Seventy-five years ago, an overwhelming majority of Franklin County residents voted to create a public port district and the Port of Pasco was born.
Ours is a history rich in fulfilling our mission to develop the economy and employment within our geographic boundaries. In the beginning, we focused on the river, but the port has taken on an ever-broadening role in economic development and transportation. As we celebrate our 75th anniversary, it’s important to look at all that has been accomplished.
The port was established to develop a river terminal from which grain could be barged to the Portland area and loaded on ships destined for foreign markets. The port’s first facility, built in 1941, was a 500,000-bushel grain terminal on the Columbia River and operated for more than 50 years. Availability of this publicly-owned terminal and low-cost barge transportation made Franklin County farmers more competitive in selling grain for shipment overseas. The port’s support of shipping and river transportation expanded in 1976 with the opening of the Container Terminal.
Adding an industrial base, rail
The port’s first major expansion happened in 1959 with the purchase of the World War II Army Depot at Big Pasco from the federal government. Today, it includes nearly 2 million square feet of industrial space and 17 miles of rail. Recently, an $8.1 million upgrade to rail service at the port’s Intermodal Rail Hub was completed, making Big Pasco even more attractive to bulk shippers and rail-based imports and exports.
Strengthening air transportation
The port moved into the arena of air transportation when, in 1963, it acquired the Pasco Airport from the City of Pasco. The first modernization of the airport, renamed the Tri-Cities Airport, took place in 1986. The airport is undergoing a $55 million renovation, which includes improvement to the terminal and airfield that will allow us to handle growth at the airport for the next 20 years. The port takes its stewardship of the Tri-Cities Airport as a regional asset seriously and is committed to delivering a project that will not only enhance the airport experience but also continue to fuel the regional economy.
In the late 1980s, the port partnered with Pasco and the Franklin PUD to create the Pasco Processing Center. The concept for the 250-acre food processing site was born at a time when the regional economy was reeling from the shutdown of nuclear plant construction and agricultural producers were struggling with the high cost of getting their products to processing plants. It was a big idea that worked over time: The sale of the last site was finalized this year, about 25 years after the initial development. The Pasco Processing Center’s assessed value is more than $90 million, generating $1.3 million in property tax for schools and local governments annually, along with jobs for an estimated 1,200 people.
The next 75 years
While enjoying the opportunity to look back at our history and our successes, we at the port believe that looking ahead with renewed commitment to our region is even more important.
As we look forward, we return to the river with redevelopment opportunities for the former marine terminal site and at Osprey Pointe. Our efforts include being a part of a regional team that is creating a strategic vision for the community. We will continue to collaborate with community and regional partners to maximize the role the port can play in economic and work force development of the region.
This is a far cry from the singular vision of 75 years ago, when voters created the Port of Pasco to help ship grain down the river. Along the way, we have expanded, shifted and diversified our vision and our efforts. As we look ahead to the next 75 years, we are excited about the part the Port of Pasco will play in the region’s continued successful development and growth.