Leading a proactive port

OPB photo

Port of Camas/Washougal Executive Director David Ripp
Port of Camas/Washougal Executive Director David Ripp wants to lure tenants by providing more shovel-ready land at the port. Photo: Buck Heidrick
In particular, according to Executive Director David Ripp, the Port is helping “prime the pump” by completing pre-development planning and permitting. That way, he explained, when a new tenant or owner shows interest in a property, it might only take nine months to move in, instead of 18.

Employment land

“The port has an aggressive goal to have shovel-ready ‘employment land’ available as soon as possible,” said Tim Schauer, president and CEO of Vancouver-based engineering firm MacKay & Sposito (M&S).

M&S has worked with the Port of Camas/Washougal on master planning and preliminary engineering for the port’s
120-acre Steigerwald Commerce Center. Ripp said the property is the “largest contiguous undeveloped tract of industrial property in the county.”

Because the property is behind the Columbia River dike, stormwater must be mechanically pumped over the dike when the river is high. One of the first hurdles to developing the property, explained Ripp, was determining if the stormwater pump station for the property (built more than half a century ago by the Corps of Engineers) could handle the quantity of water generated by a fully built-out industrial park.

It took almost two years of working with the Corps, said Schauer, but the resulting capacity report indicates the pump station can handle the stormwater flow. Now, said Ripp, the port is moving ahead with phase 1 of the project, which will comprise about 30 acres. Ripp said the board of commissioners had recently approved expenditures of $163,000 to MacKay & Sposito for construction engineering, $23,000 to Longview-based Ecological Land Services Inc. for environmental consulting, and $12,000 to Vancouver-based Columbia West Engineering Inc. for geotechnical consulting.

Through pre-construction engineering, said Schauer, “we’re trying to resolve all the details of stormwater solutions, for all lots – not just for streets.” That way, he continued, new owners or tenants don’t have to embark on such a difficult process, and don’t have to pay the next engineer so much. Plus, he said, having plug-and-play property available leads to higher property values.

Schauer said the city of Washougal has signed a 20-year “overall development agreement” for the project that anticipates all future impacts (such as stormwater and traffic) for full build-out.

“They are very interested in seeing this move forward,” he added.

Phase 1 will include about 1,500 feet of infrastructure, such as water, sewer, curbs and gutters, and power. The port also received a $1.5 million grant for the project from the state’s “Bonds for Jobs” program. Ripp said the entire cost for phase 1 will be about $2.5 million; full build-out will cost about $14 million.

Hambleton property

Another project that meets the port’s goal of removing barriers to tenancy is their work concerning the 25-acre former Hambleton Lumber Company property. Ripp said the port had received a $200,000 “integrated planning grant” from the state. These grants, he explained, motivate various agencies to “look at blighted property and bring it to a higher use.”

“We hope that by obtaining this grant, we can initiate interest from developers,” said Ripp, adding that possible environmental concerns about the property have made developers cautious about purchasing it. However, he said local development firm Killian Pacific is now “working with the Hambletons on purchasing the property.”

Columbia Manufacturing and Technology Center

Working through the newly formed Camas Washougal Economic Development Association (CWEDA), the port has also helped address stormwater and permitting issues associated with the former St. Gobain facility, which features nearly 100,000 square feet of manufacturing space located on ten and three-quarters acres. The facility is now under new ownership, renamed the Columbia Manufacturing and Technology Center, and is actively looking for new tenants. Paul Dennis, CWEDA president and CEO, said that CWEDA facilitated a meeting with the city of Washougal and the owners of the property. During that meeting, the city agreed to recognize all past permitting fees, unless a tenant was significantly upsizing.

“The city was very helpful,” said Dennis.

Things didn’t go so well with the state stormwater permitting process, however. One of the new tenants, Sapphire Materials Company, had to reapply for a stormwater permit, which had been canceled when St. Gobain moved out.

“It seemed like it would be a simple analysis,” said Dennis, because Sapphire would grow crystals just like St. Gobain had. But, he explained, the property owners had to hire an engineering firm and spend a considerable amount of money.

“That’s three full-time jobs that could be there right now,” said Dennis.

It wasn’t until after the governor got involved and made some strategic calls that the stormwater permit was approved – after five months of negotiation. Dennis said Sapphire wanted to be producing crystals by September of last year, but couldn’t open their doors until January.

“They lost of a lot of time getting into the market, and suffered cash flow issues,” said Dennis.

But now, with fees negotiated and the stormwater permit in place, the entire property is “about as plug-and-play as
you can get,” said Dennis.

These types of efforts to shrink the time for decision-making and groundbreaking when a prospective tenant comes
along are very important, noted Schauer.

“Taking a long time to decide if a property is the right fit kills deals,” he said.