Port of Chelan County officially comes into existence when a countywide vote is certified on November 10, 1958.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 2/20/2011
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9733

On November 10, 1958, the Port of Chelan County officially comes into existence when a countywide vote is certified. The election occurs on November 4, 1958, and the issue passes by a vote of 8,086 to 3,520. In the same election, the Port's first three commissioners are also elected: Pat O'Halloran, Harold Paton, and James Carroll. The Port will soon acquire orchard land near the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia rivers. It will develop this into the Olds Station Business Park, which will become an important economic engine for the region. The Port will later go on to acquire Wenatchee's major airport, Pangborn Memorial Airport, in joint ownership with the Port of Douglas County. It will also jointly own a smaller airport near Chelan, Lake Chelan Airport, along with the City of Chelan. Eventually, the Port of Chelan County will acquire several other sites for industrial development, including the Cashmere Mill site, the Peshastin Mill site, and Pybus property.

From Barges to Industrial Parks

The original 1958 impetus for a port district in Chelan County was “to do all things necessary and proper to promote the extension of barge traffic to Rock Island and beyond, to prepare for the development of water transportation facilities and water recreation facilities, and to promote, develop, and encourage the industrial development of Chelan County” (Comprehensive Plan).

Yet it soon became clear that transportation on the heavily dammed Columbia River would be a challenge, so the Port immediately started looking for other areas of economic development and industrial growth. In 1959, the Port began to acquire orchard lands and warehouses related to the fruit industry in the area that later became known as Olds Station Industrial Park and currently Olds Station Business Park.

The Port continued to purchase land at Olds Station in the 1960s and in 1964 began preparing a feasibility study for creation of an industrial park. More land acquisitions continued and eventually, the Port developed a 100-acre industrial park there, near the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia rivers.

The Port constructed more than a dozen industrial warehouse and office facilities at Olds Station Industrial Park, attracting light industrial and professional tenants. The park, including the Confluence Technology Center, currently contains 13 tenants ranging from a winery to manufacturing firms to Yahoo! Inc.

As of 2011, about 35 acres of the site remained unimproved and is slated for future development.

The Airports

In 1965, the Port made another crucial acquisition: Pangborn Memorial Airport, Wenatchee's major commercial airport. It was first established during World War II when the federal government told local officials it would build a field if the City of Wenatchee would supply the site. A large patch of land near East Wenatchee was chosen and an airfield was scratched out of the sagebrush 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 used the new field 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 it.  

Pangborn Memorial Airport is not in the Port of Chelan County -- or in Chelan County at all. It is in Douglas County. In 1974, after the runway was extended to its present 5,500 feet, 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 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). The two ports built a new terminal in 1992.

In late 2003, they agreed to a new joint operating agreement that  divided 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. 

Today, Pangborn Memorial Field is Wenatchee'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 Memorial Airport directly and indirectly supports 632 jobs and contributes more than $47 million annually to the local economy, according to a Washington Department of Transportation study cited on the airport's website. 

The Port of Chelan County is also involved with another area airport, the Lake Chelan Airport. This is a smaller general aviation airport that began in 1931 as a rugged airstrip and was officially established as an airport in 1938. It has a 3,503-foot asphalt runway and primarily serves recreational aircraft in the resort community near Lake Chelan, as well as Forest Service, law enforcement, and emergency medical and agriculture aircraft. About 67 aircraft are based at the airport. It is operated jointly by the City of Chelan and the Port of Chelan County. 

Economic Development: Industrial Parks and Tourism

Over the years, the Port has also acquired several other properties, suitable for industrial and economic development.  

In May 2003, the Port finalized the purchase of the 60-acre Peshastin Mill site, on the former WI Forest Products mill site outside of Peshastin on the Wenatchee River. The Port plans to develop 40 acres of the site for the future Peshastin Business Park. A feasibility study was being drafted as of 2011.

In January 2008, the Port purchased another former mill site, the 32.5-acre Cashmere Mill site just outside of Cashmere. The Port is presently working on site reclamation and environmental restoration, with an eye toward development as an industrial park or as an incubator site for wineries and other agricultural industries. 

In June 2010, the Port acquired the Pybus property, a 2.45-acre site on the Columbia River in Wenatchee, at the foot of Orondo Avenue. The Port is currently working with adjacent property owners on development ideas, which include, but are not limited to, hotels, restaurants, residences, and a waterfront public market. The Port's goal is "to stimulate private investment along the waterfront and support downtown Wenatchee" (Port website).

The Port has also identified a number of Economic Development Clusters, which are economic sectors with significant growth potential in the region. The Port is offering support to business activities in the following "clusters": Clean Technology, Outdoor Recreation, Ag Tourism, Info Technology, and Wineries. 

The Port has long been active in promoting tourism -- one of the region's important industries -- first through the Tourism Action Group in the 1990s and currently through Economic Development Clusters. In the 1970s and into the 1990s, the Port joined with the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service in building and maintaining docks on upper Lake Chelan and a boat ramp on the Wenatchee River. 

The Port has also committed funds for improved dock and moorage space on the Columbia River at the Pybus site and has developed a plan to create a pedestrian and bicycle path through the Olds Station Business Park, connecting with Confluence State Park and the Apple Capital Loop Trail.

The Port commissioners as of 2011 are Craig N. Larsen, JC Baldwin and Mike Mackey. The Port's executive director, since 1992, is Mark Urdahl. 


"Inland Empire Vote Totals," The Spokesman-Review, November 7, 1958, p. 10; "Two Port Districts to Organize," The Spokesman-Review, November 7, 1958, p. 6-A; Port of Chelan website accessed February 8, 2011 (http://www.portofchelancounty.com/);  Port of Chelan County Comprehensive Plan, March 2008, available at the Port of Chelan website accessed February 8, 2011 (http://www.portofchelancounty.com/);  "Port of Chelan and Douglas County to consider new joint operating agreement for Pangborn Municipal Airport," joint news release by the Ports of Chelan County and Douglas County, November 21, 2003; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Clyde Pangborn belly-lands a monoplane in Wenatchee to complete the first nonstop airplane flight between Japan and the United States on October 5, 1931" (by Priscilla Long), http://www.historylink.org/(accessed Feb, 11, 2011).

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