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Port Plans Grading, Utilities Upgrades At Bingen Point

To get federal funding

Expect to see some changes soon in the landscape at Bingen Point, and in particular around Bingen Lake.

In order to position itself to take advantage of possible federal funding, the Port of Klickitat is planning a major grading and infrastructure improvement project on its Bingen Point industrial property. The move will allow the Port to be ready with a job-creating development package if and when an economic stimulus package is approved by Congress.

"We're trying to get our ducks in a row so we're ready when the right opportunities present themselves," explained Marc Thornsbury, executive director of the Port of Klickitat. "For the economic stimulus funds, they want something that can be executed quickly. They want something that creates jobs as soon as possible, so it's incumbent on us to have as much of the groundwork in as possible."

To prepare the property for development, the Port plans to add water lines, extend sewer service, and bring utilities such as natural gas and telecommunications to about 30 parcels encompassing 43.5 acres. The area where the work will take place is zoned as "industrial park."

Another key to being prepared is to have environmental assessments and necessary permits in place.

"One of the first questions from the funding agencies is your environmental requirements," Thornsbury said. "Are they done? Have you already jumped that hurdle? We're mostly trying to get through the regulatory hoops."

Before proceeding with the project, the Port will need to obtain a "shoreline conditional use permit" from Klickitat County.

"The shoreline permit is probably the biggest deal," Thornsbury said. "It's the most significant, and where there has been the least amount of prior work."

The Klickitat County Planning Commission is scheduled to address the permit during its meeting on March 16.

Thornsbury added that he didn't anticipate any significant snags in gaining the permit.

"We are talking about filling property near the Columbia River, but it's all at least 20 feet from the river at the narrowest point, and it doesn't substantially change anything," he said.

The $6.75 million project -- which may be handled in several phases -- is expected to be completed within a maximum of five years.

According to documents filed with the Klickitat County Planning Department, "Phase one is expected to begin late Spring 2009," and it will "fully grade all Bingen Point Business Park property and provide infrastructure to serve that property."

Most of the land where the grading and infrastructure enhancements will take place is north and west of Bingen Lake.

"We're basically continuing on the north and west sides of the lake what we're already doing to the other sides," Thornsbury explained.

Grading will raise the levels of the lots to 89.5 feet to create property suitable for development. The 89.5 feet level was set because it is a full foot above the 500-year flood zone minimum of 88.5 feet as determined by hydrologic engineers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

According to the environmental checklist filed for the project, "Approximately 43.5 acres will be leveled to an 89.5 foot elevation using clean on-site and imported fill," read an excerpt. "Newly-leveled properties will be served by the installation of water and sewer lines as well as franchise utilities. Water system will be looped to meet fire flow requirements. Road system and pedestrian/bicycle pathways to, near, and/or around Bingen Lake, the Columbia River, and Bingen Harbor will be completed ... grading will cut approximately 75,000 cubic yards of on-site material and distribute it throughout the property. Additional fill of 172,000 cubic yards will be required to bring some lots to proper elevation ... imported material will be clean fill in compliance with Port policy."

The Port will observe a 50-foot setback from the Bingen Lake boundary, and will loop roads and water lines around the wetlands to avoid impact.

Thornsbury said getting started this spring was probably optimistic.

"That's the earliest it could happen, if everything falls into place. Realistically, we may be looking at something further down the road," he said. "It's dependent on being able to receive low-cost fill material, for example. But we're prepared to do what it takes to move it forward even if we have to take a half-step at a time."

Thornsbury pointed out that funding plays a big role in getting the improvements in place.

"It would be much easier if we had oodles of money," he said. "We have to put together packages of funding from different entities."

The infrastructure program the Port is working on does not include any development of the marina area.

"There will be no development of the marina per se for now," he said. "It's at the back of everyone's mind, but we haven't gone there yet."

Thornsbury added that the two parks at Bingen Point will not be affected by the planned infrastructure work.

"They will stay as is," he said.

Improvements to recreation are part of the long-range plans for the Port's Bingen Point property, however.

"Ultimately there will be a path around the lake and around the harbor," Thornsbury pointed out. "But we basically have to fund it on the back of development. We'll set aside space for it and make sure we don't develop over it, but we don't have the funding to develop that now."

One of the biggest economic success stories in Klickitat County in recent years has been the expansion of Insitu, which develops unmanned aircraft for a variety of applications. Insitu currently occupies two large buildings at Bingen Point, and Thornsbury said upgrading the infrastructure at Bingen Point may pave the way for more growth by Insitu.

"There is potential for Insitu," he said. "These parcels could provide the space for a campus, or part of a campus, or it might just be another expansion. We're waiting to get a sense of where that's going, but in the meantime, it makes sense to be prepared."

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