Douglas port commissioner says merger with Chelan port could be in the works


Talks are under way that could lead to a merger of some sort between the Ports of Chelan and Douglas counties.

The Port of Douglas County has been struggling to meet its share of funding for operations at Pangborn Memorial Airport, placing it under a financial strain.

Douglas Commission Chairman Jim Huffman confirmed talks are under way with the Port of Chelan on some sort of consolidation.

“If not an actual merger, we may be doing what we would consider a kind of a functional merger, where we would look at those aspects of both port operations that would logically be done together,” Huffman said.

Because ports are created by a public vote and have their own tax bases, such a consolidation would likely be complicated.

“So, we’re going to look at what is not necessarily impossible but what is practical,” Huffman said. ”Depending on how we deal with tax levies and those aspects, then there may be some need for going back to the public. Clearly, a full consolidation would require a vote of constituencies in both counties.”

The consolidation talks are proceeding at the same time the two ports consider changes to their joint operating agreement at the airport.

A regional task force has been exploring a new funding mechanism after Douglas County reported it cannot afford to continue paying its one-third share of the costs.

“We face a situation where (Port of) Douglas County was not able to meet, under the contract that we had, our share of the financial obligation. … It makes sense being one economic unit in the valley,” Huffman said.

Huffman, who has been a port commissioner since 1994, said he was recruited to run initially because of efforts by his predecessor and others to abolish the port.

Should the ports be merged, Huffman said, there probably would be an even number of commissioners from each county on the board.

Efforts to reach Port of Chelan officials about the consolidation, or merger, talks were not immediately successful.