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Port Director Discusses Insitu, Rumors

Question, answer session

By JESSE BURKHARDT

The Enterprise

Port of Klickitat Executive Director Marc Thornsbury has been under the spotlight lately. The Port has been taking some heat from those who wonder why Insitu might have to leave the Port's property on Bingen Point -- where the company has been based since its origins -- in order to find the acreage and infrastructure it needs to build a proposed business campus.

Insitu, which designs and builds unmanned aerial vehicle systems, anticipates growing to 700 employees soon and needs room to expand. Currently, it has facilities located at more than 15 locations, mostly around Bingen, White Salmon, and Stevenson. In July, Insitu publicly announced that it was soliciting ideas for suitable sites to build a dedicated business campus of at least 300,000 square feet. Proposals have come from all around the Columbia River Gorge, from Washington and Oregon alike.

In a telephone interview on Aug. 26, Thornsbury addressed some of the rumors going around regarding efforts to ensure that Insitu remains headquartered in Klickitat County.

THE ENTERPRISE:

Does the Port of Klickitat have enough room in the Bingen Point industrial park area to allow Insitu to build a campus that is at least 300,000 square feet in size?

THORNSBURY:

I think they could build a campus at the Bingen Point property. It would require tweaking to make it happen, and require building up rather than out. Up along the riverfront we have about 15 acres to offer. If they want to build it out fully, including a parking lot, they would need more like a 30-acre area. But 15 acres is about all that's left here.

THE ENTERPRISE:

We've heard that the Port turned down a $1 million grant from Washington's Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) that could have paid for infrastructure work at Bingen Point -- thereby possibly paving the way for Insitu to continue to expand there. This has led some in the community to say the Port doesn't care if Insitu stays or goes. Is this true?

THORNSBURY:

It seems there have been a few rumors going around. Yes, over a year ago the Port did withdraw its CERB request after other parties involved changed the terms of the underlying project upon which it was based. When it became clear we would not be able to meet the deadlines and stipulations of the award, we felt this was the best way to protect our relationship with CERB and provide the basis for a future funding request.

However, that decision had very little to do with Insitu and it was, in fact, after that point the Port began direct discussions with them. We continued to do so until just before the Boeing acquisition, when communication from Insitu all but stopped for a period of time. Most recently, in early February, the Port asked Insitu for a confirmation of lease term and specific building requirements, but received no response to that request.

The lack of a public statement by the Port regarding Insitu has apparently unnerved some individuals. However, over the last two years the Port has received repeated requests from Insitu to maintain confidentiality with respect to any possible future development. It is unfortunate that the Port has apparently been maligned as a result of trying to honor that request.

THE ENTERPRISE:

To answer your critics, can you say then that you are doing enough to keep Insitu?

THORNSBURY:

Doing enough is a relative term. I think we certainly are -- from any reasonable business standpoint -- making offers that I think would be foolish for them to just walk away from.

We haven't heard from Insitu that this is anything more than what Insitu stated -- a request for ideas. It was not a request for proposals. They are looking for what's potentially available and out there. They want to kick a couple tires first before they buy.

If people have questions about what we're doing, they can come to the Port Commission meetings or feel free to call me and ask questions. I'll tell you what I can, or, if there are confidentiality issues, explain why I can't answer.

THE ENTERPRISE:

Would you agree to do anything you can to keep Insitu at Bingen Point?

THORNSBURY:

It depends on what your definition of "anything you can" is. There is not anybody here prepared to give up their first-born to do that. But we've gone to the table with a very strong set of proposals. Whether they are acceptable or not -- that's ultimately up to them. I certainly think they are strong proposals.

THE ENTERPRISE:

If Insitu does end up funding a more suitable site and leaves the Port property, what would happen to the space they now occupy, would it be likely to remain vacant?

THORNSBURY:

I never was a Boy Scout, but I liked the Boy Scout motto -- "Be Prepared." We have communications with people we've talked to who need space. There are different scenarios right now. We can't get too far ahead with our contacts with them, but on the other hand, we don't want to be left with nothing. There are contacts and connections we can target if we need to do so, but there is no reason to believe at this point we will need to do that.

It's sort of a balancing act to be fair to everybody. We have to balance a broad spectrum of interests. It's broader than just Bingen and White Salmon. We have to be careful we don't look like we're favoring Bingen at the expense of Dallesport and Murdock, for example. We are making our offers without endorsement. Here's what we have, pick the color you like.

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