Political candidates faced some tough questions from high school students during the 11th annual Camas Youth Advisory Council candidate forum held Oct. 24 at Camas High School. A group of 11 Camas High School students who comprise the Youth Advisory Council planned and orchestrated the event.

The forum featured three sets of candidates debating for positions on the Port of Camas-Washougal Commission (CWPDC) and Camas City Council, as well as in the mayor’s office.

Port of Camas-Washougal Logo courtesy of the port.

Logo courtesy of Port of Camas-Washougal

Candidates included incumbent Bill Ward and challenger Neil Cahoon for the District 2 seat on CWPDC, Challenger Margaret Tweet and Ward No. 3 city councilmember Shannon Turk; and mayoral challenger Ken Kakuk and Camas mayor Scott Higgins.

COUV.COM will publish summaries of each debate over the next three days.

Debate 1: Bill Ward vs. Neil Cahoon,
Port of Camas-Washougal Commission

The Port of Camas-Washougal is responsible for spurring economic development and job growth, as well as providing recreational opportunities for citizens in the two neighboring cities. The Port oversees numerous properties, including Marine Park, Captain William Clark Park, the still-undeveloped Steigerwald Commerce Center, and Grove Field Airport.

The average household in Camas pays about $200 a year in taxes to the Port, which receives a total of $2 million in tax revenue per year. The Port spends $560,000 of that for debt service, and the rest is available for capital improvements.

Bill Ward

Bill Ward

During his opening statement, Ward, who is seeking a second four-year term, touted his ability to foster more community involvement in port activities and to make the Camas waterfront more viable for economic development.

“As a group we’re moving into new directions through strategic planning, through development now of the waterfront the way it should be done,” said Ward, who operates his own engineering consulting firm in Camas.

Neil Cahoon

Neil Cahoon

Cahoon, a first officer with Delta Airlines, began by describing his 17-year career in the U.S. Air Force, during which he served as a flight instructor and later as a math teacher at the Air Force Academy in Colorado. Cahoon criticized the decision by Ward and his fellow commissioners in July not to accept $10 million in Federal Aviation Administration funds to bring Grove Field up to FAA compliance, specifically by lengthening and widening its paved runway.

FAA rules stipulate that if CWPDC used federal dollars to buy adjacent property to make way for the runway expansion, Grove Field would have to remain an airport in perpetuity, a stipulation the three Port Commissioners felt would tie their hands regarding future use of the property.

Cahoon argued that the Port could get around the requirement by using local funds to purchase the land, while still taking advantage of a $10 million capital improvement project.

“The Feds have identified Grove Field important enough to be included in their national plan of integrated airport systems,” said Cahoon. “Wouldn’t you want your [federal] tax dollars returned to you, rather than spent on improving someone else’s airport?”

Ward responded by saying that if the Port had accepted the money, it would have lost local control of the airport to the federal government.

“We intend to keep Grove field as one of the recreational assets that we operate for the benefit of the community,” he said.

On the question of what benefits taxpayers receive from the Port, Cahoon criticized CWPDC for keeping millions of dollars in reserves, rather than charging the taxpayers less and using reserves for operations.

“In a down economy, I want my government to take less and use reserves to perform their mission,” Cahoon said.

Ward countered, saying the reserves are an investment in the community. They are being held aside for development of the Steigerwald Commerce Center and other sites that will provide jobs for the community.

“That’s where we’re investing our money,” said Ward. “We have nothing to be ashamed of. We are proud of our financial position.”

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