By Mike Williams, June 14, 2013, Coast River Business Journal
The Port of Ilwaco counts keeping the channel dredged and open for commercial traffic as its No. 1 priority, its port manager says.
Jim Neva described plans to expand the port’s boatyard and even add a proposed brewpub, but none of that means much if the fishing boats that use the yard facilities and create ambiance for the brewpub can’t get to the port.
A vessel lying high and dry on its side on a sandbar drove home the point on May 9. “Therein lies our problem,” Neva said, looking at the beached boat through binoculars at the port office. “It’s our single biggest issue. They (the Army Corps of Engineers) have responsibility to maintain our entrance channel; we do the dredging inside the marina.”
It’s tough for Ilwaco to compete for limited maintenance dollars with shipping ports such as Portland, Vancouver and Longview, Neva said.
The Corps gave the port some bad news on May 14 when it announced that it would not dredge the entrance channels to Ilwaco and Chinook in 2013 and probably not in 2014.
The decision puts Ilwaco and Chinook in crisis mode as the channels represent lifelines for the small but vital ports.
Neva said keeping in contact with state and federal elected officials as well as the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association helped the port secure an average of $450,000 a year in dredging until the past few years.
“And we got those through earmarks; the dreaded earmark,” he said. “People don’t realize there are some good earmarks too; they’re not all bad. Spartina was eradicated from Willapa Bay with earmarks from Patty Murray.”
He extends appreciation to former Rep. Brian Baird and his successor, Jaime Herrera-Buetler.
“This is a small-population county that is one of the strongest Democrat counties in the state, you’d think she’d just write us off, but she hasn’t; she’s given us real good service, probably better than Brian did,” he said.
Whether those connections will be enough to spur action on the current dredging crisis remains to be seen.
The channel was partially dredged in 2012, Neva said. “The last couple of years they’ve been hitting the hotspots,” he said. “Like where that boat’s sitting high and dry—the next time they dredge, that’ll be the first thing they look at. Their main focus is from the Coast Guard Station out…. The Coast Guard Station is the priority, so having infrastructure like that on our channel is important.”
While the port’s ability to dredge the marina is critical, having some place to dump the spoils is also a priority.
Neva said Sand Island, across from the port, is an ideal location. The island lies across the border in Oregon, but it is permitted for dredge disposal and may become an option for the Port of Ilwaco.
Room to Grow
The port’s ambitions go beyond keeping the shipping lanes clear.
Neva said port tenant Jessie’s Ilwaco Fish Co. wants to expand plant four.
The port also envisions dock space for larger boats, 100-footers, Neva said. “There’s more and more demand for larger vessels coming in to Ilwaco Landing and Jessie’s.”
Adding 80-foot slips to the marina is part of the plan, he added. The longest slip offered now is 65 feet.
The port also would like to expand its thriving boatyard with more pads and more room for storage.
“We get a lot of boats from out of the area that come here because it’s such a unique facility where they can haul out and go on a pad or go in a building under roof and work on it themselves; they don’t have to hire a contractor unless they want to,” he said. “We get quite a bit of the Westport charter fleet from Westport, Wash., that comes here every year. ….”
“I’m a firm believer we need an industrial park somewhere, off-site, out of town,” he said. “We need a place, at least 10 acres of industrial zoned property … where we can do land leases for light manufacturing to diversify our economy down here. When I think of light manufacturing I think of businesses that employ five to 10 people per business.”
The economy is better off with a lot of small businesses rather than one large business, he said, because if that big business goes down it pulls the whole town with it.
Those big businesses support the towns by paying taxes, not just providing jobs.
“It’s not just the jobs. It’s supporting the government: the ambulance levy, the school levy,” Neva said. “All of the sudden, that burden goes on everybody else.”
Brew With A View
A brewpub and 300-person event center is in the works for the port. The facility would take advantage of the marina view. Planning is in the early stages.
Looking beyond the brewpub, a hotel overlooking the marina is a possibility. It’s just one of the possibilities for the port.
Neva said it’s not just about industrial development. “You have to have a strong business core in your community,” he said.
The port sees its tenants playing a significant role in that core.
“That’s why we feel the development of this property with the brewpub is so important,” he said. “All of the sudden people will be filling in (vacant port storefronts), a lot of the storefronts downtown will fill in, and of course if we get a hotel here, then you’re off and running.”
But that development comes with a warning, he said.
“You don’t want to change who we are as a community,” he said. “We’re a fishing community; we’re not Seaside, we’re not Cannon Beach, we’re not Long Beach. And we don’t have to be. We’re something different that gives people a reason to come to the Peninsula.”
It’s important for port managers, commissioners and constituents to know what they want for their community in the long run, he said.
“A lot of time there could be a lot of public sentiment to do something with (port) property for the short-term gain, but we have to look long term,” Neva said. “We have to look 50 years from now. Somebody might want to buy this piece of property and develop it, but my commissioners said, ‘No way. No port in their right mind would sell that piece of property.’ In the short term, yeah. But in the long term? No. Then you have no way to help your economy, to do what your there to do. You’re just collecting rent.”