Columbia Gateway tenant on the hook

A much awaited tenant may soon be housed at Columbia Gateway. The Port of Vancouver USA commissioners approved signing a letter of intent with Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics Americas LLC, a major international auto shipper. The port would be the company’s Northwest hub, and a half million autos would come through the port, ramping up as soon as early 2011.Oslo-based WWL, along with the port, plan to develop and construct an integrated marine terminal and vehicle processing and distribution center at Columbia Gateway Parcel 3, adjacent to the deep water channel.

The port estimates total annual economic activity in excess of $453 million and an annual increase to state and local taxes at $28 million. Revenues to the port are estimated in excess of $300 million over an initial 20-year term due to land use, dockage and wharfage fees, and rail revenues.

The port could see an increase of as many as 1,193 direct jobs at an estimated annual payroll of $62 million and 3,400 indirect jobs, according to a report compiled for the port by consultant John A. Martin and Assoc.

“Family wage jobs are harder to come by as everything goes overseas,” said Cager Clabaugh, president of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 4. “But here we are capturing it as it comes back.”

Clabaugh estimated that by adding 22 car-carriers a month to the port’s  current two at full build-out, work from the new tenant could “double the Local,” bringing it from 201 registered members to 400. He said if the proposed Industrial Development District levy passes, and with other projects “on the hook” at the port, membership could increase to 600 in the next five years.

“People will move here for these jobs,” he said.

Port of Vancouver USA Senior Director of Marketing and Operations Alastair Smith said WWL is known for their environmental stewardship. Indeed the Sweden-based company has won several awards for its environmental investments, most recently the 2007 Thor Heyerdahl International Maritime Environmental Award.

The port will fulfill the permit requirements and prepare the more than 300-acre site for construction, while WWL will construct the facility. The port will also provide infrastructure to the site, including a “neutral rail lead” and construct the marine docking facilities.

The lion’s share of cars shipped to the port by WWL – 85 percent – will be transported out by rail, and according to the port, the company was attracted, in part, to Vancouver because of the port’s convenient access to rail, including the West Vancouver Freight Access Project.

“WWL has been looking for growths opportunities on the west coast,” said Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics Director of Corporate Affairs for Region Americas. Various conversations in Vancouver identified lots of potential.

“Rail is a critical element to be able to move vehicles inland.”

Smith expects the port to be able to turn over the property to WWL by the first quarter of 2010 and that construction would be completed 12 months from that time. At the final phase the project will require a site of up to 334 acres with rail, two floating docks and the ability to accommodate 900-foot vessels.

After two years of developing the deal and nearly two decades of waiting for development to come to Columbia Gateway, the port commissioners didn’t hold up the last-minute signing for a moment.

“I’m so excited,” said Commissioner Nancy Baker.

“Commissioner (Bob) Mosier and I wondered if we would ever see it developed,” said Commission President Arch Miller, who is up for re-election. “I always said I wouldn’t leave until it was done.”

WWL annual carries more than 2 million vehicles by sea and 1.5 million by road. The company serves 19 trade routes to five continents. The other three Region Americas hubs are in Baltimore, Brunswick, Ga., and Port Hueneme, Calif.