On September 15, 1964, Skamania County voters approve the merger of the Port of Wind River and the Port of North Bonneville, forming the Port of Skamania County. The consolidation follows three years of discussion, and has been approved by the commissioners of both ports. The Port of Wind River adopted the joint resolution to consolidate on June 2, 1964 and the Port of North Bonneville adopted it two days later on June 4. The commissioners believe that by combining, they can better work together to help Skamania County and diversify its economy.
Skamania County is located in Southwest Washington and on the Columbia River. The county is home to both Mount St. Helens in the northwest and the Bonneville Dam in the south. The Gifford Pinchot National Forest makes up about 80 percent of Skamania County and more than 90 percent of the county is forested. Until the early 1990s, the timber industry was the core of the economy.
Since most of the county is part of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, the vast majority of Skamania County’s 10,833 residents live in the southern part of the county near the Columbia River. The county has two incorporated cities: North Bonneville and Stevenson, the county seat. The most populous area, however, is Carson, a census-designated place northeast of Stevenson.
The Origins of Two Ports
After the completion of the Bonneville Dam in 1938, the citizens of North Bonneville formed the Port of North Bonneville. In its first meetings in 1938, the port commissioners discussed using the Port’s close proximity to the Bonneville Dam and Bonneville Power Administration to its advantage by attracting a company that needed a lot of inexpensive electricity in order to operate. Ross E. Humphreys, secretary of Port of Wind River in the 1950s and 1960s, wrote in the Skamania County Pioneer on September 6, 1964, that he believed the first commissioners of the Port of North Bonneville hoped to induce Pennsylvania Salt Company to build a chlorine factory adjacent to the dam. Unfortunately they did not succeed, and in 1941 the Port of North Bonneville became dormant.
On August 6, 1946, the Board of Skamania County Commissioners accepted a resolution for the formation of the Port of Wind River. They announced that in the next election a port district proposal would appear on the ballots of voters residing in Carson, Stevenson, Rock Creek, and Wind Mountain. These residents voted in favor of the district, 457 to 183. Humphreys writes in a letter in the Skamania County Pioneer that the Port of Wind River was formed after World War II “without much thought about what it would do” (“Letters to the Editor,” September 9, 1964). It appears that residents approved the port district in anticipation of river improvements east of the Bonneville Dam. Sometime in early 1948, the Port of Wind River became home to Stevenson Plywood Corporation. In March 1956, Stevenson Co-Ply, a worker-owned plywood organization, purchased the company, but opted to remain on Port property outside Stevenson. It became one of Skamania County’s largest employers.
The Decision to Combine
The new officials of the reactivated Port of North Bonneville met for the first time on March 7, 1961. R. V. Carpenter served as Port manager, Ray Whitlock served as assistant manager, and Arthur E. Cole acted as secretary. Though the three men had just reactivated a dormant port, the biggest topic of discussion was a port merger with the Port of Wind River. In early 1961, Commissioner Ross Humphreys of Port of Wind River had asked the new commissioners if they wanted to consolidate into one port. The commissioners from the Port of North Bonneville opted to seek further clarification of merger conditions.
The North Bonneville commissioners feared that the merger would complicate the rehabilitation of the Port and mean the loss of political control over industrial development in North Bonneville. During the Port of North Bonneville’s March 28, 1961, meeting, the commissioners discussed two electro reduction manufacturers interested in developing Port land. The first company was interested in building an aluminum bauxite reduction factory that would employ 400 people. The second company was considering a plant location for manganese ore reduction. The commissioners worried they would lose out on these two opportunities if they focused on merging with the Port of Wind River.
But on May 10, 1961, during their monthly meeting, the commissioners noted that they were unanimous in their desire to go ahead with unification with the Port of Wind River. The commissioners realized that in order to pay for urgent improvements needed at Port facilities, they would need to draw on a larger tax base. However, in November 1961, the commissioners changed their minds, noting that Wind River had a problem with extreme silting at the mouth of Wind River.
From 1955 on, Humphreys had been asking the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the area upriver from the dam known as the “Bonneville Pool,” which had slowly been filling with sand at the mouth of Wind River since the completion of the first part of the dam in 1938. The silting made transporting logs more difficult, directly affecting a company called Smith Enterprises, which occupied a terminal on Wind River and handled and sorted logs. The Corps of Engineers rejected the plan to dredge, stating that the cost-benefit ratio of dredging was too high. In 1961, the silt problem remained the Port of Wind River’s highest priority. Commissioners hoped that by merging with the newly revived Port of North Bonneville they would find a way to either raise funds or successfully lobby the Army Corps to dredge the mouth of Wind River.
Discussion of unification continued without much progress through 1961 and 1962. Then in April 1962, the commissioners from the Port of North Bonneville again stated that they had nothing to gain from a merger with the Port of Wind River. They did note, however, that if the Port of Wind River annexed the rest of the county to its district, it would be to everyone’s advantage to have a countywide port. With the promise of the entire county as a tax base, the Port of North Bonneville could move forward with unification.
On April 4, 1963, Ross Humphreys suggested that the two ports agree on a consolidation proposal, then present the unification of the two ports to voters, then hold a second election to annex the rest of Skamania County to the port districts. Both port commissions agreed on this idea and completed a joint resolution in early January 1964. After approving the resolution on May 7, the commissioners from North Bonneville sent the resolution off to a local lawyer for him to look over. In early June 1964, both ports adopted the final version of the resolution to consolidate. In a letter to the editor of the Skamania County Pioneer, Humphreys wrote that the new Port of Skamania County could better help the county with economic development. He also mentioned wanting to attract businesses outside of the timber industry and to attract companies that used forest waste products. Skamania County voters approved the merger on September 15, 1964.
Early Days of the Port of Skamania County
The newly formed Port of Skamania County had its first meeting on November 3, 1964. The commissioners approved by-laws, elected officers, joined the Washington Public Ports Association (both ports had been members of the WPPA), and ordered a public budget hearing for December. At that time, the Port of Skamania County owned 200 acres of industrial land.
In its first years, the commissioners of the Port of Skamania County approved resolutions to put the expansion of the port district to include all of Skamania County on the ballot, but the Port never succeeded in becoming truly “county wide.” However, the port district includes most of the southern part of the county and therefore includes the majority of the county’s privately held property within its district.
On January 4, 1966, the Port of Skamania County accepted a comprehensive scheme of harbor improvements. However, the plan was merely a combination of the comprehensive plans of the former ports, including the “Comprehensive Scheme of Development of Home Valley,” approved in 1958 by the Port of Wind River, the “Proposed Comprehensive Scheme of Development,” approved by the Port of Wind River on April 1, 1960, and the “Comprehensive Scheme of Harbor Improvements,” approved by the Port of North Bonneville on June 19, 1962. The comprehensive scheme placed highest priority on dredging to make water more usable for cargo, using leftover sand to level land for industrial use and to build roads, install utilities, build docks, construct warehouses and a commercial loading dock, and create an area for small boat moorage.
Acquiring More Property
In March 1965, the new Port purchased 65 acres of land from John M. Tol and a significant amount of riverfront property from Laura Grenia. Both properties were in the North Bonneville area. In September, the Port began the process of acquiring property from the Town of Stevenson at the mouth of Kanaka Creek.
On June 1, 1971, a group of citizens began plans for a golf course on Port property in North Bonneville. Local residents built the golf course with volunteer labor and donations in order for the county to have a recreational facility. The nine-hole Beacon Rock Golf Course is still owned by the Port of Skamania County, but it is managed by another organization.
From 1969 to 1974, the port commissioners used an Industrial Development District Fund to buy property in Stevenson and North Bonneville. The Port acquired waterfront properties in Stevenson in May and August 1973 as well as in July 1974. In 1973, the Port began work on an industrial park in Stevenson with money from its development funds as well as grants, including one for $298,000 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
In January 1974, the Army Corps of Engineers informed the commissioners that it needed Port property for a second power house at the Bonneville Dam. It arranged for a land swap as well as payment for the land lost in and around North Bonneville. In 1975, the Army Corps purchased more than 99 acres of land from the Port. The Port was unhappy with the arrangement, but profits from the sale enabled it to buy additional waterfront property in Stevenson. By the mid-1980s, the Port of Skamania County owned virtually all of Stevenson’s waterfront property.
In 1975, the Port purchased the dredge Quillayute from the Port of Camas-Washougal. It dredged the Skamania Pool and also rented the dredge to the Corps of Engineers and to the Skamania County Parks Department. The next year, the Port of Skamania sold the dredge to Douglas County at a profit.
Despite the expansion of Port property and the progress made in industrial development, the commissioners realized they needed to do still more to help diversify Skamania County’s economy. By the mid-1970s, it had become clear that the Skamania County timber industry was in decline. In 1975, one Port assessment noted that unemployment in Skamania County was extraordinarily high and that the economy was almost completely dependent upon the timber industry and was therefore vulnerable to external factors.
In 1982, one year after the Oregon-Washington Interagency Wildlife committee called for establishing old-growth forest buffer zones for spotted owls, Port commissioners proposed a temporary six-year levy on property taxes to help raise funds for promoting economic development. Since only a small percentage of land in the port district was privately owned, the Port of Skamania County had little revenue to draw on without increasing its taxes. However, the proposal and others like it failed, as most of the county opposed increasing the tax burden.
In January 1992, Skamania County’s largest employer, Stevenson Co-Ply, closed its mill. Skamania County led the state in unemployment, with roughly a quarter of residents out of work. Fortunately, the county revived with the construction of the Skamania Lodge in 1993. Today, the Skamania Lodge is Skamania County’s largest private employer and Skamania County has developed a new industry -- tourism.
Port of Skamania County Today
The Port of Skamania County has continued its mission of promoting economic diversification and development, with an emphasis on the creation of “family wage jobs” in Skamania County. In 1992, the Port completed the Tichenor building, a multi-purpose facility located on the Stevenson waterfront. In October 1995, the Port completed its Evergreen industrial building in North Bonneville and improved its Stevenson Landing dock to accommodate Columbia River cruise ships. In 2001 the Port purchase 42 acres of industrial land from the City of North Bonneville and master planned the Cascades Business Park. In 2002, it opened the Discovery Building in North Bonneville, a 15,000-square-foot industrial building. In 2003 the Port installed fiber-optic cable to its facilities. In 2004 the Port replaced its Cascade Avenue boat ramp. And in 2006, the Port constructed additional leasable square footage and remodeled the Tichenor building.
On March 25, 2010, the Port completed the construction of a 20,000-square-foot multi-purpose building and dedicated it to Judy Teitzel, the Port’s longest serving commissioner. The Teitzel Building became home to the research company Battelle Memorial Institute as well as Slingshot Sports, a kite boarding manufacturing company. In the summer of 2010, using both its own funds and a $600,000 grant from the Public Works Board and a $200,000 grant from Skamania County, the Port installed utilities and graded land at its Cascades Business Park in an effort to attract companies that can provide family wage jobs to Skamania County residents. On December 14, 2010, Commissioner Judy Teitzel retired from the Port after serving the public for over 23 years.
In 2011, the Port of Skamania County owned more than 160 acres of industrial, commercial and recreational land including some 40,000 square feet of commercial buildings, 100,000 square feet of industrial buildings, a 9-hole golf course, a cruise ship dock, a boat ramp facility, fiber optic cable, some six acres of parkland and beaches, and 1.5 miles of waterfront walking paths with interpretive signs and amenities. Port tenants employed about 175 people, representing one out of every seven private-sector jobs in the county, and the largest number of Port-supported jobs in its history.