By Boyd C. Allen

Pilot Staff Writer

In a hastily called meeting Nov. 30, the Port of Brookings Harbor Board of Commissioners voted to approve lease transfers for the cold storage building, the ice-house, portions of the commercial dock area and some ground storage from BC Fisheries to Pacific Seafood Processing (PSP).

The lease transfers were requested because PSP — working out of the harbor as Pac Choice — plans to expand by purchasing added dock space with a hoist, the ice-house and the cold storage building, according to Pac Choice manager Brett Hester. The cold storage area would include storage areas and workspace as well.

BC Fisheries Manager Mike Manning said the deal should be completed today. Manning manages BC Fisheries and two additional companie, Brookings Harbor Cold Storage and Brookings Harbor Ice House. Those companies would sell their assets to PSP while BC Fisheries would sell or transfer a portion of its commercial dock space with a hoist to PSP.

“These changes will add new and stronger services and presence for the community,” he said, “and help the port weather the ups and downs of the various (fishing) seasons.”

The expansion of Pac Choice’s work at the port could add to the amount of product processed at BC Fisheries as well, Manning said, because it could process shrimp or crab under contract for Pac Choice.

Hester said the increased dock space would enable Pac Choice to better service the boats it unloads, and the increased storage would allow it to store more product before it is shipped to its plants in Eureka or Charleston.

Pac Choice has purchased seafood from boats at the harbor for 29 years, Hester said. The new infrastructure was needed because the company had expanded from serving six boats to more than 22 boats.

PSP operates seven processing plants on the West Coast and serves about 800 independent vessels, according to Vice President Dan Occhipinti.

Working with PSP would strengthen BC Fisheries and benefit the fleet, Manning said, by enabling BC Fisheries and Pac Choice to unload ground fish as well as crab and shrimp.

Having both companies at the port would allow more boats to be served and enable BC Fisheries to sell and process overloads, he added.

Concerns

Port Commissioners Ken Range and Richard Heap expressed concerns about the transfers in the midst of an ongoing Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation and the short notice they were given to review and act on the transfers.

Heap asked Port Manager Gary Dehlinger and Harbormaster Travis Webster if the DOJ investigation involved subjects related to the leases being transferred and if the port had anything in writing from DOJ about the status of the same leases.

Webster said the investigation does not address the leases in question, saying the investigation has to do with newer facilities.

Manning said he had not been contacted by the DOJ about any investigation, but port commission President Roy Davis said he had been contacted as had another port commissioner.

Officials at the DOJ would not comment on an ongoing investigation.

The three-day turnaround on calling a meeting was a “red flag,” according to Range, who said he was uneasy transferring leases and possibly extending them without having time to carefully review the transactions with the board. He asked to postpone any decision until the next regular commissioners’ meeting Dec. 18.

“Everybody talks about these ‘sweetheart’ leases, these problematic leases,” Range said, “and here we are looking to pass them on without an open public forum.”

Although the special meeting was announced and public, Range said the short notice countered the port’s intent to be public and transparent to the citizens represented by the board.

In fact, the opening of the meeting was delayed while Webster ran back to the port office to retrieve documents after staff realized that documents in the commissioners’ packets concerning one of the leases were outdated or missing.

Manning told the board it was imperative the leases transfer quickly because BC Fisheries and Pac Choice were attempting to complete the deal while between seasons and indicated that, if the deal closes and crab season is delayed, working with PAC Choice quickly would offer BC Fisheries and the port a revenue stream during the time before crab season opens.

While Heap also mentioned having an issue with the timing of the meeting, he said, “It’s always better to have more buyers and more infrastructure to move product.”

Davis said he too favored the deal and added he and the other sitting commissioners might not be there in six months.

“I would do this,” he said, “because I think it is good for the port.”

After wrangling over an extension for one of the leases and an explanation by Dehlinger of the current rates and Consumer Price Index (CPI) increases written into the terms, the board voted to approve the transfers and allow PSP to renew the shortest of the leases in July for a period up to five years and at a rate calculated at that time based on the base plus CPI adjustments.

The leases

According to information provided by port staff, the port board voted to transfer the following leases:

• The lease of the cold storage facility from Brookings Harbor Cold Storage to Pacific Seafood Processors at a rate of $1,028.87 per month.

• The lease of the ice house from Brookings Harbor Ice House to Pacific Seafood Processors at a lease rate of $1,051.47 per month.

• The lease of dock space, storage space and a hoist to PSP at a rate of $2,756.40.

Reach Boyd C. Allen at ballen@currypilot.com .

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