On April 12, 1960, voters in a special election approve Grant County Port District No. 8, known as the Port of Warden. The Port is originally formed as a defensive measure against the impending expansion of the Port of Quincy. After a brief legal drama, the Town of Warden is allowed to form its own port district. After its formation, the Port will have two decades of low activity. But in the 1980s, the Port will receive large Community Economic Revitalization Board loans and go on to operate an industrial complex. In the first decade of the new century, the Port will begin building one of Washington’s first biodiesel crush facilities.
The origin of the Port of Warden, like many Grant County ports, is tied to the Port of Quincy’s attempt to expand its jurisdiction across the entire county. After announcing its intent in late 1959 to bring within its boundaries communities in northern Grant County, the Port of Quincy moved toward absorbing the rest of the county -- except the existing Ports of Beverly (later Royal Slope) and Mattawa -- in January, 1960. The Port specifically cited the southern towns of Moses Lake and Warden as potential areas of the development. Quincy sought to bring the matter to vote in the November 1960 general election.
The northern Grant County towns fought back immediately. The communities of Wilson Creek, Hartline, Coulee City, and Grant Coulee put forth measures to form their own port districts, thereby removing any possibility of being annexed. The northern towns intended to have a vote in the March special election, eight months before the Port of Quincy proposal was to go to the voters. The Port of Quincy started a legal battle, but was ultimately defeated, and the northern ports were all overwhelmingly voted into existence.
The Town of Warden followed suit and began moving toward forming its own port district. Shortly after the northern towns’ legal victory, Warden tried to bring its port measure to a vote on March 29. That was later pushed back to April 12, but on that day the voters created the Port of Warden (officially, Grant County Port District No. 8). Moses Lake, the other area the Port of Quincy had expressed interest in, formed its own port in 1965.
Move Toward Industrial Parks
Although the creation of the Port of Warden had been part of a large legal drama, the ensuing years were comparatively quiet. Warden, along with the rest of Grant County, experienced slow growth in the 1960s and 1970s after booming at mid-century. By the early 1980s, Warden had been in a state of economic decline for many years, and the population had shrunk from 1620 to 1447. Although the Port made attempts to purchase industrial sites and manufacturing plants, nothing came to fruition until the 1980s. Then, in 1984, the community and the Port formed the Warden Area Economic Development Committee in an effort to revitalize the local economy. The joint committee sought to bring back some 300 jobs that had disappeared from the town in the preceding five years.
Not long after its creation, the committee managed to secure two loans totaling $584,000 from the Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB). The funds were used to construct streets, facilities, and rail lines for an industrial park on property the Port annexed around the same time. On April 10, 1987, the Port formally dedicated the revitalized site, known as the Warden Industrial Park. Congressman Sid Morrison (b. 1933) was on hand for the dedication and was given the honor of cutting the ribbon. The visit to the Port was part of Morrison’s trip through Grant County to evaluate economic progress in the region.
The Port began a new direction in 2006 when it announced a venture with Washington Biodiesel to build a biodiesel plant in Warden. The proposed factory would crush canola seeds and other plants into oil that would then be processed into a fuel that would run in most diesel engines. When the Port began the planning there were no biodiesel crushing factories in the state.
The Port received $796,177 through a competitive loan program and a $2.5 million loan earmarked by the Washington State Legislature to support the project. Governor Christine Gregoire (b. 1947) released a statement that said in part:
"Homegrown bioenergy will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, protect the natural environment of our state and provide new economic opportunities for Washington farmers and rural communities" (Governor Christine Gregoire website).
The $3.2 million project was expected to break ground in 2006, but unfortunately for the Port of Warden, work did not begin immediately. Despite the purchase of 51 acres along Warden’s railroad line, the project appeared to have stalled by 2009. After negotiations with the Grant County Public Utility District and Washington Biodiesel, the Port finally moved ahead with the project in 2010. When the plant is fully operational it will be capable of producing 100 million gallons of fuel per year. As of March 2011, construction was ongoing.