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Port director blasts Hales during Westside speech

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Port of Portland Executive Director Bill Wyatt criticized Mayor Charlie Hales for withdrawing his support from the controversial proposed propane terminal project Thursday morning.

Speaking before the Westside Economic Alliance in Tigard, Wyatt said Hales' reversal sends a bad message to businesses interested in Portland that they might not be treated fairly.

Hales originally welcomed the $500 million proposal by the Pembina Pipeline Corp. to build the terminal at the port. But Hales changed his mind after the Planning and Sustainability Commission recommended the City Council approve a land use change needed to build a pipeline for the project.

"Hales said the project does not comply with Portland's values. But what does that mean for other companies that do business at the port? Ford ships cars to China. What if someone decides they don't get enough mileage? Or what if someone thinks we shouldn't be shipping GMO corn to Korea?" Wyatt asked.

The council had been scheduled to consider the land use change on June 10, but Hales removed it from the calendar. He had submitted the original request for a land use change to the Planning and Sustainability Commission. That is a change from how similar requests are handled. Typically, the party seeking the land use change submits the request.

Wyatt said the port is considering its options for moving the project forward, but did not say what they are. Commissioner Nick Fish says he is researching whether the council has a legal obligation to hear the request, but has not yet learned anything.

When it recommended the approval, the Planning and Sustainability Commission said Pembina should pay a $6.2 million-a-year fee to offset carbon emissions from the burning of the propane that would be exported. Pembina and the port did not have a chance to discuss the proposed fee with Hales before he withdrew his support from the project.

During his Thursday speech, Wyatt made it clear he did not think such a fee was justified. He said the propane Pembina exported would replace dirtier fuels in Asian countries, reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions. Wyatt said the port had decided against encouraging the export of coal because it is such a dirty fuel.

Waytt also downplayed fears that a propane terminal was dangerous. He said the port had decided not to encourage oil exports because of recent train derailments that have caused explosions and fires. But Wyatt said propane has a much better safety record.

"You have a greater chance of being hit by a TriMet bus," Wyatt said.

Commissioner Steve Novick attended the meeting and asked Wyatt if he had to choose, would he rather have the propane terminal project proceed, the City Council approve the development of West Hayden Island, or have the Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup began. Wyatt said he would choose all three, but added the propane terminal is an appropriate project for the site because it is already zoned industrial.

Wyatt appeared before the pro-economic development group to give a State of the Port speech. He said business is booming at the port, despite the well-publicized problems with its container terminal operations, which are only a small percent of its overall export business.