On November 10, 1958, the Port of Douglas County comes into existence when the results of a countywide vote are certified. The vote had taken place on November 4, 1958, and the issue passes by a vote of 2,162 in favor to 1,840 opposed. In the same vote, the district's first three port commissioners are elected: Archie Rolfs, Henry Loebsack, and C. K. Jolly. The Port's main focus will become economic and industrial development, along with transportation. In 1974, the Port will acquire joint ownership of Pangborn Memorial Airport, Wenatchee's major commercial airport, along with the Port of Chelan County. In 2003, the two port districts agree to divide their responsibilities at the airport, with the Port of Chelan County managing the aviation aspects and the Port of Douglas County managing the airport's business park and other non-aviation uses of the airport. The Port of Douglas County also owns and operates two smaller airports in Waterville and Mansfield. It also manages the Orondo River Park on the Columbia River.
The Dream of Barge Transport
The original impetus behind a port district for Douglas County was to prepare docks and loading facilities for possible barge navigation up and down the Columbia River. This would open up trade potential as well as reduce shipping rates for the county's wheat. The port concept was especially popular in East Wenatchee, but also had backing in towns far from the Columbia. The Waterville Commercial Club voted to back the port district idea in April 1958, partly because of the potential for cheaper wheat shipping, and asked the county commissioners to put a port vote on the ballot.
Some opposition to the idea eventually surfaced in the east side of the county, yet in September 1958, the commissioners officially authorized a vote on a district that encompassed the entire county.
Many areas in Washington, including many others in central Washington, were pushing for port districts that fall. In fact, nine port districts were approved on November 4, 1958, including the Port of Douglas County.
Looking Forward and Skyward
The Port had been in existence for only a few years when it became obvious that the Columbia would not be opened for navigation that far up the river. Plans for the Ben Franklin Dam in the Hanford Reach, which would have allowed navigation to Douglas County, stalled and then died. The port district's focus then shifted to providing infrastructure and support for industrial and business development and later, promoting trade and tourism.
The Port also turned its eyes skyward to another form of transportation: air transportation.
Pangborn Memorial Airport
Pangborn Memorial Airport, Wenatchee's major commercial airport, was first established during World War II when the federal government led local officials to believe that it would locate an air base there -- as it did in Ephrata and Moses Lake -- if the City of Wenatchee would supply the site. A large patch of land near East Wenatchee was selected in 1941. It was named for famous homegrown aviator Clyde Pangborn (1894-1958), even though he had actually ended his famous 1931 trans-Pacific flight at an older field in East Wenatchee, called Fancher Field.
The U.S. government never did use the field as an air base and it was turned over to the City of Wenatchee before World War II ended. Northwest Airlines commenced the first commercial flights in 1945. In 1965, the City of Wenatchee turned it over to the Port of Chelan County, since it made more sense for a port district to operate the airport than a city.
Yet this arrangement didn't make sense to the people on the Douglas County side of the Columbia River. The airport is in East Wenatchee, in Douglas County, and within the boundaries of the Port of Douglas County. So, in 1974, after considerable negotiation, the Port of Douglas County acquired an undivided half interest in the airport. This agreement was characterized as a recognition of the regional vision for the airport.
The arrangement is unusual. Many port districts operate the airports in their jurisdictions, but Pangborn is the only airport in the state jointly owned and operated by two port districts.
The joint operating agreement was revised in 1988 in a deal that was later characterized by a Port of Chelan County commissioner as "an alternative to litigation, back when the two Port districts didn't work very well with one another" (Media Release). Another Chelan port commissioner said "it's been a rocky road sometimes" ("A Conversation").
The two ports built a new airport terminal in 1992. In late 2003, they agreed to a new joint operating agreement, which divided the responsibilities between the two port districts. The Port of Douglas County now develops and manages all of the non-aviation property, including the airport's business park, while the Port of Chelan County manages all aviation aspects and uses of the airport. The Port of Chelan County now holds an undivided 61 percent interest in the airport, and the Port of Douglas County holds an undivided 39 percent interest.
The 2003 agreement specified that both port districts intended to "assume greater responsibility and accountability to the citizens of Chelan and Douglas County for the operation and management of the Airport" ("Joint Operating Agreement").
Today, Pangborn Memorial Airport is north-central Washington’s major regional airport, with regular passenger service to Sea-Tac Airport provided by Horizon Air. It is also home base to 131 private, charter and other aircraft.
Pangborn Airport Business Park
The Pangborn Airport Business Park (originally called the Pangborn Airport Industrial Park) was established in 1996 on the west side of the airport and has been expanded and upgraded over the years. A two-mile sewer line was extended to the park in 2003 and 2004.
The park’s first tenant was Executive Flight Inc., which leased a lot and later built a $6.5 million facility. The company provides charter service worldwide. The park’s second tenant was Coca-Cola, which leased a lot in 1999 and later built a new regional distribution center. The Port built a $1.2 million manufacturing facility in the park in 2003 and leased it to Berglin Corp., a precision engineering manufacturer. Accor Technology, another manufacturing company, took over the building in 2006. "Our business park has been developed and now has all the infrastructure of any modern and efficient industrial business park," said Port of Douglas County commissioner Bob Corkrum, upon his retirement in 2005 ("Corkrum to Retire").
The Port’s office, which is in the park, has bays leased to two other tenants, Commercial Millwork and the NCW Educational Services District. A 10-acre site in the southwest portion of the business park was leased to Douglas County for five years to provide temporary housing for migrant workers harvesting cherries in the Wenatchee Valley, until permanent facilities were constructed.
In 2003, the Port constructed a facility on the aviation side of the airport, which is leased to the U.S. Forest Service for firefighting operations in the region.
More Airports, Business, and Tourism
The Port of Douglas County also owns and operates two smaller airports in the county: Mansfield Airport, with a 2,575-foot asphalt runway and the Waterville Airport, with a 2,978-foot asphalt runway. Both are general aviation airports serving their local communities.
The Port has also been active in promoting tourism and recreation in the county. It manages the Orondo River Park, three miles upriver from the town of Orondo on the Columbia River. The Port has upgraded the park's restrooms and boating facilities.
The Port of Douglas County commissioners are (as of 2011) Jim Huffman, Alan Loebsack and Mark Spurgeon. A staff of three full-time and two part-time employees manage the Port.