On June 29, 1965, voters in Ephrata approve the creation of the Port of Ephrata. The ballot measure -- officially titled Port District No. 9 of Grant County -- is presented to voters as a much-needed spur to industrial development. The port measure passes by a landslide, 1,036 to 287. Three port commissioners are elected in the same election: Don Berry, a local radio station owner, Marvin Gregoire, a distributor of petroleum products, and Ed Jones, a pharmacist. The Port of Ephrata owns and operates the vast Ephrata Municipal Airport, which was created during World War II as a bomber pilot and fighter pilot training center. The port will later encompass a large industrial park on the airport grounds, along with related railroad-spur infrastructure.
Idea and Need
The Port of Ephrata was broached to voters as a way to boost new industrial development at a time when residents were apprehensive about the decline of two big employers: Larson Air Force Base and the Columbia Basin Project. The Air Force had already announced the imminent closure of Larson Air Force Base in nearby Moses Lake -- it would close in a year. Meanwhile, the Columbia Basin Project, which encompassed the vast irrigation projects connected with the Grand Coulee Dam, was beginning to wind down. Ephrata was the headquarters of the Columbia Basin Project.
The Port of Ephrata idea was born amidst some contention. In 1959, an attempt had been made to create a port district, which would include all of Grant County -- including Ephrata, Quincy, Moses Lake, Coulee City, Grand Coulee, Hartline, and Beverly-Royal Slope. That idea proved unwieldy. Then, in 1965, when news of the Larson closure surfaced, the Larson Air Force Base Action Committee recommended creating a large port district, which would encompass Moses Lake, Soap Lake, and Ephrata. But then a group called the Ephrata Industrial Corporation announced its plans for a separate Port of Ephrata in May 1965. The advocates of the larger port plan pronounced themselves "somewhat disappointed" (Frohnen). Yet shortly thereafter, Moses Lake created its own port district, the 10th district in Grant County.
Flying and Gliding
The Ephrata Municipal Airport, the main component of the Port of Ephrata, began in 1942 as the Ephrata Army Air Base, sprouting virtually overnight amidst the sagebrush as a heavy bomber training facility. Its flat terrain and excellent flying weather made it an ideal spot for an airstrip. Thousands of pilots, mechanics, and support personnel converged on the base. The base switched to a fighter pilot training facility in 1944. The base closed in 1945, although the Army used the base on and off for several more years. In 1946, a large portion of the airport land and buildings was turned over to the Bureau of Reclamation for its Columbia Basin Project headquarters.
The airport became Ephrata Municipal Airport and soon became a busy port for general aviation and, at the beginning, some commercial service. West Coast Airlines came in the 1950s. The last scheduled airline service ended in 1976. One of the four runways was closed in 1985, but the other three remained in service. The three runways are 5,500 feet long, 3,843 feet long, and 3,467 feet long.
Ephrata Municipal Airport is especially well known for its glider facilities. It often ranks among the top three airports in the country for glider miles flown and has hosted a number of national glider events. Situated between the Cascades and the Rockies, conditions for gliding are excellent and it is not uncommon for a pilot "to glide from here to Montana and back" (Wren).
The airport is also known for hosting regional aerobatics competitions.
A Bit of Glamour
In 1989, the airport was touched by Hollywood glamour when director Steven Spielberg used it as a filming site for his aviation movie, "Always." Stars Richard Dreyfuss, John Goodman, and Holly Hunter, along with Spielberg and the rest of the cast and crew, filmed scenes there for nearly two weeks. Crowds gathered outside the airport fences to see the stars and watch the filming. Memorabilia and photos from the movie now decorate the port’s offices, the former airport passenger terminal. The airport was standing in for the fictional Flat Rock airport in Colorado, a base for forest firefighting airplane crews.
The Ephrata airport has, in fact, served as a staging area for aerial forest fire operations when big fires have raged in the region’s mountains.
Business and Industry
The Port of Ephrata also operates a large industrial park at the airport. In 2004, a large wind-tower manufacturer, Katana Industries, established a large plant there. The company, now known as Katana Summit, manufactures up to 200 towers per year for wind-power turbines. Other important tenants include Time-Warner Cable, Grant County Public Works, the Grant County Work Release Center, and Trout Lake Farm, which occupies a 40,000 square foot hangar for its organic herb operation.
The entire Port of Ephrata land, encompassing both airport and industrial park, totals 2,200 acres.
A port district is a governmental entity with taxing authority, established under Washington State's Port District Act of 1911. It is a usually centered around trade, transportation, and economic development. Port districts commonly own and operate facilities such as shipping terminals, marinas and docks, airports, industrial sites, railroads, and parks and recreational facilities.