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City, port explore ways to form productive partnership

Sunnyside port officials and city council members and staff met together last night, Wednesday, to put their heads together in forming a more productive partnership.

Sunnyside City Manager Eric Swansen stressed each entity knowing and understanding what it's role is, so as not to duplicate efforts in terms of what the port and the city would like to see accomplished in Sunnyside.

First up on the agenda was clarifying roles when it comes to economic development. City Councilman Bruce Epps brought up the Sunnyside Economic Development Association, which was surprising to some in attendance who thought the group to be defunct. Epps clarified that it's not defunct, that it's supposed to meet once a year. Epps said that Jeff Barrom is the president of that entity and that Port Commissioner Jeffrey Matson is appointed to its board.

This prompted Sunnyside Mayor Paul Garcia to note, "We have many boards in existence, but nothing ever happens with them."

The mood in the room quickly turned to one of strong partnerships.

Port Commissioner Arnold Martin said, "Working together as a community always gets more done than working as individuals."

Garcia added, "It's clear we need economic development. We just need to get better at it."

Swansen said, "If we really work together we can stop being reactive (when industries eye Sunnyside) and be more proactive."

In terms of marketing Sunnyside, the Yakima County Development Association and its role was discussed. Port Director Amber Hansen noted it's up to that association to sell the county, not the city of Sunnyside, per se. "It's up to the port and the city to sell it," Swansen noted.

Also discussed was the port's zoning of its property. Hansen said most port-owned property is zoned industrial.

Swansen expressed concern with how the port's sprayfields for its wastewater treatment plant are zoned. They are zoned industrial, so when the city asks the county for more industrial-designated land, commissioners point to the land that the sprayfields are on and say there's no need for more, he said. The possibility of changing the zoning to public facilities was discussed.

Discussed last night, too, was the airport. Swansen noted that the city stands to benefit from federal dollars aimed at bettering the airport, but that the city must provide $20,000 in matching funds to access the federal monies. If Sunnyside doesn't use the federal dollars, he said, the city will lose them.

A highly anticipated "airport layout plan" was released just yesterday, Swansen said, and must go up for city council review and adoption. In the plan are ideas for numerous projects to take place over the course of the next 20 to 30 years.

Swansen said too few people understand the airport's importance. One way that it's important is it acts as "the front door to Harborview," should evacuation of a trauma patient be necessary. Without the airport providing the way for air ambulances, vehicle ambulances must drive to the area, pick up a patient and drive back to fly out from Yakima or the Tri-Cities.

Hansen noted, "You have a commodity when you have an airport." Of Sunnyside's, she added, "It somewhere between a diamond and a diamond in the rough."

By the end of the meeting, both entities agreed upon the formation of an interlocal agreement to facilitate smooth sharing of resources between the two entities.

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