Vancouver, Wash., Plans for Port Expansion

The timeline is aggressive, the costs astronomical and regulatory requirements voluminous.

Most organizations would reach for the collective bottle of antacids, given those conditions.

At the Port of Vancouver, however, a sense of momentum surrounds the public agency as it embarks on its most aggressive expansion plan in decades. In fact, the plan itself has been debated for decades.

Mention Columbia Gateway today and talk centers on getting the first tenant onto approximately 500 acres of prime marine and industrial land by 2010.

To meet that deadline, port officials need to comply with enough federal and state regulatory requirements to fill nine pages of 11-inch-by-17-inch paper. The timeline stretches 12.75 feet. The port has 1,953 days to finish the work.

"You've got a lot of work to do," said Bob Moser, one of three port commissioners who got an update on the project Tuesday.

The port expects to start accepting public comment on the project in late summer or early fall.

Columbia Gateway remained nothing more than a development dream for years as commissioners came and went without turning the farmland into jobs.

In October 2003, a monumental accord was reached between the port and Paul King, a former Vancouver aluminum plant owner and bird lover. The port agreed to reduce its goal of developing all of Columbia Gateway by half.

King, in return, dropped his lawsuit to stop dredging of the Columbia River.

The port quickly settled on a basic plan to transform approximately 250 acres along the banks of the river into two auto-loading facilities and 125 acres for a bulk cargo dock. Another 90 acres inland is to be used for industry.

Part of Wednesday's workshop included rough financial estimates to develop the land. The cost ranged between $182.1 million and $233.6 million, figures that drew a few gasps.

Funding could come from a combination of operating revenues, a special taxing district, bonds, private partnerships and grants.

The prospect of finally developing Columbia Gateway even has commissioners considering what has long been a sacred cow -- selling port land.

Nobody is sticking a for-sale sign on port property yet, but Commissioner Arch Miller said it's time to at least consider selling a few parcels that don't really fit the agency's mission of job creation.

Miller said the port's waterfront Red Lion Hotel at the Quay and adjacent Boise Paper Solutions properties would be particularly appealing to a developer hoping to parlay the revival of downtown onto that land.

"Operating a hotel is on the edge of what we should be doing anyway," Miller said.

Miller would also like to see a public agency or conservation group eventually buy two Columbia Gateway parcels that won't be developed.

Larry Paulson, the port's executive director, said the momentum and sense of urgency are largely being driven by potential tenants who could move operations onto the property by 2010.

Paulson said marketing efforts by the port have identified several potential customers, but emphasized no company has signed any formal documents or made serious commitments yet.