Business Oregon has lent the Port of Astoria about $20 million to expand and repair its aging infrastructure since the 2000s.
Chris Cummings, the deputy director of the state’s economic development agency, told the Port Commission on Tuesday that the agency might not loan any more money until the Port’s strategic plan is updated.
Cummings visited the Port with Business Oregon’s Ports Manager Dave Harlan and Regional Development Officer Melanie Olson, along with Mary McArthur of the Columbia-Pacific Economic Development District, to speak with the Port Commission about the need for strategic planning.
The Port is in the beginning stages of developing a new strategic plan, with the help of McArthur. The last update was in 2010. Staff have said a new one is recommended every five years. Cummings suggested continual updates to the plan each year, rather than wholesale remakes every several years.
The Port’s strategic plan in 2001 focused on developing a seafood processing cluster on Pier 2 and boatyard services on Pier 3 that drew several large tenants onto Port property, including Englund Marine & Industrial Supply Co. and Bornstein Seafoods.
But the idea for a robust boatyard sector largely went by the wayside by 2010, when the Port was approached by Westerlund Log Handlers and created a new strategic plan emphasizing log exports on Pier 3.
“It helps to see the forest through the trees,” Cummings said of a longer-term plan.
His agency manages grant programs such as ConnectOregon, a source the Port has used on several major projects, and the Special Public Works Fund. But increased demands and tighter budgets have put a strain on the programs.
The state is pushing to award grants tied to strategic plans, Cummings said, and Business Oregon wants ports to work together to be more competitive for state funding.
Part of that is having each port create a capital improvement plan so that Business Oregon can submit a prioritized list of projects statewide in need of funding, similar to community colleges, Cummings said.
“If each port does this capital improvement plan, we can then go to the Legislature and ask for a full bucket of funds,” he said. “Right now, what we see when we go to the Legislature, is that we have one-off asks from different ports.”
Port Executive Director Jim Knight said the Port’s problem is not having enough funding to keep up an aging infrastructure.
The Port Commission recently voted to end its lease at North Tongue Point, an industrial dock and former military base lauded for its railroad and river access but expensive to modernize. The land is being negotiated for purchase by a private maritime company.
Knight also pointed to the East Mooring Basin causeway, a state-designated bridge extending from 36th Street through one of the Port’s marinas to a $30 million Army Corps of Engineers breakwater. The causeway has been closed to vehicular traffic for years, and it is in danger of being closed to pedestrians as well in the next couple of years.
“The danger I see coming our way is, if we can’t fix it, why do we have it?” Knight said.