By Gordon Oliver, October 29, 2014, The Columbian
The Port of Vancouver is making a big bet on North Dakota, and it’s not all about oil.
In a preliminary budget approved by the port’s Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, the port is projecting $56.8 million in revenue from operations, compared to $34.1 million expected in the current fiscal year. Most of that projected increase is expected to come from a new initiative called “Dedicated Rail Service,” in which the port would lease rail cars to transport agricultural products from North Dakota to Vancouver on rail cars that would otherwise run empty.
As proposed, the Port’s overall budget for 2015 anticipates $98 million in revenue from all sources including taxes, grants, and property sales. The port does not propose an increase in its property tax, which raises about $10 million each year. The budget would be the largest in the port’s history.
Tuesday’s preliminary approval is the first step in a budget review process leading up to a public hearing and possible vote on Nov. 18. The commission could postpone approval to Nov. 25 but faces a Dec. 1 deadline to complete its budget work.
Port officials made only scant reference to the oil transfer terminal proposed by the Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies, now operating under the name of Vancouver Energy. That project, which would not open until 2016 at the earliest, would receive an average of 360,000 barrels of crude per day at the port. The proposal is now under review by the Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which will make a recommendation to Gov. Jay Inslee
Still, about two dozen oil terminal opponents gathered outside before the commission meeting, and more than a dozen testified during the meeting’s public comment period. Among them was David Seabrook, a retired battalion chief for the Vancouver Fire Department, who read a resolution adopted by the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters in June. That resolution called on Inslee to “do all in his power ” to halt movement of crude oil though Washington until a state safety study is completed next March, and asked for Inslee to release safety plans once the study is completed.
Port commissioners approved the preliminary budget with little discussion on Tuesday, after having spent nearly six hours in budget discussions the day before. A key point of Monday’s discussion was potential revenue the port can expect from its leased rail car service between Vancouver and North Dakota. Currently, eastbound trains now carry commodities including steel, fertilizer and sand imported from Asia that is used in the process of extracting oil from shale in North Dakota’s Bakken region. The port in August signed with North Dakota’s Department of Agriculture to try generate a steady supply of agricultural products from the Midwest that the port could ship westbound on its leased rail cars.
Todd Coleman, the Port of Vancouver’s CEO, said the Port has enough shipping contracts to fill 77 leased rail cars headed westbound, and the port has authorized leases of up to 180 cars if there is demand. The port will invest in new storage facilities and other start-up costs, Coleman said. “It takes a while to gain efficiencies,” he said. Still, he characterized the $18.6 million revenue estimate for 2015 as conservative.