On November 7, 1944, voters approve the formation of the Port of Klickitat. The port district encompasses the western third of Klickitat County, from the Skamania County line to just east of the communities of Dallesport and Wahkiacus. The area of the port district is home to roughly 12,000 of the estimated 20,000 county residents. The Port is created to take advantage of improvements on the Columbia River deriving from the Bonneville Dam, which was completed in 1937 about 25 miles downstream from Bingen. After a few false starts, it will come to operate two main sites: a business park at Bingen Point and an industrial park at Dallesport. The Port also operates a park and marina near its facilities at Bingen Point. Since its foundation in 1945, the Port's express purpose is to "help diversify the local economy and provide more jobs and wider range of employment opportunities for local citizens" (Port of Klickitat archives).
Origins in the Bonneville Dam
On March 29, 1932, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers submitted their “308 Report” to Patrick J. Hurley, Secretary of War, recommending the building of 10 dams along the Columbia river for purposes of navigation, water power improvement, flood control, and irrigation. The report noted that commerce in the middle portion of the tidal lower section of the Columbia (southwestern Klickitat County) was "unimportant, but there is every reason to anticipate a substantial commerce with large transportation economies if the river is improved for efficient and economical barge navigation" (Report on the Columbia River and Minor Tributaries).
The Bonneville Dam was placed into service on June 6, 1938. It is located between Washington and Oregon in the Columbia River Gorge, not far downriver from Klickitat County. A dam built downriver meant the people of Klickitat County could hope for decreased shipping rates and more navigable waters for commerce. Even before completion, there was much discussion in the county about the formation of a countywide port in order to improve commerce.
On April 12, 1937, roundtable discussions regarding the possibility of forming a countywide port district were held at Brown’s Café in Bingen. Among the benefits mentioned were that a port would give the county more control over shipping rates and the opportunity to improve terminal facilities with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Talk of forming a port district continued throughout 1938, but nothing was done.
In 1944 renewed interest in a public port was inspired by the increased demand for lumber on account of the war (World War II), lumber that could now be shipped economically down the Columbia. After successful meetings at Bingen and White Salmon in July, petitions were circulated for the purpose of including the Port’s formation on the November ballot. By August, according to The Goldendale Sentinel, the western half of Klickitat County, where the Port was to be located, was in unanimous support of the project.
On November 7, 1944, voters approved the formation of the Port in a 507 to 143 vote, which was officially confirmed on November 20, 1944. The Klickitat County District No. 1 was to be created on the second Monday in January of the following year.
On January 8, 1945, the first three port commissioners took their oath and the Port of Klickitat was established. The Port was organized into three separate commissioner districts (divisions that exist to this day): District No. 1 comprised Bingen, White Salmon, Columbia, and Burdoin Heights; District No. 2 comprised Lyle, Klickitat, Hartland, North Dalles, Wahkiacus, and Appleton; and District No. 3 comprised Fruit Valley, Husum, Trout Lake, Laurel, Glenwood, and Major Creek.
The first president and commissioner of District No. 2 was Homer H. James (1884-1967) of Lyle. James would continuously serve as a commissioner for 22 years until his death in 1967. James was one of the earliest and most vocal proponents of the port district and held a heavy presence in Port politics for over 20 years. Along with Leon D. Killian and Steve F. Wnuk, commissioners of District No. 1 and District No. 3 respectively, the commissioners were to serve "without pay and are planning to operate the district in the most beneficial manner to the public" (Mt. Adams Sun, January 12, 1945).
The port commissioners announced their plans on September 8, 1945. Commissioner James sought to develop his hometown of Lyle as a main port site. Commissioner Wnuk announced that an airport was being considered for the Mt. Adams area in order to increase tourism in the region.
However, development initially focused on Bingen, a site first proposed by Commissioner Killian. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed and proposed to develop "a barge channel to the waterfront at Bingen, Washington ... provided local interests furnish free of cost to the United States all rights of way, agree to maintain depths in the mooring basin, and to construct, operate and maintain necessary mooring facilities in the basin" (Annotated Chronology). The Port’s first budget was approved at $8781.07 for 1946.
The Barge Channel at Bingen West
Bingen is located along the Columbia River, about 70 miles upstream from Portland. Its neighboring city, White Salmon, overlooks Bingen and is closely associated with the little town. Less than two miles from Bingen lies the Hood River Bridge that connects Washington to Hood River, Oregon. Considering that Oregon is sales-tax-free, significant retail development of the Bingen-White Salmon area has generally been seen as unlikely due to the proximity of Hood River. However, some commercial development has taken place.
The Army Corps of Engineers proposed that the barge channel be built at Bingen East, also known as Bingen Point, from the Columbia to the harbor area, a site protected from Gorge winds. Congress authorized funding for the harbor project in 1946, but unfortunately, property owners declined to sell and the Port was unable to purchase land in Bingen East.
The Port had to wait six years, until 1952, to purchase land in Bingen West, which was not its original choice. In Bingen West the Port purchased 126.49 acres near the Hood River Bridge, and initial development occurred there.
In 1952 the first port manager, Deane R. Nichols, took office as approved by Resolution 1-52. Appointed by the three port commissioners, the port manager was to manage the day-to-day operations of the Port in accordance with the policies laid out by the commission.
In 1953 the first barge channel was dredged at Bingen West. It stretched 2,000 feet "from the main river to the harbor area" (Annotated Chronology). The Port spent $42,000 building it and another $25,175 purchasing property in Bingen West between 1952 and 1955. But strong westerly winds threatened the viability of Bingen West as an effective barge channel, and despite all this investment by 1956 additional development at that location was seen as increasingly unattractive. In February 1957 Commissioner Don Reed resigned over his opposition to further development in Bingen West.
Back to Bingen East
After a public hearing on September 9, 1958, the Port of Klickitat adopted Resolution 4-58, amending the district’s Comprehensive Scheme of Harbor Development. Thereafter, Bingen East became the focus of further development.
Bingen West flooded in 1964 and again in 1965, this one requiring disaster assistance. In 1966 the Port decided to evaluate the Bingen West property and over the course of the next few years sold off various pieces of the land. Much of it eventually went to SDS Lumber.
After the Port’s disappointing investment in Bingen West, the original point of interest at Bingen East became increasingly attractive. In late 1958 the Port announced a plan to purchase 233 acres in Bingen East. The Port spent the next few years purchasing property there in preparation for major new developments. In 1963 the Port accepted a new development plan "based on the full borrowing capacity of the new harbor" in order to improve infrastructure and build a boat marina (Annotated Chronology). The Bingen harbor project was estimated to cost $363,245 and the Corps of Engineers completed it in early 1964.
Despite the renewed focus on Bingen East, the ensuing years were quiet as the Port began to consider building an industrial park in North Dalles. The Port sold some of its East Bingen land in the early 1970s to the city for a sewer development project and to SDS lumber to add to that firm's land in West Bingen.
The Question of the Barge Project
In late 1975 the Port began considering building facilities in Bingen to handle heavy-duty, seagoing log barges to the Portland area. The issue of the Bingen Marina serving as a barging terminal had been discussed since the 1940s and was considered a fundamental part of the Port’s longterm development. By the end of 1975 the Port had invested more than $100,000 in the proposed project.
The proposal was subject to a great deal of debate. At a Bingen-White Salmon Planning Commission meeting debate ranged from outright support of the project to cautious skepticism. The ability of the Port to handle both recreational boat traffic and log barging was questioned, with one attendee noting "one or the other would take precedent in 20 or 30 years in the Boat Harbor" (Annotated Chronology). By late 1977 the debate had died down and builders working on the project had ceased operations.
Activity in Bingen East would slow down until the mid-1980s, with most of the Port’s attention focused upriver on its new development at North Dalles (later renamed Dallesport).
Dallesport, formerly known as North Dalles, is located about 30 miles east of Bingen, across the Columbia from The Dalles, Oregon. The Port’s interest in it stretches as far back as 1947 when Port minutes record a proposal by parties in The Dalles, Oregon, to build a port there. By 1955 Dallesport was once again mentioned as a site of interest in response to the recently completed Dalles Bridge and the soon-to-be-completed Dalles Dam. The Port was interested in building an industrial park at Dallesport to take advantage of river and commercial improvements and to complement its efforts in Bingen.
Although no land purchase was to happen for many years, in 1957 the Port formally added Dallesport to its longterm plans. By 1965 the Port had became serious about acquiring the land and in 1966 it formally began the project by announcing its intention to purchase surplus land from the Corps of Engineers, land that had remained unused after the Dalles Dam project was completed.
In 1969 the Port accepted an Economic Development Administration grant of $2,073,000 for the development of an industrial park at Dallesport and purchased 375 acres of land from the Corps of Engineers. The EDA grant was provided on the rationale that the Port would develop a site capable of handling the industrial and commercial needs of the community.
In 1970 Dow Chemical Company was poised to become the Port’s first major client in Dallesport. Since the late 1960s, Dow had been interested in building a major magnesium reduction plant at Dallesport, but negotiations were to last well into the next decade. Dow made progress on its facilities but by 1975 the project was beginning to fall apart. Dow was simply not able to put up the capital to complete its magnesium reduction plant.
The failure of the Dow project brought financial and legal complications for the Port that would last until June 1980. Despite the site remaining undeveloped for most of the 1970s, there was some good that came from the firm's withdrawal. The settlement with Dow was substantial enough to take the Port out of debt, free $1 million of the EDA grant, and provide the Port with a healthy cash reserve. For example these funds enabled the Port to contract with Plemmons Industries to build a 30,000-square-foot warehouse, which the Port then leased to The Dalles Cherry Growers.
The early 1980s were quiet years for the Port that mostly consisted of bringing in new tenants at the Dallesport site. Many considered the Port’s Bingen property to be underutilized compared to Dallesport. After a local farm sold the last sliver of land not owned by the Port in 1986, motions were put forward for the development of Bingen Point and beach properties. On November 5, 1986, development began at the present-day Bingen Point site.
The Port employed various private contractors to create the substantial infrastructure that became the Bingen Point Business Park. By the time of its completion in 1994, more than $2,700,000 had been invested.
One of the Port’s additions to the Bingen Point site was the Small Business Development Center. This was built to help bring in small businesses and to promote the Port's business park. The Port has its office in this building and leases other offices.
Tad McGeer and Andy von Flotow founded Insitu, Inc. in Bingen in 1994 to manufacture unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to provide weather-related reconnaissance and for tracking for commercial fishermen. Bringing high-tech, high-paying jobs to the area, Insitu became one of the Port’s first major clients at the new business park; however, it was only after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that Insitu would experience a monumental surge of growth.
Insitu partnered with Boeing on a military contract in 2002 and thereafter began developing many new projects. The Port eagerly accommodated the firm and in 2004 opened a new 25,000-square-foot facility to enable Insitu to expand its manufacturing capabilities. In 2007 the Port additionally opened a 15,000-square-foot facility for Insitu.
Currently, Insitu develops unmanned aircraft for use by the Australian, Canadian, and United States militaries. It is the largest tenant of the Port and its success has been a major boost to the local economy. In 2006 then Bingen mayor Brian Prigel described Insitu’s presence as "pretty much all benefits and no downside" (The Columbian, November 19, 2006). From three employees in 2001, the firm now employs more than 700 people, many of whom work at the Bingen Point Business Park.
Port of Klickitat Today
The Port of Klickitat is currently seeking to expand upon its recent success with small businesses at its facilities at Bingen Point and Dallesport. Not including the three elected commissioners, four employees work directly for the Port.
Presently, the Port has 52 acres at Bingen Point available for light industrial and commercial uses. The Port maintains waterfront access to the protected inlet marina at Bingen Point and is a popular recreational site for those wishing to access the Gorge.
More than 660 acres are presently zoned and ready for development at Dallesport for light and heavy industrial use. Dallesport maintains substantial shipping and commercial facilities. The Port is currently seeking small-business clients that want to develop facilities on Port property whether at Bingen Point or Dallesport.
As of 2010, the Port has attracted all kinds of businesses, from manufacturers of carbon fiber products and unmanned aerial vehicles to fruit processing, a foundry, and a specialty log company. Future goals include improving infrastructure at both the Bingen Point and Dallesport sites to aid further development, increase family-wage jobs, and support the local community.