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Port plan for island gets tepid response

Consultant urges use of Vancouver site, not West Hayden Island
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT The Port of Vancouver owns 750 acres of riverfront land that can be 
used to accommodate the estimated 470 acres needed for new foreign trade shipping terminals through 2040. The Vancouver land also lacks the environmental constraints of the much-desired West Hayden Island.

A set of new draft reports tossed cold water on the Port of Portland's plans to develop new marine terminals on West Hayden Island.

ECONorthwest, a Portland consulting firm, tentatively concluded that there is enough available land to site marine terminals on Port of Vancouver property, which doesn't have the same wildlife habitat value as West Hayden Island.

And the economic consultant issued a lukewarm cost-benefit analysis, concluding it's "more likely than not" that benefits from the development will outweigh the costs.

In one of the draft reports released Friday, ECONorthwest found the region likely needs up to 470 acres of riverfront land for new shipping terminals to accommodate foreign trade through the year 2040, and that could be accommodated by 750 acres owned by the Port of Vancouver.

That's the same argument the Audubon Society of Portland and other environmentalists have been making for more than a decade, to fend off destruction of wildlife habitat on West Hayden Island.

The Port of Vancouver's land is on the opposite shore of the Columbia River from Port of Portland terminals, and lacks the environmental attributes and constraints of West Hayden Island.

The Port of Portland owns most of West Hayden Island -- west of Jantzen Beach mall -- and has long sought city annexation of the land and zoning to build marine terminals there.

The port and its allies say West Hayden Island represents one of the last chances for Portland to expand its marine trade capabilities and bring more family-wage jobs and business to the city. ECONorthwest cited job estimates of 900 to 1,200 from potential port terminals on West Hayden Island, plus another 2,000 to 4,000 jobs from the multiplier effect.

Environmentalists say the island represents rare bird, fish and mammal habitat close to the city. West Hayden Island also provides a rare sandy beachfront inside city limits.

To end the longrunning standoff between business and environmental groups, Mayor Sam Adams last year proposed a compromise. He suggested 300 acres on West Hayden Island be designated for trade terminals, and 500 acres be set aside for natural habitat and recreation.

Adams' proposal resulted in another lengthy round of advisory committee meetings and consultant reports, culminating in a new cost-benefit analysis and other reports by ECONorthwest. Planners, consultants and advisory committee members spent five hours on Friday vetting and debating the new reports.

Sam Ruda, the Port of Portland's chief commercial officer, praised ECONorthwest for a "job well done" Friday, but said it's difficult to predict trends in international trade.

"Anything in the international cargo realm is going to have a high degree of volatility," he said, as growth tends to be "lumpy."

Ruda noted that if the need for trade terminals is higher than the midrange used in ECONorthwest's analysis, there will be a shortage of land for terminals along the Columbia. He noted that the port has not set a timetable for when it would build, suggesting it wants the land banked for the long haul.

The city estimated that construction wouldn't begin on the West Hayden Island marine terminals until 2023, and it might take 35 years to build out the site.

Todd Coleman, Port of Vancouver deputy executive director, sent a letter to the city supporting the Port of Portland plans. Coleman wrote that his port "does not verify" the number of acres of developable land it has that were cited by ECONorthwest. Both ports should have land set aside for future marine terminals, Coleman wrote.

Potential sites

Several people at Friday's meeting grumbled that the Port of Vancouver had not been forthcoming or cooperative in discussions on West Hayden Island, and had not sent a representative to advisory committee meetings.

Bob Sallinger, the Audubon Society of Portland's conservation director, called on the Port of Vancouver to "stop playing games."

ECONorthwest economists did manage to speak with Port of Vancouver staff before submitting their draft report. On Friday, ECONorthwest's Terry Moore said his company would revise its draft conclusions if the Port of Vancouver can show different data on its available land.

If the Port of Vancouver does get the nod on future marine trade terminals, that will provide jobs for some people in Portland. However, taxes and other economic benefits would largely accrue on the other side of the river.

Eric Engstrom, a principal planner for the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, said the city can't cite industrial lands in Vancouver to meet state mandates to provide a 20-year supply of industrial land for new employment.

"If we can't find the acres, we have to make better use of the acres we have," Engstrom said.

Consultants also noted that there were three sites along the Willamette River that were potentially large enough to house marine terminals, especially if they could be combined with adjoining lands. Those are known as the Atofina, Time Oil and McCormick and Baxter sites.

One drawback: all those potential sites are heavily polluted from past industrial operations, and await expensive cleanups that could take decades.