With Hyack Maritime preparing to close on its purchase of North Tongue Point next month, the Port of Astoria Commission voted 4-1 to give a proposed termination agreement to landowner Washington Development Co.
The Port Commission in August approved sending a letter to the company seeking a termination of the lease. Hyack presented its plans to turn the deteriorated, but appealing, industrial dock into a shipyard. Port Commission President Frank Spence said Hyack is scheduled to close on the property Dec. 1.
The Port started a lease at Tongue Point — a former World War II-era boat plane base — in 2009, but has been unable to bring in a major tenant in or make significant improvements to the docks.
Executive Director Jim Knight said the Port has lost an estimated $2 million at the facility since leasing it. The Port pays $350,000 in yearly rent, with an option to buy the property once its lease expires in late 2019. The proposed purchase price was more than $5 million, too high for all the work that needs to be done to modernize the facility.
Spence and Commissioners Dirk Rohne, James Campbell and Robert Stevens have supported the effort to leave. Commissioner Bill Hunsinger has vehemently opposed to the idea of leaving Tongue Point.
“Tongue Point is the future of the Port of Astoria,” he said. “It’s the expansion we need.”
Hunsinger, a commercial fisherman and retired longshoreman, has argued the Port never properly marketed Tongue Point or created a plan to buy the facility. He accused the Port staff of planning to sell Tongue Point without giving the public a decent chance for input, adding he thought about filing an injunction against the lease termination.
A large contingent of longshoremen, the Port’s dockside labor force, attended the meeting. Local chapter President Chris Connaway and Marvin Kelley both spoke against the departure.
“The bottom line is the loss of the railhead relegates the Port to mediocrity at best,” Connaway said, listing products from steel to lumber that could be shipped cheaper by rail.
He implored the Port Commission to look at the Port of Grays Harbor in Aberdeen, Washington, a riverside dock with a rail spur and multiple imports and exports.
Kelley argued the Port could sublease North Tongue Point to Hyack Maritime, still make money and not lose the asset.
Knight said the Port will send a proposed lease termination document to Washington Development Co. for negotiations.
“I can’t promise you at this point that this is the final accepted document, but it does, for the Port, convince our community and the landlord and the future boat-builder of this community that the Port is not trying to stop the termination of the agreement,” Knight said.
“We feel comfortable and confident in their ability to have a new employer in town that will create jobs that I think will become very important to our community.”