Port of Portland increases public outreach efforts

PORTLAND, OR: Controversial projects before the Port of Portland have forced the public agency to improve its public outreach and education.

PORTLAND, OR: Controversial projects before the Port of Portland have forced the public agency to improve its public outreach and education.

The deepening of the Columbia River and the Superfund cleanup of the Willamette River are a couple of burning issues that led the agency to place PR in the forefront.

"The Port of Portland is at a crossroads, said Bob Applegate, senior manager of media relations and government affairs. "As (the port) has been developed, it has become more controversial, especially with environmental issues at the harbor and airport.

"The Port of Portland is a vital public agency for maintaining Oregon's and Portland's economic competitiveness, Applegate continued. "We are one of the linchpins in the economy. But the port hasn't necessarily been adept at communicating that effectively."

Applegate is new to the port, having served as press secretary for Gov.

John Kitzhaber (D) for seven years. He was brought in to improve the agency's public outreach.

Debby Kennedy, the port's former director of public affairs and now it's director of marketing, says recent surveys and focus groups revealed that the agency was not involved enough in the community, when it came to explaining the port's role.

"Right now our outreach mostly involves coffees in the evening around certain projects, and those are pretty sparsely attended, said Kennedy.

"We will look at ways for more aggressive community outreach, including education. Education will certainly be a huge part of it, especially at the middle school level."

As the port's economic role has grown along with residents' overall environmental consciousness, the agency has faced greater PR challenges.

"We need to simplify our message to the region, said Applegate. "That's the most important thing for me to do. I will work with top management to stress our accessibility and accountability because we need to be able to communicate that to our principal stakeholders, who are part of the voting public. We are a public entity with a public responsibility."

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