The Port of Klickitat is sticking to its guns regarding what to do with Port land near the Bingen Marina.
In the Sept. 21 meeting of the Port of Klickitat Board of Commissioners, commissioners reaffirmed a decision to remove a small parcel of land from a collaborative deal that included properties belonging to SDS Lumber Co., Dickey Farms, and the Port of Klickitat.
The combined land was being packaged as a possible campus site for Insitu, a Bingen-based manufacturer of drone surveillance aircraft.
"The Port Commissioners took a look at it, and said that what we did the first time was the right thing to do," said Port Executive Director Marc Thornsbury.
The Port decided on Aug. 24 to pull the property -- about four acres -- from inclusion in a land package. Port officials hope to make the parcel available to an unnamed company that has expressed interest in locating at the site, potentially bringing in 70 jobs.
The Port's decision sparked controversy. In a Sept. 9 letter to the Port of Klickitat, SDS President Jason Spadaro and Dickey Farms owner Stan Dickey criticized the Port for pulling out of the possible deal.
On Tuesday, Spadaro said neither SDS nor Dickey Farms have heard from the Port of Klickitat regarding the letter.
"We weren't really expecting a reply," Spadaro explained. "The intent of our letter was not to ask for a reversal of the Port's decision, it was to express some of our frustration with the communication and delivery from the Port's director and to convey our obvious disagreement with the decision -- but more importantly, to ask the Port to remember how important this issue is to the local community."
Insitu, with 800 employees and growing, is widely seen as vital to the local economy. Since Insitu announced last year that it was seeking a location to build a consolidated business campus, the company has received about two dozen competing proposals for potential sites.
Thornsbury said the letter from SDS and Dickey contained information that was not correct.
"There were a number of substantial inaccuracies in the letter," Thornsbury said. "And there is some information I am privy to that I can't discuss due to confidentiality."
Spadaro disputed Thornsbury's claim of "substantial inaccuracies" in the Sept. 9 letter.
"We attached to our letter all communication we received from the Port director regarding the decision to withdraw Port lands from our joint proposal and have accurately described the correspondence," Spadaro said. "We also accurately described that we are amazed this decision was reached without any discussion with SDS and/or Dickey Farms, and that we are shocked that the Port would consider withdrawing from any portion of a competitive proposal it was involved with. Regardless of who the new potential tenant may be, we still believe the Port director should provide an explanation to the public about the due diligence that was conducted to determine whether it's in our community's best interest to withdraw the Port's property from the SDS/Dickey/Port proposal in order to pursue other opportunities."
Thornsbury explained that the Port Commission had considered five key factors before deciding to withdraw land from the SDS/Dickey proposal:
1) The presumptive impact of the Port's withdrawal on the viability of the SDS/Dickey proposal;
2) The probability of attracting or retaining 70 to 75 manufacturing jobs in the short term and a similar number of jobs in a future expansion;
3) The properties already allocated in the Port's proposals offered to Insitu;
4) The probability a Port proposal will be Insitu's target location; and
5) The probability the SDS/Dickey proposal (with or without the Port properties) will not be Insitu's target location.
Thornsbury strongly defended the Port's efforts to ensure that Insitu remains in the community.
"As an economic development agency serving all of western Klickitat County, the Port has made, and continues to make, every reasonable effort to encourage Insitu to remain in Klickitat County," Thornsbury said. "The most recent evidence of this commitment can be found in the Port's investment of over $700,000 of its own funds to prepare property that can be utilized for an Insitu development. Though many pay lip service to retaining Insitu, we do not believe any other entity, public or private, has made this kind of tangible commitment."
Thornsbury also pointed out that requests for confidentiality limits what information the Port of Klickitat can make public.
"Insitu continues to request confidentiality with regard to their campus plans, and the Port has done its best to respect their wishes to the degree permitted a public agency by state law," Thornsbury said. "At times, this has prevented the Port from directly addressing certain facts, but does not mean its decisions have been improper. Should Insitu move forward with its project and identify the SDS/Dickey proposal as preferable to the proposals offered by the Port, we remain willing, as stated in our original letter, to consider ways in which we can cooperate to meet Insitu's needs."
Klickitat County Commissioner David Sauter came to the defense of the Port of Klickitat Board of Commissioners. Sauter said he thought it was unfair to second-guess the Port's elected representatives.
"I know the Port Commissioners to be men of integrity and character," Sauter said on Monday. "I feel confident they have the best interests of the Port and the overall community at heart as they make decisions. They are prudent folks. We should defer forming opinions or making any judgments until we have all the information."
Sauter pointed out that he had met with the representatives from Boeing -- Insitu is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Boeing -- when they were touring possible campus locations around the mid-Columbia River Gorge area last week. The tour included multiple sites in Klickitat County.
Sauter said he was optimistic about Insitu's decision regarding a possible campus.
"We look forward to an announcement from Insitu in the near future," Sauter said. "I'm confident Insitu is here to stay, and the county stands ready to assist and to expedite any permits needed."
For its part, Insitu issued a simple statement early Tuesday afternoon about the ongoing search process.
"Insitu is still evaluating locations for the Insitu campus and Bingen Point is still an option," said Insitu spokesperson Jill Vacek.