Announcing the imminent acquisition of his shipwright company by WCT Marine & Construction Inc., J&H Boatworks co-owner Tim Hill pleaded with the Port of Astoria Commission during a Tuesday workshop for direction regarding North Tongue Point.
J&H, owned by Hill and his wife, Debi, has rented part of a former seaplane hangar at North Tongue Point since 2010, one of the Port’s first tenants after the agency leased the industrial dock space from Montana-based Washington Development Co. Three years ago, J&H was joined in the same hangar by fellow marine contractor WCT Marine, owned by Willie and Carol Toristoja. Hill and Willie Toristoja estimate their companies together employ between 23 and 28 people.
The Port Commission established a goal of acquiring Tongue Point. But the Port’s lease runs out in 2019, and the cash-strapped agency has no plan to finance the property’s acquisition. Jim Knight, the Port’s executive director, has said it’s hard to make commitments at Tongue Point without having a definite plan for the property.
Hill said the companies need to know whether the Port is going to acquire the land, renew the lease or let it go.
“WCT needs to have a plan from the Port of Astoria,” he said. “If it’s not to renew the lease, if it’s not to purchase, we need to know that as soon as possible.”
Port Commissioner Bill Hunsinger has been filling in as president for Commissioner Robert Mushen, who has not attended a meeting in person since experiencing a medical emergency during a contentious meeting in early April. Last Month, Mushen phoned in and said the issue was related to high blood pressure, and that he was still recovering.
Prior to Hill’s presentation, Hunsinger had added a discussion of Tongue Point to the agenda.
“It seems like there’s a change in direction of the Port in the direction we’re going with Tongue Point,” Hunsinger said.
North Tongue Point includes J&H, WCT and Pacific Coast Seafood, temporarily occupying one of the hangars while rebuilding its burned-down plant in Warrenton. Port Financial Director Will Isom said the Port has lost about $250,000 a year at North Tongue Point over the past five years.
After 30 years at North Tongue Point, marine contractor J.E. McAmis recently moved to a location at the confluence of the Cowlitz and Columbia rivers in Longview, Washington, after failing to reach a long-term deal with the Port. Port Property and Contracts Director Shane Jensen has said, although the Port doesn’t want to kick anyone out, tenants know they cannot extend their leases with the Port beyond 2019.
Even if the Port could acquire North Tongue Point, Knight said, the purchase would be of land with tens of millions of dollars worth of problems. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it, but we don’t have the financial resources yet,” he said, adding the state has declined to help acquire the property.
Knight said he is still waiting for a meeting between the Port, economic development agency Business Oregon, the state Department of Environmental Quality and state Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, about the possibility of putting North Tongue Point in a brownfield land bank. The change would provide a potential avenue to acquisition and development as part of a cleanup of historical contamination at the site.
Port Commissioner Stephen Fulton, who lost to fellow Commissioner James Campbell in the May election, will end his four-year term next month. He said the Port needs to figure out immediately what it will do at North Tongue Point.
“I hate to kick the can to the next commission, but I think this should be No. 1 on your priorities, is what are you going to do about Tongue Point,” he said.
In other news:
• The Port Commission voted to have staff award a $41,000 contract to Fox Erosion Control and Landscape Inc. to fix the deteriorated bioswale that has prevented the Port’s new Pier 3 stormwater system from being activated. The Port had been required by July to activate a new stormwater treatment system to reduce the amount of copper entering the Columbia River. The agency’s general contractor, Conway Construction Co., largely finished the project in November, but heavy rains eroded and compacted much of a bioswale in the system meant to leach metals from stormwater. Port Director of Operations Matt McGrath said Fox Erosion control is ready to start work within a week’s notice.