By JESSE BURKHARDT
Following approval of a change in zoning, Bingen-based Innovative Composites Engineering (ICE) is ready to move forward with building a business campus just outside the White Salmon city limits.
ICE has gained the county's OK on its proposal to change the zoning on a 20.06-acre parcel of land on Main Street from "residential" to "general commercial," and plans to build a new home north of the Hunsaker Oil bulk plant at 1107 N. Main.
Specifically, the parcel where ICE plans to build is bordered by N. Main, DeWalt Drive, and Snowden Road.
In late May, the nine-member Klickitat County Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the required zoning change, and on June 2, the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners voted 3-0 to approve the rezoning.
With that key hurdle cleared, ICE President/CEO Steve Maier said he hopes to begin construction of the new facility soon. Once the building is operational, the ICE operation will have grown from its current 9,700 square feet at Bingen Point to 52,000 square feet in the new facility.
After outgrowing its operations center at the Port of Klickitat's business park at Bingen Point -- and with no room to expand at that location -- ICE was recently on the verge of leaving the state for Idaho. That would have meant dozens of high-tech, high-paying jobs leaving the local community.
Port of Klickitat Executive Director Marc Thornsbury said he understood why ICE had to look beyond Bingen Point if it planned to stay in the community.
"We are definitely full here," Thornsbury said. "There's no doubt about that."
Frank Hunsaker offered to make some of the land next to the Hunsaker Oil plant on N. Main available to allow ICE room to grow, thereby keeping dozens of vital jobs from leaving the area.
"It's good news for the town," said Klickitat County Planning Director Curt Dreyer. "A business is not only being retained, but will expand."
ICE manufactures composite materials that are stronger, lighter, and better able to resist corrosion than other metals. ICE's customers include corporate giants in the aerospace and defense industries, such as Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman. ICE products are also used in recreational applications such as biking, backpacking, and windsurfing.
The innovative company currently employs 40, and expects to have between 60-80 employees once the new building opens.
However, ICE does not yet have everything it needs to begin construction of its new home.
"Now we're waiting on the building permit from the county," Maier said on Monday. "We thought we'd start in early June, but here we are almost into July and still don't have a building permit."
As part of the zoning approval, a consultant recommended a mitigation plan ICE must adhere to with its building proposal. ICE must create a wildlife management plan for the property, primarily for gray squirrels, the only state-listed species on the property; must plant trees conducive to squirrels; must time construction work to avoid squirrel nesting season and provide buffers; and must remove invasive species from the property.
Maier said he remained optimistic the county will issue the building permit soon.
"In theory, we'll start moving dirt late this month, but we're in waiting mode right now," Maier said. "At this point, we're behind the curve already. We probably won't have the building completed until next April. We'll start whenever we get the permit."
Maier said he wouldn't decide until next spring whether ICE will continue to use its existing space at Bingen Point, or whether everything will move to the new site.
If ICE vacates, Thornsbury said he wasn't yet sure what will happen to the building ICE now occupies at Bingen Point.
"If and when ICE moves, we would go in and do maintenance work on their building while there is no one in there, and then lease it back out," Thornsbury said. "There have been a couple of inquiries. Folks are looking for 3,000-7,000 square feet. There is definitely interest, but it has waned due to the economy."