Port of Astoria Executive Director Jim Knight asked the Port Commission Tuesday: What should the Port do with North Tongue Point?

“I’d appreciate hearing your opinion about Tongue Point,” Knight said, adding that the Port would establish the parameters of discussions with the multiple groups that come forward with proposals for the land.

North Tongue Point, somewhere between 30 and 40 acres, includes five finger piers, a rail spur and Columbia River channel access and more than 140,000 square feet of World War II-era hangar space meant for an amphibious U.S. Naval base.

The Port Commission unanimously voted Sept. 29, 2009, to execute the lease on North Tongue Point with the Missoula, Mont.-based Washington Group, lasting 10 years.

The majority of the Port Commission agreed that while the property has great potential, the Port doesn’t have the money to unilaterally improve it into a modern shipping facility, which Knight said would take hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Tongue Point is the only future for us right now,” said Commissioner Bill Hunsinger, referencing the area’s freedom from building restrictions in the Astoria Riverfront Vision Plan. The land has rail and deep water access to things that can’t be regained if the Port walks away, he said.

Hunsinger supports buying North Tongue Point, on which the Port’s lease from Washington Group runs for nearly another five years at more than $300,000 annually. The Port has spent about $1.6 million on lease payments, said Knight, and has a fairly equal amount to pay in rent on the remainder of the lease. It has had multiple suitors for the property, but nothing has materialized in a deal.

“It’s a good location, but the Port can’t afford it themselves,” said Commissioner James Campbell, a previously stated proponent for keeping the lease at North Tongue Point. Campbell has been a tenant of the property since 1980 through Campbell Towing & Marine Construction.

Commissioner Robert Mushen said the worst thing to do would be to walk away from the lease, adding that while the Port doesn’t have the money to develop it, the best option is to find a partner that does.

Commission Chairman John Raichl said that while he knows the least about the Tongue Point lease, he agrees it’s a dysfunctional property with potential that the Port should only stay in if it doesn’t jeopardize what the public already owns through the Port. He recommended including the public in the decision.

The Port should get a consultant to tell it about shipping trends and the possibilities for North Tongue Point, said Commissioner Stephen Fulton.

Knight said industry shippers are looking at ways to privatize port operations. He asked commissioners if they’d be willing to privatize North Tongue Point if it would ultimately create more jobs than are already there and improve the property.

Oregon has been a pioneer in keeping its waterway public, said Mushen, and he’d hate to see Tongue Point go private, even if it created some extra tax revenue.

The Port needs to protect the multiple hundreds of jobs at North Tongue Point, he said, requiring any partner to guarantee that employees would hire locally and provide continuity. Pacific Coast Seafood’s temporary plant subleased from Del Mar Seafoods accounts for most of the jobs, along with J&H Boatworks, J.E. McAmis Inc., NRC Environmental Services and others.

The Port’s obligation is to its current tenants, said Raichl, and it has to make sure local jobs are being created by any venture. He reiterated the need for more public input.

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