On January 5, 1959, the Port of Garfield holds its first commission meeting after its formation two months earlier. In 1970 the Port will develop its Central Ferry site in order to have a grain-loading facility for barges operating along the Columbia-Snake River System, and in 1986 will purchase a small industrial site in Pomeroy for development. Located in Southeastern Washington, the Port of Garfield is one of the state’s smaller ports, with two full-time and one part-time employee.
In 1911 the Washington legislature authorized local voters to create publicly owned and managed port districts, which could raise revenues and implement waterfront improvements. By the late 1950s, 22 port districts had been formed both in Washington and Oregon along the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean to Kennewick (Benton County), Washington. Also by this time, several different dams were either under development or planned along the Snake River, which would open the river to barge traffic. Garfield County residents recognized the potential economic benefits that a port would bring to the county (particularly since the Snake River forms its northern border) and the question of whether to form a port was put to the ballot.
Voters approved formation of the Port of Garfield on November 4, 1958. (A port was formed in Columbia County to Garfield County’s west on the same day; the Port of Clarkston in Asotin County to the east had been formed two months earlier). On January 5, 1959, the Port held its first commissioners meeting, and the three commissioners were sworn in and paid their one dollar filing fee. Officer elections immediately followed. Don Johnson (District 2) was elected president, Chris Wolf (District 3) vice-president, and Larry Brown (District 1) secretary.
But there was a problem. The commissioners had been elected to serve terms of one year (Wolf), two years (Johnson), and three years (Brown). But when they met with the Port’s attorney later in the day, they found that they were legally obligated to each serve twice as long: Wolf, two years; Johnson, four years, and Brown, six years. If any of the new commissioners objected to the sudden doubling of their terms, it’s not shown in the Port’s meeting minutes from the day.
Central Ferry Site
As construction of dams on the Snake River continued through the 1960s -- Ice Harbor Dam was completed in 1962 and Lower Monumental Dam was finished early in 1969 -- barge traffic along the river began to become a reality. In October 1969 the Port purchased 86 acres on the Snake River for $24,500 from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers so it would have a site to accommodate this traffic. The site, known by the Port as the Central Ferry site, is located on the south bank of the Snake River on the west side of Highway 127, and is about 20 miles northwest of Pomeroy. (It should not be confused with the Port of Central Ferry, which is located in Whitman County.)
The completion of Little Goose Dam in the spring of 1970 approximately 10 miles west of Central Ferry brought barge traffic to Garfield County. The same year the Port developed 3.5 acres at its Central Ferry site to handle this traffic, and leased this acreage to the Pomeroy Grain Growers. In November 1971 the first barge, carrying the equivalent of 130 railroad boxcars of barley, left Central Ferry bound for the Pacific Ocean via the Columbia-Snake River System, and within a year regular barge service shipping thousands of tons of grain per barge was running from Central Ferry. Today (2011) barging on the Snake River remains an important part of the Port’s operations.
The Port acquired an additional three-acre parcel of property in 1979, now known as the Pomeroy West site. But the land was later declared to be in a floodplain, effectively squashing its development. A more successful acquisition for the Port came in 1986 with the purchase of the DSP (Dye Seed Plant) site, also in the western part of Pomeroy. Today it’s Garfield County’s sole industrial site, with four tenants, one of which is the Port of Garfield.
In the mid-1980s the Port bought 3.5 acres next to the DSP site for the specific purpose of building a new administration building for the U.S. Forest Service’s Pomeroy Ranger District, which had been considering relocating its offices outside of Pomeroy. The Port finished the original 5,000-square-foot building in October 1986 and leased it to the Forest Service, thereby keeping about 60 jobs in Pomeroy that might otherwise have been lost. In 1993 the building was expanded to 10,000 square feet.
The Port works to stimulate economic development in Garfield County both on its own initiative and by forming partnerships with local businesses and economic development organizations. For example, in 2006 the Port joined with the City of Pomeroy, Garfield County, and the Palouse Economic Development Council to make wireless and DSL internet available throughout Garfield County in an effort to stimulate economic development in the region. Explains Lora Brazell, manager of the Port of Garfield, “Being a small port, we’re easy to work with. We can get the permitting process and building permits more quickly, and we work together with the city and county as a team to bring businesses in” (Dougherty).
The Port is governed by three commissioners each elected to serve six-year terms; their terms are staggered with one commissioner up for election every two years. The Port District encompasses Garfield County in its entirety, with the Snake River marking its northern boundary and the Oregon state line its southern boundary.