

• Jacobsen’s Marine provides local jobs and pays taxes to help offset increases in your property taxes.

Why should voters retain you?

The work at the Port is certainly not finished. Diligence is necessary to continue the conservative financial efforts to insure that the marina can be rebuilt when necessary without additional taxes on the Port residents. Harbor Square continues to present challenges, both environmental and financial.

Most importantly, the team that makes superior results at your Port possible must continue to move forward in a cohesive manner.


Steve Johnston has had a long career in engineering/environmental firm management and as an environmental professional. He specializes in obtaining environmental permits and approvals for a wide variety of transportation, commercial, industrial, agricultural processing, waste management, data center, and other projects and facilities.

He is experienced in building highly qualified teams of scientists and engineers who can successfully put projects on the ground in harmony with their surroundings and fully protective of nearby natural resources. He has managed the investigation and cleanup of many former industrial and waterfront sites.

Johnston is a retired Navy captain, with a career that spanned 30 years of active and reserve duty, much of it in the waterfront industrial environment.

He has a bachelor’s in city planning from the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia and extensive certified training in engineering and environmental project and firm management from the Institute of Professional Practice and American Council of Engineering Companies, among others, and environmental and public port management training from the Washington Public Ports Association.

How many years have you been with the Port in an elected position?

I was appointed as commissioner in 2016 to fill the very capable shoes of Mary Lou Block, who had to resign for health reasons.

Why do you want to retain your seat at the Port of Edmonds?

I bring a strong resumé of environmental, business, and maritime experience to the Port, and I want to continue to add value to the excellent Port Commission and staff that has made the Port the incredible success it is today.

I am a 40-year resident of the Port district. I also have 35-plus years of environmental project management experience (including several projects for the Port of Edmonds), and have held senior management positions, including CEO, at one of the region’s leading engineering and environmental firms for nearly 30 years. I want to continue to provide the Port with my expertise on environmental issues and stewardship, as well as strategic vision.

In light of the city turning down the Master Plan a while back, what do you think the future holds for the port and its redevelopment?

The Port is the process of permitting and entitling the last developable parcel on Port land, located just east of Anthony’s. Our intent is to attract another marine commercial business, comparable but noncompetitive with the highly successful Jacobsen’s Marine to the north.

The Port has no plans to redevelop Harbor Square in the near future, and in fact is investing in substantial improvements to the complex for the long-term. These improvements include new environmentally friendly roofs on all buildings, new heating and cooling systems, stormwater upgrades, and flooring and pavement maintenance with a value well over $1 million, with more to come.

The $18 million in debt incurred with the Port’s 2006 purchase of Harbor Square will be retired in January 2020, the complex is at 90-plus percent occupancy, and it is and will remain a substantial revenue generator for the Port and public for the next decade and beyond.

The Port is also undertaking feasibility planning to look at a wide variety of options to support expanded tourism along our waterfront. These options include expanding marina capacity; a parking structure to serve the parking needs of the waterfront, commuters, and downtown (funded as a possible public/private venture); and development of a new pier structure to support commuter vessel operations and small Argosy-type recreational cruise ships, among others.

We are pleased to currently support a variety of tourist activities on our waterfront, including providing a base for the Puget Sound Express whale-watching venture (which will be expanding next year with a much new larger vessel); our Destination Edmonds Program for visiting boaters that attracts visitors to our waterfront and downtown; and partnering with Edmonds-Woodway High School and Anthony’s on the popular Sea Jazz concerts on the Plaza.

Have you attended Sea Jazz concerts and gone whale-watching on Puget Sound Express?

Yes, and yes! And I encourage all in the Port District and beyond to do the same. The young musicians of Sea Jazz are astounding talents. Their music and enthusiasm are inspiring. In addition to the music, it’s great to observe the true friendship and connection these musicians enjoy after the concerts.

Stick around for the fun. Thank you Edmond-Woodway High School jazz musicians for an always entertaining time.

Whale watching on the Chilkat Express is an incredible experience. My wife, Wendy, and I enjoyed the solar eclipse, Orcas, and a rare Minke Whale – all within a three-hour spectacular adventure. And the 40-knot boat ride to where the whales are is a thrill.

What is your position on both the Edmonds Marsh and the daylighting of Willow Creek? Do you support the buffer recommendations as they stand now?

Clearly, the condition of the Edmonds Marsh is the major issue for some, despite its documented improvement over the past 20 years. It is also a priority for the Port, as demonstrated by our $4 million investment in addressing stormwater issues (new environmentally friendly roofs on all buildings at Harbor Square, filters in all storm drains, cleaning of sediments from catch basins, and the voluntary hazardous site cleanup at Harbor Square).

All of these investments have had a beneficial impact on the Marsh – and represents far more investment to date than any other Edmonds Marsh stakeholder, with more to come. We are currently investigating even better stormwater filtration systems for our storm drains. The Port owns about 10 percent of the marsh, and the city of Edmonds owns 90 percent.

The city is responsible for managing stormwater – the main threat to the marsh. The city needs to step up and address its stormwater impacts to the marsh. The Port looks forward to working with the city and other stakeholders on this issue.

I fully support the daylighting of Willow Creek for future fish runs, if daylighting can be shown to have no adverse impacts on the surrounding marsh.

I know from experience that with the ultimate redevelopment of Harbor Square (likely to be many years down the road), engineered stormwater treatment features that provide much greater marsh protection than that afforded by large buffers and setbacks alone can be effectively incorporated into smaller buffer areas.

The Department of Ecology and the Tulalip Tribe have agreed on record with this position, and both have extensive experience in approving or achieving better protections within smaller buffers. I personally have negotiated the inclusion of engineered protective measures with resource agencies, with the assistance of engineers and scientists, to provide enhanced protection of natural resources as part of project development.

Without redevelopment of Harbor Square, we’ll need to continue to protect the marsh through enhanced filtration of stormwater and maintenance of the impermeable berm that separates Harbor Square from the marsh.

Please list a few top priorities for the Port going forward.

The Port has a capacity issue. Our marina is at near-capacity with a waiting list for certain-sized boats. Our developable land is at capacity or soon will be. Harbor Square and our waterfront commercial buildings are essentially leased out. This has generated a strong revenue stream, which is needed to build the reserves required to maintain and eventually replace our marina and commercial infrastructure.

We will need to continue exploring ways to keep that revenue stream strong in the coming years to assure the future of the marina and waterfront as a five-star community asset and the continuation of the Port’s economic benefit to the district and its taxpayers. We will continue to explore ways to do so.

Your accomplishments at the Port?

In my 18 months at the Port, I have provided a set of “new eyes” in a number of areas. I was instrumental in establishing means to better communicate the Port’s mission, accomplishments, performance and initiatives to the public through our new communications plan and social media program.

I have reviewed environmental processes at the Port to assure that we are in full compliance with and even exceed our obligations under the environmental regulations that govern the Port and its operations. I participated in the 2016 restructuring of the Port’s debt load that will eliminate current Harbor Square debt by January 2020.

However, many of my most significant accomplishments at the Port predated my appointment as commissioner. I was the project manager or managing principal for many environmental projects undertaken by the Port since 1989, including the cleanup of Harbor Square, environmental investigations in association with new development, design of the state-of-the art boat pressure wash facility wastewater treatment system, design of the boatyard runoff treatment system, and other projects.

I am proud to have been part of the excellent reputation the Port has for environmental stewardship, contributing to its selection of Marina of the Year in 2006, and its current Certified Leadership Green Boat Yard designation by the Clean Boating Foundation, one of a relatively few Puget Sound boatyards to achieve that distinction.

Why should voters retain you?

I am the most qualified candidate due to my environmental, maritime, and for-profit business experience. And the Port is most-assuredly a for-profit public business. Our primary charter is to bring economic benefit to the community (businesses, jobs, tourism opportunities, etc.).

Our secondary charter is to sustain and maintain the infrastructure that supports that economic benefit (marina, commercial buildings, supporting infrastructure). And we do all of this very successfully, building an impressive revenue stream that has allowed us to increase our net income (public profit) every year since the economic downturn in 2009, culminating in a $1.7 million net income in 2016 and an additional $900,000 in the first two quarters of 2017.

I have been part of the Port’s expanding financial success during my tenure. This financial performance allows us to plan and fund both the present and future as we are able to retain substantial reserves to maintain and replace infrastructure using revenues, not taxes.

Our third responsibility is to the environment. We have one of the strongest public port reputations for environmental stewardship, and I am proud to have been a part of that. Our runoff treatment system designs at our boatyard and waterfront have been adopted by other Puget Sound ports. We meet or exceed all best management practices for stormwater at Harbor Square, whose structures, buffers, and setbacks were obtained when we bought the complex in 2006.

Despite what you may hear from some, we continue to set recognized high environmental standards as a public port.


Gouge is an Edmonds resident since 1962, a marina tenant for 40-plus years and a former Port employee.

He started attending Port meetings in 1996, concerned about its finances and moorage.

He was elected commissioner in 1999, and said he helped reduce the public bond debt from $18 million to $3 million in the last 10 years.

This was done from Port revenues and restructure, not tax dollars, he said.

Since 2006, he said, the Port of Edmonds has spent almost $4 million working on voluntary environmental cleanup, new “clean-roof” systems and a new storm-water retention system.

The Port commission needs to ensure that the Port will have enough capital to rebuild the marina in 20-plus years without using taxpayer dollars, Gouge said. The marina was rebuilt from the storm of 1996 and is now 20 years old.

The Port has done this through revenues from businesses in Harbor Square, which is owned and leased by the Port, not with tax dollars.

The Port will be debt-free in 30 months with over $12 million in reserves, which will be used for the future rebuilding of the marina, any environmental remediation and capital improvements in the years to come, Gouge said.

He added that the port has not raised public taxes in the last 10 years and have no plans to do so.

As for the Port’s future, Gouge said parking pressure on the waterfront continues to increase over time.

Water-related activities such as whale watching and other activities bring in tourism and tax revenues to the city of Edmonds, but also bring parking issues associated with larger crowds.

The building of the new Edmonds Waterfront Community Center and the growing Sounder usage to Seattle will create the need for additional parking options, such as a parking garage, he adds.

The Port, Gouge said, needs to continue being an environmental steward and leader on Port properties, especially in collaboration with the city of Edmond and the state of Department of Natural Resources land along the waterfront and the Edmonds marsh.

Gouge did not specifically address questions the Beacon asked.

Next week: Challengers Lora Petso, Angela Harris and Susan Paine.


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