The city of Warrenton is entertaining an offer to trade 43 acres of Tansy Point it owns for 20 acres on Dolphin Avenue.

After a few months of negotiations, the Warrenton City Commission finally received an official proposal late last month from Warrenton Fiber, which leases the Tansy Point property. Warrenton Fiber would give the city a brand-new Public Works facility, in addition to the land on Dolphin Avenue.

But Tansy Point, a waterfront property with a naturally deep-water frontage on the Columbia River is a priceless piece of land, according to some who are forming a team in opposition of the trade.

That team includes former City Manager and Mayor Gil Gramson; Budget Committee member and former candidate for the City Commission Ken Yuill; Former Tansy Point shrimp cannery worker Terry Miller; property neighbor and former candidate for the commission Roble Anderson; and perhaps most importantly, the descendant of the Carruther’s family who gifted a portion of the Tansy Point property to the city, Todd Dowaliby.

“My main thing is that if that property finds itself in private hands, we might find ourselves in the same position that led my grandfather to deed the property to the city in the first place,” Dowaliby said. “It could be a situation of eminent domain.”

Eminent domain is the power to take private property for public use by a state or national government.

The commission will host a work session open to the public at 6 p.m. Tuesday to receive more information about the proposal.

Until then, many are left to wonder what will happen to Tansy Point, if a liquefied natural gas terminal is a factor and how the city acquired it in the first place. 

LNG has been one of the more prominent public theories for the property, and Tansy Point was mentioned in a 2005 Willamette Week article as a possible LNG location. Warrenton Fiber owner Martin Nygaard was reported to have been working with international LNG consultants and floated the idea. But Dave Nygaard, president of Warrenton Fiber, said Wednesday LNG has absolutely nothing to do with the trade.

“This trade will mean that we can spend some money here,” he said. “One of the problems is that we have to turn it back to the city in 21 years and we hesitate to put in very expensive improvements without owning it.

“It has nothing to do with LNG and we’ve told the city we’re willing to write that into the contract. We’re in business here and we want to continue to be in business. This is what we do.”

A new Public Works building

It’s a story of Native Americans, a tuna-canning-machine inventor and a gift to the city that has kept on giving – until now.

“For the city of Warrenton, it’s the goose that lays the golden eggs to the current tune of $100,000 a year in revenue,” Anderson said. “To sell Tansy Point to a private entity would be to kill the golden goose.”

At the April 22 City Commission meeting, Warrenton Fiber presented a trade offer to the city that would include 20 acres and the full construction of a new Public Works facility to Public Works Director Don Snyder’s specifications. Snyder estimated that facility, if built by the city, would cost $4.6 million. Warrenton Fiber would build the facility and hand it over in a turnkey operation.

Warrenton Fiber would also do grating on the remaining acreage, in case the city wanted to develop something else, Mayor Mark Kujala said. Until now, Kujala and the rest of the City Commission have not been involved in the negotiation process. The April 22 meeting was the first time the commission had a chance to view it. The proposal that included a map was “pretty sparse” in terms of description, Kujala said.

John Nygaard presented the property proposal to the city.

Tansy Point has been appraised at $3.8 million.

But a few members of the public spoke during that meeting, and voiced concerns over the sale of Tansy Point in general.

The work session was scheduled to allow the commission and the public to get their questions answered.

“For the most part, they seemed very concerned that the commission was even entertaining the possibility of a sale,” Kujala said of those giving public comment.

The history of Tansy Point

In 1850, the land served as the namesake for the Tansy Point treaty negotiations, held with the Clatsop Indians. The land was supposed to remain with the Native Americans, but the treaty was never ratified by Congress. The land was eventually taken and distributed by the U.S. government.

Since then, the land has held immense potential for access for the Columbia River.

“It’s a nice piece of ground,” said Miller.

Before the city was gifted the property, it was owned by the Carruthers. Eben Carruthers invented the first tuna canning machine.

“My grandfather was an inventor,” Dowaliby said, who compared the company to that of Lektro or AgBag, both local companies that have created “good family-wage jobs,” just like the Nygaards have done with Warrenton Fiber.

In the 1970s, however, the land was deeded to the city in three parcels by Eben and Nancy Carruthers, a gift following a threat for condemnation by the government. A governing body cannot condemn another governing body, so the land was gifted to the city.

In the gift deed of 1977, Parcel 1 was to be used for a residential area, for only single-family dwellings. Parcel 2 was for a park and “cannot be sold, transferred, bargained, or otherwise conveyed by grantee herein.” And Parcel 3, the parcel the city of Warrenton is in negotiations to trade to Warrenton Fiber, “may not be sold by the city, however, may be subleased or leased by the city.” Parcel 3 sits on 8.7 acres, which is a portion of the 43 acres in negotiation.

The deed goes on to list permitted and prohibited uses of the space, including the permitted use of the land for docks, terminals for freight and passenger and mooring locations, among others, but prohibited bulk storage areas and processing of material of ore and coal.

“The purpose of these restrictions and covenants is to insure the use of the property conveyed herein for attractive residential purposes and to prevent the impairment of the attractiveness of the property and maintain the desired tone of the community, to provide areas which are primarily suitable for marine dependent activities which require location on the critically limited waterfront resource and to insure the compatibility of waterfront usage with surrounding land usage,” the deed reads.

“They gave it to preserve the land for the public,” Dowaliby said of his grandparents’ donation. “To keep it in the public’s hands.”

Yuill, who served two terms on the city’s budget committee, said he was concerned that the city is giving citizens, like the Carruthers, the Robinsons and the Baldwins, the wrong idea about donations to the city. The Robinsons donated money to the ballfields; the Baldwins established a scholarship for local children.

“This is giving the citizens the wrong impression on donating,” Yuill said. “Mr. Carruthers gave that with all the intention of it staying in the hands of the people, so that it wouldn’t be overtaken. He wanted to make sure it got used the way he wanted it to be used. As citizens, we’re so fortunate he donated that property, and all the community members who donate to the city for the residents. ...

“When city officials abuse this, however, why would anyone else want to donate when officials will just do what they want to do with it, not how the person who donated it wanted it to be used.”

Warrenton Fiber comes in

After more than eight years in the city’s possession, Warrenton paid $81,200 to the heirs of the Eben Carruther’s estate in December of 1985 to lift the deed restrictions on a little more than five acres of Tansy Point to make way for Warrenton Fiber-Nygaard Logging. The restrictions held a reversionary clause that would give the land back to the family if the city violated its terms. In November of that year, the Warrenton Planning Commission had granted a conditional use permit to Warrenton Fiber and the Carruthers’ heirs challenged that ruling, resulting in the payout. Warrenton Fiber had to leave its Tongue Point site by Dec. 20, just a few days after the decision was made to pay the estate.

According to its website, Warrenton Fiber operates a log sorting and storage yard, deep-water and barge cargo docks, and a log barking and chipping facility at Tansy Point. Warrenton Fiber’s-Nygaard Logging’s operations include timber harvesting, rock crushing, road building, land development and wetland mitigation.

The city has earned a revenue from the business’s lease, which will total more than $230,000 per year when the lease is up nearly 20 years.

Prior to October 2001, however, the city was bringing in close to $245,000 a year from Warrenton Fiber’s lease. It was at that time the city granted the company a break in the rent after Warrenton Fiber put in a deep-draft bulkhead dock on the property with city-purchased materials. Paying more than $20,000 per month to lease the property from January to September 2001, Warrenton Fiber’s lease was reduced to $6,180 a month for a little more than four years. It gradually increased to $7,180 from Jan. 1, 2006 to Dec. 31, 2010, and to $8,180 until next fall. Then, the monthly rent will increase to $15,180 per month – nearly double what the company pays now.

The company’s lease expires in 2035, when rent is scheduled to be $19,180 per month.

From a business standpoint, Yuill said, his other concern is the money. He said he watched the city of Warrenton scramble over the years to make up for a lack of revenue in the general fund. He said when the city needed a new paid firefighter position, it didn’t have the funds to make it happen so it began charging a franchise fee to the city’s Public Works department for water and sewer lines, Yuill said. Then, when the city’s Public Works came up short, the citizens were charged a 5 percent increase for water and sewer. Taking away the Tansy Point funds would leave the city in a challenging position, he feels.

“There’s been no mention whatsoever on what the city will do without that money in the general fund,” Yuill said. “They haven’t addressed how they’ll offset that cost.”

City Manager Kurt Fritsch said there would be a small impact to the budget, but without a deal approved those numbers haven’t been looked at extensively. He says he believes the lack of funds would be made up from the capital fund. With the city’s maintenance expenses at the port, it would total approximately $85,000 in net loss.

Other options originally discussed during the negotiations included Warrenton Fiber trading the land and building, while continuing to pay rent for up to five years. In the written proposal, that option was not addressed.

Why the city needs the Dolphin property

It’s been a City Commission goal for years to get the 1-acre Public Works facility that sits across the street from City Hall relocated, Fritsch said.

Freeing up the downtown space from the current operation would allow the city to put that piece of land on the market if Public Works takes up residence on Dolphin Avenue.

“Their proposal will be laid out for us at the work session,” Fritsch said. “It will be 20 acres, with a turnkey facility on it to house our public works, and leave room for current and future expansions.”

The Dolphin Avenue property is outside of the tsunami zone. Public Works would be housed on approximately 4 acres, leaving the additional acreage for city improvements. Some of those could include a fire training facility or a driving course for police and other emergency services. Fritsch said those are only ideas, as any decisions would have to go through the City Commission, but those types of facilities could be opened up to other jurisdictions.

“We didn’t want to look at just cash for Tansy Point or raw land for raw land,” Fritsch said. “There’s an advantage to negotiating, and a cost avoidance for us in the future, to get Public Works out of the downtown area, which is what the commission has desired for years.”

Snyder, the Public Work’s director said the property on Dolphin Avenue would be more compatible with the type of operation the city operates.

“We’re kind of a blemish on the downtown in the middle where we are. The property is higher, it’s out of the tsunami zone and it’s better for emergency response,” he said. “But the decision will be up to the politicians to decide if it’s a good deal for the city and the taxpayers or not.”

Work session scheduled for Tuesday.

       

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