Voters in Franklin County create Port of Pasco on May 2, 1940, to provide facilities for grain barges on the Columbia River.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 11/05/2010
  • Essay 9631
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On May 2, 1940, voters in Franklin County create the Port of Pasco in order to provide facilities for grain barges on the Columbia River. The issue passes by a vote of 875 to 524. The Port of Pasco soon develops docking facilities and a grain elevator, later known as the Marine Terminal, on the Columbia River. The Port undergoes a significant expansion in 1959, when it acquires the former Big Pasco Army Depot and converts it into the Big Pasco Industrial Center. In 1963, the Port purchases the Pasco Airport, which then expands into the Tri-Cities Airport, the major commercial airport for the Pasco-Kennewick-Richland area. Over the decades, the Port develops a number of other sites, including the Pasco Processing Center, which processes food products from the productive farmlands of the region, the Container Barge Terminal on the Columbia River, the Foster Wells Business Center, and the Port's latest project, Osprey Pointe, located on the Columbia River. As of 2010, the Port's goals are to assist industrial development in the region and to clean up and expand public use of the waterfront.

To Move Grain

The Port of Pasco was the second port district in what is now known as the Tri-Cities. The Port of Kennewick had been established in 1915. The first commissioners, chosen in May 2, 1940, election, were S. N. McGee, Darrel Pepiot, and Warden Fann.

The original goal of the Port of Pasco was to establish publicly owned docks, grain elevators, and warehouse facilities to transport Franklin County grain down the Columbia River to Pacific ports. The Port’s first project was to build a 500,000-bushel bulk grain elevator, dedicated in October 1941. This elevator handled more than 200 million bushels of grain over its lifetime. This 28-acre site, known as the Marine Terminal and located just east of the present Cable Bridge, "handled the largest bulk cargo tonnage of any area on the Columbia river above Portland-Vancouver" (Beacon, summer 2006).  It also had a huge petroleum tank farm, used by Continental Oil and Utah Oil Refining.

Yet, as of 1959, the Port’s biggest concern was a lack of space for expansion. That problem was dramatically solved later in 1959, when the Port acquired Big Pasco, a former World War II Army depot on the riverfront.

Big Pasco

Big Pasco was originally built in 1942 as a holding and reconsignment point for military supplies, mostly bound for the Soviet Union as part of the Lend-Lease program. Big Pasco was a massive facility of warehouses, rail spurs, and docks. It was deactivated in 1947 and then reactivated in 1950 as a supply facility for troops in Korea and as an Army Corps of Engineers supply center.

It was deactivated again in 1955 and the federal government offered it for sale in 1958. The Port put in several bids, the last of which was an $819,000 bid for the 459-acre parcel, which included eight warehouses. After extensive negotiations it was accepted in 1959. The Port of Pasco placed a bond issue for that amount on the ballot on October 6, 1959. Voters passed it overwhelmingly, 4,282 to 286, thanks to an effective get-out-the-vote effort. In 1960, the Port acquired the sole remaining 82-acre parcel, and became the owner of the entire Big Pasco depot site.

The site -- the equivalent of 16 city blocks -- had 1.7 million square feet of warehouse space and several miles of internal railroad track. It also had domestic water, sewer, electric and gas services. The first of many tenants was Portland Wire and Steel Warehouses Co., which leased a warehouse a week after the Port took over.

In 1961, Huico, a partnership of three Portland firms, became a major tenant. It had a $6 million pipe work contract for the Hanford Works, along with other pipe work.

Other tenants that year included Boise Cascade, Van Waters & Rogers Chemical fertilizer warehouse, California Spray Chemical Co, Industrial Rebuilders, Stramit Corp., and Big Pasco Warehouses.

As of 1961, the Port of Pasco was the third largest public port on the Columbia River, behind only Portland and Vancouver.

Tri-Cities Airport

The Port’s next major expansion came on January 1, 1963, when it took over the Pasco Municipal Airport from the City of Pasco. Port of Pasco general manager Del C. Isaacson said at the time that both parties agreed that it made more sense for the airport to be managed by the Port, "a transportation and industrial promotion" entity, rather than the city (Letter). The airport had been developed as a U.S. Naval air training station during World War II and then turned over to the City of Pasco after the war.

The Port of Pasco changed the name to the Tri-Cities Airport and built a new and modern terminal in 1966. It became the major regional airport for the Tri-Cities region, served by several airlines. The size of the terminal was more than doubled in 1986 and the airport has been expanded and modernized several times over the decades.

The Tri-Cities Airport’s traffic has continued to grow with the region’s economy and population. The airport set a passenger record in 2009 with 256,449 passenger boardings, and was on schedule to break it again in 2010. Delta, Horizon Air, Allegiant Air, and United Airlines served the airport, as of 2010. It has direct flights to Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Seattle, Salt Lake City, and Minneapolis.

The airport also offers general aviation services and Federal Express package freight service. It has three runways, the longest of which is 7,711 feet long. More than 120 aircraft are based at the field.

The airport is also the site of two other Port of Pasco development projects, the Airport Business Center and the Airport East Side Industrial Park. About 700 people are employed at the airport and related sites.

Shipping and Processing

Meanwhile, the Port of Pasco has continued to expand its other transportation and industrial services.

In 1976, the Port opened the Port of Pasco Container Terminal, a container barge slip, on a portion of the old Big Pasco site. Farmers no longer had to hire truckers from Portland and Seattle to drive to Pasco and then haul their wares back to deep-sea ports. Farmers could now simply barge their goods on container barges to Portland.  By 1980, the Port was shipping 2,000 containers a year. In 1979, the Port of Pasco also began shipping large quantities of hay to Japan.

In the early 1990s, the Port began developing the Pasco Processing Center, a 250-acre food-processing park, along US 395. It provides space and infrastructure for firms processing the abundant agricultural products of the Columbia Basin, Yakima Valley, and Walla Walla Valley. In 1995, the first tenants moved in.

The 63-acre Foster Wells Business Park is located in the northwest corner of the Pasco Processing Center, and it is divided into smaller parcels for a wide variety of manufacturing and warehouse uses.

Parks, Trails, and the Clean-Up

In 2004, the original 1941 grain elevator at the Marine Terminal was torn down. The Marine Terminal site is undergoing extensive environmental cleanup, including cleanup of the old 20-million-gallon petroleum tank farm, which stored petroleum for many decades.

In 2007, the Port realigned the primary road through its Big Pasco site, which included the creation of a pedestrian trail along the waterfront, connecting to Sacajawea State Park. The old barracks buildings were torn down to make way for redevelopment. The huge Gantry Crane, dubbed BOB for “bucket of bolts,” was dismantled in 2004 (Beacon, Spring 2010).

Osprey Point

On February 8, 2008, fire destroyed a 51,000-square-foot industrial building in Big Pasco. The Port received a $4.2 million insurance settlement. The proceeds were used to fund the construction of the first building in the Port’s newest development, Osprey Pointe, a modern business center located at the west end of Big Pasco.

The Port hired BCRA Architects to design this 110-acre business center combining office space, open space, and public waterfront access and trails. Construction of the first building began in 2010 and was scheduled for completion in February 2011.

Port of Pasco Today

“As a Port, we have two miles of undeveloped, levee-free riverfront property,” said the Port of Pasco commissioners in a 2010 newsletter. “Until recently much of it was not available to the public. The Port has taken seriously our responsibility to develop this land for economic development for the benefit of the entire community” (Beacon, Spring 2010).

In 2010, Port officials were surprised to find a 1974 Aston Martin and a 1972 Jaguar E V12 Coupe in a mini-storage building that was destined for demolition as part of the Osprey Pointe project. The cars had been left behind after a tenant vacated the Port’s mini-storage units. The Port put both cars up for auction. The sale of the cars was sufficient to pay the rent owed to the Port.

As of mid-2010, the Port reported that it had “$26 million worth of projects now, or soon to be, underway” (Beacon, Summer 2010). The Pasco Processing Center was nearly full, Foster Wells development was continuing, and Big Pasco was being extensively transformed and was “quickly becoming a modern distribution and manufacturing center” (Beacon, summer 2010). Walls had gone up on the first part of the Osprey Pointe project. Traffic at the Tri-Cities Airport continued to grow, and $9 million worth of improvements were undertaken in 2009 and 2010.

Meanwhile, environmental cleanup continued at the Marine Terminal and was scheduled to be completed in 2012, with redevelopment beginning immediately thereafter.

As of 2010, the Port commissioners were Ernie Boston, Jim Klindworth, and Bill Clark. The executive director was Jim Toomey and the director of airports was Jim Morasch.


“Port of Pasco History,” Port of Pasco website, accessed Oct. 27, 2010 (; David C. Konzek, "Big Pasco Industrial Center From 1942 to 1959," a historical research paper commissioned by the Port of Pasco, December 2004, on file at the Port of Pasco; The Port of Pasco Beacon, newsletter of the Port of Pasco, issues Summer 2006, Spring 2007, Summer 2007, Spring 2008, Fall 2009, Spring 2010, Summer 2010 and Fall 2010, accessible through the Port of Pasco website -- use Current News link (; “More Space Seen Big Need for Port of Pasco,” Spokesman-Review, September 30, 1959, p. 10; “Port District to Buy Army Engineers Depot,” Spokesman-Review, August 16, 1958, p. 6; John J. Lemon, “Busy Pasco Port Third Largest,” Spokane Daily Chronicle, November 7, 1961, p. 5; Bill Gasman, “Voters OK Pasco Port Bond Issue,” Spokesman-Review, October 7, 1959, p. 1; “Pipe Fabricating Plant Due Pasco,” Spokesman-Review, June 25, 1960, p. 6; Bill First, “Expanding Port of Pasco Spur to Basin Industrial Growth,” Spokesman-Review, May 14, 1961. P. 19; Todd Crowell, “Inland Ports,” Spokesman-Review, March 16, 1980, p. H4; Kristi Pihl, “Port of Pasco to Auction Vintage Cars,” Tri-City Herald, March 20, 2010; Letter from Del C. Isaacson to Richard D. Ford, January 4, 1963, on file with the Washington Public Ports Association; Jim Kershner interview with Vicky Keller, Port public information officer, October 29, 2010.

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