At its meeting tonight, the Port of Astoria Commission will consider making an offer to buy the industrial property at North Tongue Point from Washington Group of Montana.

The potential purchase, announced quietly through the Commission's monthly agenda, has been a background discussion at the Port for years.

With about 40 acres of concrete, 140,000 square feet of building space, five piers and 80 acres of submerged land, North Tongue Point, a former U.S. Navy base, has long been viewed as an untapped local economic development opportunity.

Port Director Jack Crider said the Port is not willing to pay the company's asking price of $7 million, but, if the commission agrees tonight, the agency is prepared to make an offer and start seeking funding for the purchase.

In 2000, the Port attempted to buy the parcel for $4 million from the Oregon Department of State Lands with Alaska's Clearwater Environmental Inc., which planned to develop a shipbreaking facility at the site. But the deal fell through, and the site was sold to Seattle's Cresmont Technical Services Inc. and Washington Marine Group, a subsidiary of corporate giant Washington Group.

Port Commissioner Bill Hunsinger said he envisions the property opening up industrial business opportunities for the county, especially if the Port can jump-start the short-line railroad that runs to the site. He said the riverfront property will help the Port attract shipping and barging companies to the area.

"The key to buying that property is, No. 1, water, and, No. 2 - the big key - is rail," he said. "If you're going to bring any industry to Clatsop County, you need rail service to make it really worth it. If you can bring air service and rail service in one year, what a great benefit that's going to be to the county."

Crider said a revenue bond, a taxpayer loan that would be repaid through revenue generated at the site, might be the best way for the Port to raise the money to buy the facility. But, he said, the property won't generate enough revenue to justify the $7 million price tag. The agency is already looking at possible tenants for the site to demonstrate its revenue potential.

"They want a lot of money for it, and we're not going to pay a lot of money," he said. "We'll see what the board says, if they want to vote on making an offer."

Before he became Port director, Peter Gearin took a stab at developing an auto-import facility at Tongue Point as president of Consolidated Automotive Resource Services Inc. He laid the groundwork for the project from 1987 to 1991 but was never able to land a contract to import automobiles. When the CARS three-year lease with the state expired in 1992, Gearin opted to not renew it.

The port meets at 6 p.m.