Local economy focus of Port commissioner race

Sunnyside's economy and how to improve it is at the core in a race between challenger Brent Cleghorn and Port of Sunnyside, Dist. 2 Commissioner Jeff Matson.

Cleghorn says his priority is to "lower costs and be more helpful to our commercial businesses here in Sunnyside."

Cleghorn, who participated in this interview via e-mail because he was out of town, added, "A city can't survive without a strong business core. It seems that we have lost many more businesses than we have gained in the last several years. I will work to curb the loss, and attract the new."

He says the Port of Sunnyside is not doing enough to build the local economy.

"The Port has not been as effective as they could be in that regard. They have property available, but seem unable to attract new business here," says Cleghorn, a salesman for Marketing Concepts. "I sell for a living, and will use my talents to help sell new businesses on the benefits of Sunnyside."

Matson, an accountant who has served on the port commission for 16 years, notes there has been progress made by the port, even in the current down economy statewide and nationwide.

He noted the development and opening of the Golob's Landing business park, as well as property near Midvale Road that has been recently developed into a propane storage site for Bleyhl's.

"Economic development is not dead," Matson says, noting, too, the arrival of American River Ag near Midvale, as well as a crop dusting business based at the Sunnyside Airport.

Matson says the port's priority now is gearing up for when the economy does improve.

He pointed to vacant Port of Sunnyside property on Midvale Road that has had utilities extended, as well as environmental reviews completed.

"We're working to get property ready, making it more attractive, because the economy will turn around," Matson says. "The community that is ready will get the development."

Sunnyside airport

Another key element in this port race is the Sunnyside Airport. The port may manage the airport for the city of Sunnyside if an interlocal agreement is reached.

Cleghorn is a former Sunnyside Planning Commission chair and during his time there an overlay zone for the airport was a point of contention.

"What I saw while on the planning commission was a small group of people, including the port, that were very pro airport at the expense of a lot of property owners around the airport," Cleghorn said by phone.

"That overlay affected people a mile out and I didn't think it was right," he added. "I want to see the airport thrive, but not at the expense of everyone else. It has to be a balanced effort, good for everybody."

Matson counters that airport improvements and possible future expansion are good for Sunnyside.

"It's an asset to the community. The important thing is that the airport moves forward," Matson says.

He notes that improvements at the airport could eventually make it possible for Sunnyside to accommodate life flight helicopters year-round.

Matson says the Port of Sunnyside several years ago purchased 40 acres near the airport with the idea of using it to expand and enhance the airport. "I think there will be economic development out there," he said.

Matson cautions that economic development is a long-term proposition. Golob Landing, he notes, required 10 years of planning before it finally opened for business.

Wastewater plant

One of the port's ongoing efforts is maintaining an industrial wastewater plant.

"Our commercial businesses are less than happy how that has worked out for them," Cleghorn asserts.

He says work needs to be done on behalf of the plant and its customers. "If elected, I will work with business to transform the wastewater issue into a win-win scenario for them and the port."

Matson says the plant is nearly at the end of a five-year permit cycle, and progress is in the works.

He noted the port is working with the Army Corps of Engineers on developing a wetlands project that will be a benefit to the port and its industrial wastewater clients, as well as to fish and wildlife habitat in the Yakima River.

Why they're running

"It is time for new blood in the port. I feel the port and city council have lost their way and no longer represent what is best for all the citizens of Sunnyside," Cleghorn says. "We need fresh ideas, and a new perspective to turn our city around and restore it to the gem that it was."

Matson, a member of the Sunnyside Kiwanis Club and the Patriot Guard Riders, says he is seeking re-election because, "I've been working on economic development in the community for more than 15 years. It's a way for me to give back to the community and I'd like to do it a few more years."


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