BY JIM CARTER | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
Since its earliest days, Oregon has been a center for trade. We can take great pride in the fact that we grow, create and assemble things here that we sell other places. Over the years, smart investments made in regional infrastructure — rivers, rails, runways and roads — have provided Oregon businesses with efficient and cost effective access to foreign markets. But it is time to up our game.
This fall the Portland City Council will make a decision that has statewide, if not national, implications for Oregon’s continued trade strength — the annexation of West Hayden Island.
Located in the Columbia River between the ports of Portland and Vancouver, the 800-acre parcel has easy access to two major transcontinental railroads and sits smack dab on the edge of a recently deepened international navigation channel and an upriver barge system. This vital east/west link carries agricultural products from Eastern Oregon and as many as 11 other states to markets in Asia, Central and South America, and Australia as well as emerging markets in India.
Ultimately, the Port of Portland would like to market a 300-acre portion of West Hayden Island for future marine terminals that would handle autos, grain and mineral bulks like potash used in fertilizers and soda ash used in the manufacture of glass. The bulk of the island (500 acres) would be preserved for natural resources and recreation.
Today, the Port of Portland is the U.S. West Coast’s largest mineral bulks port, the second largest auto import gateway and the third largest tonnage port, but our current facilities are nearly fully utilized. We are simply not in a position to attract new business without new sites. While actual development may be 7 to 10 years out, annexation will provide a planning and regulatory framework as well as more marketing certainty for a public asset the Port purchased 20 years ago. Site selectors for potential private investors looking to locate here will want development sites to be as shovel-ready as possible.
Allowing for industrial development on the island will also serve to leverage the public investments made in deepening the Columbia River navigation channel. The Washington ports of Kalama, Longview and Vancouver are already taking advantage of the deeper channel with new infrastructure investments totaling more than a half billion dollars.
In fact the owners of the new Longview terminal had originally looked at developable land in Portland, but existing parcels were insufficient for their needs.
Cargo on the river system has trended upward over the long run and, according to the Brookings Institution, Portland is one of four U.S. regions poised for export growth.
From peas, beans and lentils to computer components, Oregon products will increasingly need to move to markets around the globe efficiently and cost-effectively. West Hayden Island can play a vital role in accommodating that growth.
Last March, the other Port Commissioners and I approved a resolution that memorializes a shared vision between the Port and the City that maximizes both the potential for marine industrial development and the opportunity for natural resource mitigation and enhancement on the island. Both parts of the vision are essential.
According to a study conducted by EcoNorthwest in 2010, marine industrial development on the island could spawn anywhere from 2,300 to 3,600 direct, indirect and induced jobs generating a $198 to $240 million boost to annual state and local taxes which are so vital to the types of community services that are increasingly at risk for budget cuts.
On the natural resources side of the equation, the Port will invest more than $35 million in mitigation that will include designation of open space, improvement of habitat and creation of recreational amenities and we are committed to incorporating cutting edge “green” port technologies and sustainable design elements in any future development. In addition cargoes such as coal, natural gas and containers will be prohibited.
We think this is a very balanced approach. Bottom line, Portland needs to decide if it wants to continue its historic role as a facilitator of trade for our state or if it wants to let other states and regions move goods for us resulting in significantly greater transportation and environmental costs to Oregon businesses, Oregon workers and the community in general.
Equally important, development costs must not exceed market realities. Property that is rendered undevelopable in the marketplace due to extensive mitigation requirements and regulatory uncertainty is really not zoning the property for development at all.
My hope is that Portland City Council will not only do what is right for their city, but also what is right for the state of Oregon.
To learn more about this important topic go to:
Jim Carter is President of the Port of Portland Commission, a nine-member volunteer governing body whose members are appointed by the governor and approved by the state senate.
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