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Tri-City Ports Pass Optimistic Budgets

by Jeff St. John
Tri-City Herald, December 18, 2005

The Tri-Cities' three port districts have passed 2006 budgets that include big plans for intermodal railroad centers, business parks and industrial buildings to promote economic growth in the region.

The Port of Benton, the Port of Kennewick and the Port of Pasco all will see tax levy rates hold steady or decline next year because increased property values and new construction are likely to increase overall tax revenues.

With properties including airports in Pasco, Kennewick, Richland and Prosser, a number of industrial and business parks and empty land waiting for development, all three ports are set for significant expansion.

Port of Benton

The Port of Benton has approved a 2006 budget that will see $2.5 million in operations expenses, up about 14 percent from 2005, and capital projects ranging from $2.5 million to $5.4 million, depending on its success in landing grants to help pay for those projects.

The port will collect about $1.63 million in tax revenue next year, said Scott Keller, executive director, only a small increase from this year due to new construction that has added to the district's tax base value.

The port has also budgeted for $2.25 million in rental and interest income in 2006, although Keller noted that could be a conservative estimate. The port also expects to keep $4 million in reserves.

As for capital projects planned for next year, they range from new buildings and renovations at the port's Prosser Airport and Richland Airport to a possible truck-to-rail transloading facility at the port's Richland Industrial Center and land development at newly-purchased property near Plymouth, Keller said.

"It's going to be very busy," he said. Exactly how busy will depend on the availability of grants for many projects, he added.

One of the biggest projects dependent on grants is a $1.3 million plan to build an industrial and office building at the port's Richland Industrial Center and improve First Street, the center's main access route.

That project, though not necessarily likely to be completed next year, does fit in with additional plans to spend about $250,000 on renovating buildings and landscaping at the 71-acre site.

Another project depending on grant money is a potential $850,000 transloading facility at the port's Manufacturing Mall in Richland, meant to give farmers a place to load products onto Tri-City & Olympia Railroad trains. Before deciding on the project, the port will also have to look at whether it will unnecessarily compete with the Railex railroad produce terminal planned for Wallula, Keller said.

At the port's Technology and Business Campus along the Columbia River in north Richland, plans call for a $120,000 extension of Battelle Boulevard to access TRE LLC's Willow Pointe development.

The 23-acre development includes plans for up to 60 homes and 200,000 square feet of office and retail space. The port plans to spend another $210,000 to complete sidewalk construction and do other landscaping and property improvements in the campus.

In Prosser, the port's plans include a $100,000 facade improvement at its Prosser Wine and Food Park, $100,000 on new pathways, sidewalks and other improvements at its North Prosser Business Park, and a $425,000 development building and $245,000 in other building acquisitions and renovations at its Prosser Airport.

Richland Airport can expect about $826,000 for projects next year, including $158,000 in runway maintenance and $450,000 to buy empty land near the airport's runway to make way for possibly extending the runway, Keller said.

And the port will enter new territory with its purchase of about 90 acres near Plymouth in southern Benton County, with plans to spend about $140,000 to bring a road and other infrastructure to pave the way for industrial tenants at the site, Keller said.

Port of Kennewick

The Port of Kennewick's 2006 budget includes plans for $1.25 million in operations expenses, including general and administrative expenses, down about 5 percent from 2005.

The capital projects plan totals $5.8 million and includes improvements to Clover Island, Vista Field airport and property development in West Richland.

The port expects to collect about $2.6 million in tax revenue next year, said Tammy Huffman, port finance director -- about 24 percent more than it will collect this year.

The port expects to keep about $10 million in cash reserves by the end of 2006, down from about $13 million, if certain capital projects require spending down those reserves.

At the same time, income from rent and operations revenue is expected to climb to $878,000, a 24 percent increase from 2005 income, as the port secures more tenants at its industrial properties and its Clover Island Marina and as its new boat haul-out facility on Clover Island comes into greater use, Huffman said.

As for the port's capital projects plan, the majority of spending will come at Clover Island, said Tim Arntzen, executive director.

Up to $3.6 million is set aside for completing the port's new combination port office and retail building, a boardwalk along the island's shoreline, narrowing Clover Island Drive and adding about 39 new parking spaces to the island, he said.

"What you can't see, but what is important, are the utilities" the port will be installing to support new private development on the island, he added.

"People are really honing in on construction here, wanting to get in on the action," he said. Prospective tenants have been expressing interest in the island, he said.

The port has also set aside $1 million in its capital projects plan for Clover Island Marina, though it's unclear when that project might get under way. Last month the port rejected a low bid of $8.3 million, which was about $3 million more than the port planned to spend to renovate the marina.

"We're cutting costs, getting it down to a more manageable level," Arntzen said. Because working on the ecologically sensitive Columbia River shore must be done from December to March, he said it's likely the port will see any work on replacing old docks not take place until late in 2006.

At the port's Vista Field airport in Kennewick, the major project for next year is a $370,000 renovation of the fixed-base operator building that houses the Tri-City Visitor and Convention Bureau. The renovations will increase the space available for the bureau, as well as add a new conference room for use by the bureau and airport users, he said.

The port has also included $500,000 in its plan for potential development in West Richland, where it owns about 12 acres at the Red Mountain Center, a 321-acre parcel where development has been proposed.

Port of Pasco

The Port of Pasco's 2006 budget calls for $5.8 million in operations expenses, up about 4 percent from 2005, and up to $8.9 million in capital projects, including a whopping $5 million for an intermodal railroad project at its Big Pasco industrial area.

The port plans to bring in between $1 million and $1.35 million in tax revenues, depending on the value assigned to new construction within the district, said Jim Toomey, port executive director -- in line with what the port will collect this year.

The port also expects to collect $5.88 million in operating revenues from rentals and fees at its Tri-Cities Airport and other properties, he said. If all the port's high-priority capital project are completed next year, the port would expect to end the year with reserves of about $1.5 million, said Linda O'Brien, port finance and administrative director.

As for capital projects, "What we're seeing next year is continuing our big focuses from last year," Toomey said.

One of the largest projects contemplated for next year is the Big Pasco intermodal project. The multiphase project would include extending a spur rail line to allow Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains to load at Big Pasco warehouses without blocking the company's main line through Pasco, as well as improving railroad access for the port's Big Pasco tenants.

"The funding is there" for the project, Toomey said, and the port is about half-done with design. But rising costs for steel and other construction materials could set limits on how much the port can accomplish next year.

The port is also planning to spend about $1 million at what it calls its "attraction area" at the northern entrance to Big Pasco, to install infrastructure and possibly build a building if a tenant emerges interested in jump-starting light industrial and commercial development in the area.

Another $100,000 is budgeted for planning and beginning to clear land along Big Pasco's waterfront, where the port envisions high-end commercial, light industrial and mixed use development.

Another $470,000 is planned to replace the port's aging maintenance building.

Then there's the constant need to maintain Big Pasco's World War II-era warehouses, adding up to about $1.27 million.

At Tri-Cities Airport, terminal restroom upgrades, building renovations and other projects are expected to cost about $670,000. And a plan to extend Industrial Way in its Pasco Processing Center is expected to cost about $190,000.

Jeff St. John, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Ports Pass Optimistic Budgets
Tri-City Herald, December 18, 2005

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