Port builds momentum

Port of Vancouver operations reach milestones in 2005, eyeing short- and long-term opportunities

The Port of Vancouver reached several milestones in 2005. Among them, ship calls reached a record high, and exports grew significantly due to increasing demand for raw materials in Asia. The port saw its occupancy rate reach nearly 100 percent, and it signed several shippers to long-term contracts.

The year 2005 may be a precursor to what lies ahead for the port, as it is preparing aggressive plans to nearly double its size within the next five years.

“In the last decade, the Port of Vancouver has had one of the most aggressive capital and business development plans in the state,” said Patrick Jones, executive director of the Washington Public Ports Association.

The deepening of the Columbia River between Vancouver and Astoria, Ore., continues, and the environmental review and permitting process is scheduled to be completed by 2007 for development of the Columbia Gateway property. Construction could begin in 2008 with the first tenants in place as early as 2010. The port continues to market the property for high volume bulk products and automobiles.

The proposed use is supported by market forecasts and trends, mandates of the state’s Shoreline Management Act and environmentally-limited waterfront uses allowed at the location.

“We did a marketing study a few years ago and we looked at what opportunities were in the Columbia River, because we do have a certain set of circumstances that make us better suited for some commodities versus others,” said Todd Coleman, deputy executive director.

Market trends continue to support the proposal, but the project is not without its difficulties.

“Gateway is extremely ambitious and complex,” said Jones. “They have a very aggressive plan and are acting on it.”

Port Executive Director Larry Paulson said funding, environmental hurdles and litigation are issues the port faces. The port and WSDOT are also looking at ways to reduce rail congestion in and around the port.

“There are a lot of projects on the table we are trying to work through,” said Paulson. “It will be a challenge and may require phasing.”

With occupancy at the port near 100 percent and Columbia Gateway at least five years from accepting its first tenants, the port now has a sense of urgency for shovel-ready land in the near-term.

The port’s 2006 budget earmarks more than $13 million for capital projects.

Its short-term development opportunity is with the former Rufener Farm property acquired in July 2005 for $5.9 million. The 265-acre property is directly north of existing port facilities. More than 150 acres of the site is set aside for mitigation, and a zoning change is being sought as part of the environmental review of the Columbia Gateway project. Fifty-eight acres of the site is zoned light industrial, and $1.3 million of the 2006 budget is dedicated to immediate development of the property. The port is preparing to award a contract for site development. Industrial pads in the 4- to 20-acre range are planned for the property.

“We get a lot of inquiries for those types of properties,” said Coleman. “The big push is to get land shovel ready, which means you are basically within six months of having a facility. I would fully expect the first tenants would be in by the end of (2007).”

TriStar Transload PNW Inc. began an expansion in 2005 and has grown from three acres to 12 acres in the port, which included adding 2,500 feet of rail.

“The Port of Vancouver was extremely receptive to our business and they added rail for us in a very quick manner,” said Burke Rice, company vice president and co-owner.

TriStar is a transportation and logistics company working mostly with building materials. Rice said the company is looking to diversify its product mix and the port is helping to identify opportunities. While Rice said obstacles for TriStar and the port will continue to be based around rail and truck transportation, the port’s expansion will be good for the company.

“We will benefit as the port continues to become highly recognized on the West Coast as a better destination and origination point,” he said.

As work nears completion on a 100,000-square-foot warehouse facility, the port, with more than 1 million square feet of covered dockside warehousing, has plans to begin construction on a 72,000-square-foot bulk cargo warehouse.

“We had such an incredible year with our bulk products,” said Coleman, “that it is in our plan to be able to handle more of that next year.”

Total cost of the facility is expected to be about $2 million. Port tenant Kinder Morgan, a stevedore company specializing in dry bulk cargo handling, has immediate plans to utilize the facility, expected to be completed by June 2006.

Other planned capital projects include a 37,500-square-foot canopy to provide additional covered storage space at Terminal 3, construction of a 12-acre trans-load facility for the shipment of lumber and forest products and a 1,750-square-foot expansion of its administration building to meet future staffing needs.

In February, the port acquired 11 acres of adjacent land as part of a settlement agreement with Cadet Manufacturing, which employs 100 at its facility on 6.5 acres of the site. Cadet will continue operating at the site, and the port has taken responsibility for the ongoing environment clean-up of contaminated soil on the property.

Boise Cascade recently placed its 26-acre river property on the market. The port said it is not interested in purchasing the property. But the port has plans to relocate the rail line intersecting the property, where the City of Vancouver has plans for redevelopment. Conceptual plans call for relocating the rail line intersecting the property to run along the south side of Seventh Street, just north of the Boise Cascade site, to serve port tenants and relieve congestion on the north-south rail lines.

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