On March 11, 1958, voters approve the formation of Grant County Port District No. 1, known as Port of Quincy. Encompassing the cities of Quincy and George, the Port covers 572 square miles and is the largest port district in Grant County. The Port is formed with the intention of building barging terminals on the undeveloped Crescent Bar Island on the Columbia River between the Rock Island Dam and the Wanapum Dam. But locks will never be built, the Port will abandon its initial plan, and Crescent Bar Island will later become a popular tourist spot. The Port will also develop several industrial parks located within Quincy. In 1979, it will begin operating the Quincy Municipal Airport on city-owned land. Later the Port will come to operate an 18-hole golf course and an intermodal train terminal. In addition, multiple "server farms" -- collections of computer servers -- will be built on land purchased from the Port.
Beginnings along the Columbia
Expectations were high in 1958 that improvements on the upper Columbia River, between Richland and Wenatchee, would allow for better barge navigation. It was believed that locks would be installed on the Rock Island Dam and the Wanapum Dam and that public port districts could build facilities to take advantage of the improvements. Quincy hoped to build river barge terminals on the Crescent Bar, an unused island on the Columbia seven miles from Quincy. As a growing agriculture-based city, Quincy believed its close proximity to the Columbia River put it in an ideal location to be the shipping terminal for the region’s wealth of agricultural products including potatoes, apples, wheat, alfalfa, corn, and vegetable crops for food and seed.
By early 1958, anticipation was high enough among Quincy residents that the formation of Grant County Port District No. 1 was on the March special election ballot. The measure would create a port district that encompassed both Quincy and the neighboring town of George. The voters approved enthusiastically, 528 to 136. The first three commissioners were L. W. Schorzman, G. T. Morris, and W. E. Johnson.
In addition to Quincy, several other ports were formed in 1958 in anticipation of the expected developments including the ports of Beverly (now Royal Slope), Chelan County, Douglas County, Kittitas County, and Mattawa-Wahluke.
Controversy in Grant County
Quincy, however, did not stop with its initial success. By late 1959 the Port made its intention known that it would attempt to absorb more of Grant County into its district, possibly even forming a countywide port district. In January 1960, several small northern communities in Grant County decided to form their own port districts in a move that the Grant County Daily Journal deemed "defensive" (Grant County Daily Journal, January 6, 1960). By forming their own districts, the communities of Coulee City, Hartline, Grand Coulee, and Wilson Creek would remove the chance of being included in an expansion of the Port of Quincy. The smaller communities were worried that the larger population in Quincy would have more say in port expenditures and could wield great control over the less-populated areas.
The Port of Quincy fought back. It countered that a countywide port district would be a more efficient means of operation and more capable of distributing funds evenly. Indeed, the Port claimed that the southern portion of the county had a tax valuation of $45 million, whereas the north only had $7 million, and that a countywide port district could redistribute tax dollars into the northern region. The Port of Quincy's proposal fell on deaf ears and port district resolutions appeared on ballots in all four northern communities for the March 1960 special election.
The Port of Quincy then turned to legal action to make one last effort to create unity in Grant County. In February 1960, the Port filed a complaint with the Superior Court of Grant County and requested that a vote to absorb the northern communities replace their formation resolutions on the March ballot. The theory was that with a larger population, Quincy could simply out-vote the smaller communities. Grant County Commissioners in Ephrata supported the Port of Quincy and added that they "would support nothing less" than a countywide district (Grant County Daily Journal, January 6, 1960). The Superior Court disagreed and ruled on March 1 that Coulee City, Hartline, Grand Coulee, and Wilson Creek could go ahead with their elections. All four ports were voted into existence on March 8, 1960.
From Barges to Beaches
After its defeat in court, the Port of Quincy suffered another major setback when it became increasingly clear that the locks were not going to be built on either the Rock Island Dam or the Wanapum Dam. To make matters worse, the Port had already committed itself to a 50-year lease from the Grant County Public Utilities District (PUD) on its Crescent Bar property. The Port was forced to cut its losses and head in a new direction.
In 1970, the PUD allowed the Port to begin subleasing the island for private development and in 1973 that sublease was further altered to allow for motels, condominiums, and trailer homes. Eventually, there were 400 private vacation homes on the 160-acre island. Many residents even began to live fulltime on the island, many finding the $33 a year lease a deal too good to pass up. The increased activity allowed the Crescent Bar to become a major tourist destination, specifically a major center for water sports and seasonal living.
Today, the future of Crescent Bar as a tourist destination is in jeopardy. In 2010, Grant County PUD announced that it would not renew its 50-year lease with the Port of Quincy. The 400-some holders of island condo and RV-lot leases had hoped that the lease would be renewed in 2012, but the PUD voted unanimously not to do so. The PUD wants the trailer homes gone by June 2012 and will take over the condominiums as per the lease. If the lease is not renewed, the Port of Quincy will join quite a few fellow Washington ports (most but not all in the eastern part of the state) as a port district without facilities on the water. As of this writing (February 2011), the debate is ongoing.
Quincy Goes Airborne
Port commissioner meeting minutes first mention the possibility of an airport in Quincy on February 19, 1974. After much debate, the Quincy Municipal Airport began construction in 1977 and was completed in June 1979.
The airport is owned by the City of Quincy and operated by the Port of Quincy. Major upgrades to the airport were completed in 1983 and the runway was reconstructed in 2004. Currently, there is one 3,660-foot runway and six planes are based there. The airfield serves medical and general aviation needs.
Although the Port of Quincy found success with Crescent Bar and with the Quincy Municipal Airport, upon the onset of the 1980s it still lacked a major direction. The next major development at the Port was the construction of a series of industrial parks. Industrial Park 1 was built in 1985 and was followed by two more in the early 1990s. Quincy offered investors low property values and inexpensive electricity courtesy of the nearby Wanapum and Priest Rapids dams. At this stage the Port was mainly focused on job creation and support for the surrounding agricultural region.
The transportation of the region’s agricultural products became feasible again when Industrial Park 4 began development. In 2001, the Port purchased land in Quincy that it hoped to develop into an intermodal train terminal that would greatly expand the region’s agricultural shipping capacity. The Industrial Park 4 project received state and federal appropriations eventually totaling $5.5 million, and began construction in late 2004. The facility was developed with cooperation from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and was designed to have convenient access to the main BNSF line.
By the time the terminal opened in 2005, the Port was involved in a new controversy. Northwest Container Services Inc., the company that was to run the railway, failed consistently to ship product and in 2006 the Port terminated its contract.
Eventually the Port made an agreement with Cold Train Logistics, a long-range cold-storage railway, and finally began shipping consistently in April 2010. Today, the Port of Quincy hopes its intermodal terminal will be an inland alternative to congested coastal ports and allow the region’s agricultural products to reach a greater market.
The Port of Quincy experienced another radical change in its long-term plans in 2006, when Microsoft announced the purchase of 75 acres of Port property to develop a data center or "server farm." A server farm is a large collection of computer servers that together accomplish much more than any one machine could ever do alone.
Quincy was a natural choice for this development. In addition to the aforementioned inexpensive power and low property values, Quincy has an excellent fiber optics network, which, according to Microsoft, is "the best" in Grant County (Science Letter).
Since Microsoft's arrival, another data center, Yahoo! has been placed on property purchased from the Port. Intuit and Dell followed the trend with their own data centers, and although these are not situated on Port property, they are further evidence of a growing trend of high-tech investment in Quincy. Additionally, Quincy received support from Olympia when the state legislature passed Senate Bill 6789 in March 2010, which provides tax benefits to data centers like those in Quincy, and also "[encourages] immediate investments in technology facilities that can provide an economic stimulus, sustain long-term jobs that provide living wages, and help build the digital infrastructure that can enable the state to be competitive for additional technology investment and jobs" (Chapter 1, 2010 Laws 1st Special Session).
Looking Toward the Future
In addition to selling off land to major technology companies, the Port has been busy expanding. Industrial Parks 5 and 6 were constructed in 2006 and 2010, respectively. Additionally, the Port currently operates a seasonal 18-hole golf course, Colockum Ridge, and a restaurant.
Presently, the Port has about eight full-time employees and a few dozens more seasonal ones. Considering that there was only ever one full-time employee before 2001, it is clear the Port of Quincy is growing at a rapid pace. The Port is actively searching for investors who would bring high-tech or manufacturing jobs to Quincy in order to further diversify the local economy, which is still heavily based on agriculture.
Governor Christine Gregoire (b. 1947) visited the Port of Quincy on June 21, 2010, to tour the intermodal train terminal and evaluate the impact of SB 6789. The Governor was reportedly "pleased and asked a lot of questions" (Columbia Basin Herald).