WARRENTON — Since its creation 30 years ago, the Airport Industrial Park along the western approach to the Astoria Regional Airport has remained pastures and wetlands, challenging the Port of Astoria on how to entice a developer.
But with a fish meal plant hoping to open by next summer and a seafood processor eyeing a new cold storage, the Port is laying out a multiphase plan for what could become a profit generator.
The industrial park inhabits 22 acres of pastures and wetlands along the south side of S.E. 12th Place, the main approach to the airport. Scoular, a global animal feed company, came forward this summer to lease 1.5 acres near the east side of the block to build a 14,400 square foot plant taking in fish scraps from local seafood processors to make pet food and related products.
Gary Kobes, the Port’s airport manager, said he hopes to have Scoular permitted by the city to start construction next month, with a plan to open in the spring. The project is one of his final efforts before retiring at the end of the year and becoming a special projects consultant.
Out of Scoular’s project, the Port formulated a strategy to divide the north half of the park into 11 acres of future building plots for the company and other tenants. The projects would drain into 11 acres of restored wetlands on the southern half of the block.
Kobes estimates it will cost nearly $100,000 to permit and prepare the industrial park for development.
He identified another 11 acres of developable land farther west on 12th Place and a plot of about 6 acres across U.S. Highway 101 from Fred Meyer. But with an estimate of another $250,000 to prepare those sites for development, Kobes recommended the Port first focus on filling the industrial park and wait for customers to come.
“There’s quite a bit of money to spend, and it makes sense to focus it in one place and have kind of a sense of priority for where things get developed,” he said.
Kobes said the latest concept for the industrial park started more than a year ago, when Da Yang Seafood approached him about building a cold storage, shipping hub and specialty processing line. The Seattle-based processor splits the Port’s warehouse on Pier 2 in Astoria with Bellingham, Washington-based Bornstein Seafoods and would supply Scoular with fish scraps.
“Mainly we need to move the traffic away from the pier,” Chih Yuan Wang, a general manager at Da Yang, said of the proposal.
Da Yang was rebuffed by the Port Commission in 2014 when the processor tried to build a similar facility at the foot of Pier 2. Port staff supported the project, which would have netted the Port $250,000 a year in rent and reached an estimated $14.5 million in total direct and indirect value over the lease’s 30-year lifespan. Port commissioners at the time unanimously voted down the project and opted to keep the dock open for potential cargo, which has yet to materialize.
Da Yang is anywhere between one and several years out from building at the industrial park, Kobes said. Wang said the timing of the project depends largely on when the coronavirus pandemic ratchets down.
Further complicating development is the massive flow of wastewater the airport sends to the city compared to what it receives in potable water. Warrenton’s leaders support the Scoular project, but have called on the Port to find and plug the leaks.
The city and Port secured state funding to research a solution. Out of the study, Port staff have recommended installing pump stations around the airport that would grind wastewater and send it into a pressurized pipe system that prevents outside stormwater from entering.
Pressurizing the sewers will cost the Port an estimated $347,000 if the agency goes it alone, and $256,000 if it can convince the U.S. Coast Guard to install a similar system under its base at the same time. But at a recent Port Commission meeting, Kobes cast doubt on the Coast Guard keeping pace with the Port, which hopes to pressurize sewers by next summer. The Coast Guard would likely follow suit up to several years after, Kobes said.
Despite all the challenges and costs of developing the airport’s industrial lands, Will Isom, the Port’s executive director, is enthusiastic about the potential to make money in the long term. He estimated the Port could earn around $275,000 a year in rent if it leased out all 11 acres at the industrial park for at least 5 cents per acre.
“If you get up into the 7 or 8 cents range, you’d be closer to ($400,000) or $500,000,” Isom said. “And so, there’s some pretty significant upside. And we think particularly if this first project with Scoular can move forward and is successful, it’s going to draw others to that location.”