TOLEDO — Marine workers, business leaders and politicians gathered earlier this month to watch the trawler Pegasus get lowered into the Yaquina River from the former Sturgeon Bend Boat Works, a shuttered boatyard acquired from Fred Wahl Marine Construction in 2010 by the Port of Toledo.
Widening and modernizing the vessel took more than 10 months, $3 million and tens of contractors. Purchasing and developing the boatyard has cost Toledo more than $10 million, largely from state grants and loans.
Toledo’s vision to turn the boatyard into a thriving economic generator offers lessons to the Port of Astoria. The Port, under financial pressure and leadership uncertainty, has developed an updated strategic business plan while trying to rebuild credibility in the hopes of earning more state support to fix its crumbling infrastructure.
Boatbuilder Fred Wahl shut down his Toledo boatyard in 2008, focusing on the company’s shipyard in Reedsport.
“He wasn’t going to do any more maintenance on our fleet,” said Bud Shoemake, the manager of the Port of Toledo.
Shoemake, a former harbormaster in Newport and manager for Fred Wahl, saw an opportunity to fill the void amid a dwindling number of haulouts for the region’s fishing boats. Toledo studied the feasibility of restarting the boatyard and in 2010 secured more than $1.7 million in state financing and grants from the governor’s strategic reserve and brownfield funds to buy the boatyard, reopening it in 2011.
Toledo operates the boatyard as a sort of coworking space. Port staff haul out vessels, sandblast and paint to ensure environmental compliance. But Toledo invites private contractors, who pay the port an hourly fee, to do other work on boats.
Toledo’s 2013 strategic business plan, vetted in public for local support, recognized the boatyard as a primary opportunity for economic development and job growth. The state awarded Toledo a $4.7 million ConnectOregon infrastructure grant as part of a $6.2 million buildout to add a set of piers so boats could park and be pulled out by a new 660-ton mobile lift. The boatyard recently began foundation work on a new $2.9 million, 94-foot-tall building, two-thirds of it funded by yet another ConnectOregon grant.
“This is because of our strategic plan, Shoemake said of the state’s investment.
He credits the boatyard with taking the port’s staff from three to more than 40, including sandblasting, painting and welding crews, while supporting independent contractors. The boatyard saw more than 240 boats last year for everything from a pressure wash to large projects like the expansion of the Pegasus.
In addition to the fishing fleet, the boatyard has become a favored location for servicing research boats and buoys for the nearby fleets of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Oregon State University and other agencies.
Shoemake has lamented the lack of local marine industrial professionals to work on boats. Toledo recently turned that market deficiency into a $261,285 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to train welders from Oregon Coast Community College and Lincoln County School District at the boatyard.
There are only a couple of lifts on the Oregon Coast that could handle a boat of the Pegasus’ new width, said co-captain Justin Johnson. Having the expansion done in his backyard was the icing on the cake for the Toledo native.
“It really is an, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ story,” he said.
In a nod to his hometown’s new development, Johnson changed the homeport written on the back of the Pegasus, based in Newport, to Toledo.
“Toledo is the gold standard,” Dave Harlan, the ports manager for Business Oregon, said of the boatyard. “Others have done well pursuing their plans, but Bud has used his plan and planning process to demonstrate consensus and credibility and successfully attracted millions to create one of the most capable and environmentally friendly yards on the West Coast.”
The Port of Astoria hopes to finish its strategic plan, required for more state support, in September after a tumultuous recent run that included the resignation of Jim Knight, its embattled former executive director. The plan also comes after an early exit from the industrial docks at North Tongue Point, once seen as the Port’s best option for a boatyard similar to Toledo’s.
“For the next (two to four) years, the Port’s strategic focus is on returning the Port to financial sustainability, the repair and maintenance of the Port’s infrastructure, and regaining community and public trust,” the most recent draft of the strategic plan states.
Will Isom, the Port’s finance director, who was appointed interim executive director after Knight’s departure, said the agency needs to get its internal processes in order, liquidate assets it doesn’t make sense to own and leverage the money in state or private partnerships to repair the most critical infrastructure needs.
A priority is Pier 2, where fish processors can employ hundreds. The pier has secured nearly $2 million in ConnectOregon grants for past improvements, but is still in grave need of repair.
“Toledo’s obviously ahead of us in timing,” Isom said. “We have some critical needs to take care of, then we can take a look at how to expand.”
The Port’s strategic plan in 2001 envisioned a marine cluster centered around a modern boatyard like Toledo’s with a large travel lift on Pier 3. The plan enticed companies like Englund Marine & Industrial Supply, Columbia Pacific Marine Works and Bornstein Seafoods to move near the Port’s Pier 3 boatyard, but the marine cluster concept has eroded since log exports from the Port restarted in 2010.
The Port in 2017 ended its lease at North Tongue Point early to allow boatbuilder Hyak Maritime to buy the property and begin developing a boatbuilding and repair center similar to Toledo’s and Fred Wahl in Reedsport. The project recently secured around $300,000 from the governor’s strategic reserve fund to strengthen a boat ramp used to tow vessels out of the water.
The state economic development agency is pushing for a marine services niche along the Oregon Coast to service vessels from throughout the Pacific Northwest, Harlan said. Even with Fred Wahl, the Port of Toledo and Hyak Maritime, people in the ports world agree there is demand for more facilities if the Port decides to expand in that direction. The Port’s draft strategic plan references possible modest improvements to expand its boatyard.
“It would be good if Astoria would do their thing, too,” Shoemake said. “We’d support them in that. There’s enough work for everybody.”