John Gillie, June 22, 2015, The News Tribune
The Port of Tacoma is rebooting its effort sell a nearly 750-acre property south of Olympia once planned to be the site of a large rail marshaling yard and gravel mine.
The port has had the rural tract on the market since 2013 when a sand and gravel consortium that had contracted to buy the property withdrew from the deal. The company had agreed to pay a total of $17 million in cash and sand and gravel, but backed out after paying only $1.2 million, the port announced.
Port real estate officials have sent new notices of the site’s availability to a list of potentially interested companies and individuals to remind them that the site is still on the market and to request offers to buy the property. The deadline for those offers is the end of the year.
Port of Tacoma spokeswoman Tara Mattina said the port has held “conversations” with potential buyers but has thus far received no formal offers. The port is hoping that the economy’s improved health and the demand for building materials will spark new offers.
The port bought the acreage in 2006 for $21.25 million with an ambitious plan to use the tract for a rail yard to improve the storage and switching of long container and unit trains destined for the port’s Tacoma Tideflats terminals and industrial sites. The port also sought to mine the glacial sand and gravel on the site for building activities. Together with environmental and site improvement costs, the port has invested a total of $27.5 million in the site.
Political opposition to development of the prairie site for industry, particularly by a group called Friends of Rocky Prairie, squelched the port’s rail yard plans when former site partner the Port of Olympia withdrew its support in 2008 under pressure from local residents.
The port sold the site to Maytown Sand and Gravel, a group of sand and gravel companies, but Maytown backed out of the deal in 2013. The mining company said Thurston County officials were obstructing its efforts to continue sand and gravel mining on the site by requiring additional studies and environmental hearing when the company already had valid mining permits.
The port and the sand and gravel company sued Thurston County for delaying the mining. Together, the two won a $12 million judgment against the county. That case is now being appealed by the county. Oral arguments in the case are months away, the port’s attorney said.
Environmentalists had hoped that the site could be preserved as open space and as a wildlife reserve. During the recession, however, state agencies that might have acquired the tract had no funds for such acquisitions.
The site is just south of Millersylvania State Park. Part of the land was once the site of an explosives plant.
The port is continuing to mine gravel on the site through a contract with Lloyd Enterprises. The port receives a royalty on each cubic yard of sand or gravel extracted from the site.
According to the port’s sales brochure, the port holds state permits to mine some 20.6 million cubic yards of sand and gravel from the site. Other areas of the site not suitable for mining could be developed for other uses.