On January 24, 1961, the Port of Kahlotus is established. Located in Franklin County in the Columbia Basin area of Eastern Washington, it is one of the smallest port districts in the state. It has no port manager or employees; its revenues are derived from two leased grain facilities on the Snake River.
Hole in the Ground
Kahlotus is a small community located in Eastern Washington, approximately 40 miles northeast of the county seat of Pasco. First settled in the 1890s, the town was originally named Harderburg after one of the town’s earliest settlers, Hans Harder. It was later renamed Kahlotus, a Native American word which in English means “hole in the ground.” Kahlotus was incorporated in 1907, and for the next 50 years the little farming and ranching community enjoyed a stable population that fluctuated between 130 and 170. (In 2009, its estimated population was 250.)
But by 1960 change was brewing in Kahlotus. In 1911 the Washington Legislature had authorized local voters to create publicly owned and managed port districts, which could raise revenues and implement waterfront improvements. By the late 1950s, 22 port districts had been formed both in Washington and Oregon along the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean to Kennewick (Benton County). At the same time, several more dams were either planned or under construction on the Snake River in southeastern Washington, including Lower Monumental Dam (located six miles south of Kahlotus), as part of the development of what is today (2011) known as the Columbia-Snake River System.
A Port of its Own
In 1940 the Port of Pasco had been created to provide facilities for grain barges on the Columbia River, and in 1959 and 1960 the Port grew into the third largest public port on the Columbia when it purchased the 541-acre Big Pasco Army Depot and converted it into the Big Pasco Industrial Center. However, the Port’s district did not include northeastern Franklin County, where Kahlotus is located. The mouth of the Snake River meets the Columbia just three miles southeast of Pasco, and there was talk of the Port expanding its district to include Kahlotus, thereby positioning it to provide grain facilities to the coming barge traffic on the Snake. But Kahlotus wanted its own port so it could raise its own revenues once the Ice Harbor and Lower Monumental dams were completed on the Snake.
In December 1960 the Franklin County Board of Commissioners set a special election for Kahlotus-area residents to vote on the formation of the Port of Kahlotus, and on January 24, 1961, it passed by a comfortable margin, 66 to 22. Voters also elected three port commissioners: William George Harder (grandson of Kahlotus settler Hans Harder), Richard Moore, and R. E. Peot.
Devils Canyon Road to Windust
The Port’s first commission meeting took place seven months after its formation, on August 24, 1961. Its first order of business was to build a direct route to the Snake River from Kahlotus. Construction on Lower Monumental Dam had begun in June 1961, only five months after the Port’s formation. The Port sought to develop a grain facility nearby, and needed a good road to get there. It acquired the necessary rights of way from private landowners and worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to get the Devils Canyon Road (State Route 263) built. Named after the canyon that the road passes through, the road doglegs southwest once it reaches the Snake River and goes another three miles to Windust.
In 1963 the Port subleased 9.5 acres at Windust to Louis Dreyfus Corporation, which built a grain facility at the site. (Windust consists of a campground, grain elevators, and a barge loader. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns the land.) In 1996 the Port leased an additional 8.2 acres of Port-owned land located just above Lower Monumental Dam to Cargill (also known as Cograin) for the construction of another grain facility.
In a recent (2011) interview Port Commissioner William George Harder, who has served continuously for the 50 years of the Port’s existence, explained the Port’s philosophy in attracting this industry: “We’re run a little differently than other ports. We didn’t believe we should tax ourselves, and it worked out fine. We got the facilities that we wanted and didn’t have to pay for them” (interview).
The Port Today
The Port has no office or website. If you call the phone number shown for the Port on the Washington Public Ports Association’s website, you’ll reach its attorney’s office in Pasco. There is no Port manager and there are no employees. Port commissioners meet quarterly in the old Kahlotus Grange Hall.
The Port’s revenues are derived from its two leased properties on the Snake River, and in 2010 these revenues totaled $12,614. It is governed by three commissioners each elected to serve six-year terms; their terms are staggered with one commissioner up for election every two years. Roughly speaking, the Port’s district encompasses the northeastern corner of Franklin County.