Commissioners of the newly created Port of Benton hold their first meeting in Richland on December 22, 1958.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 2/11/2011
  • Essay 9718
See Additional Media

On December 22, 1958, the commissioners of the newly created Port of Benton hold their first meeting in Richland, Washington. The Port of Benton (also known as Benton County Port District No. 2) had just been approved by voters on November 4, 1958, by a landslide vote. Within a few years, the Port acquires two airports – Prosser Airport and Richland Airport. The Port later moves into economic development and grows to support small business within the industrial, technology and wine sectors. The Port of Benton eventually grows to include: Technology & Business Campus, Richland Innovation Center, Richland Airport and Manufacturing Mall in Richland; Benton City Industrial Park and two development buildings in downtown Benton City; and Vintner's Village, Vintner's Village Phase 2, Prosser Wine & Food Park, and Prosser Airport in Prosser. The Port also manages Crow Butte Park on an island in the Columbia River.

Creating Port of Benton

A plan was floated in 1958 to add the rest of Benton County to the long-established Port of Kennewick, but "the scheme was scotched by Kennewick port officials," stated a contemporary news report ("Election Urged").

A number of ideas took shape to create a new port district centered on the main cities of Benton City, Prosser, and Richland. By May 29, 1958, delegations from all three cities agreed to go together with a plan to create a large port district covering all of Benton County, except the part already in the Port of Kennewick’s district. 

On November 4, 1958, the issue was presented to voters. It passed overwhelmingly -- 7,336 to 2,157. The Port of Benton was duly created by proclamation of the Benton County commissioners.

Three new port commissioners -- John “Jack” Hills, Roland Lindburg, and Harold Kinney -- were elected on the same day. The Port’s first budget was $9,750.  Three weeks later, the Portland Commission of Public Docks took out an ad in the Tri-City Herald congratulating the new port district. "The creation of your Port District is a great step toward the realization of linking your area to the sea and providing access to the markets of the world," stated the ad ("Portland").

Visions of Development

The overall goal of the Port was broader:  to encourage and develop industrial locations of all kinds within the district, to foster economic development. The Port’s geographical advantages included not just the Columbia River, but the agricultural bounty of the lower Yakima Valley and the vast Hanford Engineering Works, later called the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

In 1959, the Port hired a planning firm to put together a comprehensive development plan, which focused on sites along the Columbia River and a dock site on what was then known as Camp Hanford just upstream from the Richland city limits and now called the Technology & Business Campus.

The Port's Airports

In 1961, the Port moved into another "field": the George O. Beardsley Field, now known as the Prosser Airport. The City of Prosser was having difficulties extending its leases at the airport, so it turned the airport over to the Port, which subsequently, in 1962,  resurfaced the runway. Further improvements were made over the years and in 1982 the runway was extended 500 feet to its present 3,450 feet. A taxiway was added and many other storage and industrial buildings were constructed. In addition to serving the general aviation community, the Prosser Airport became a popular site for the Experimental Aircraft Association, which started the Prosser Fly-In in 1981. Today, the Prosser Airport is home base for approximately 35 aircraft and the Prosser Balloon Rally.

Meanwhile, the Port acquired a second airport: the Richland Airport. This airport was built in 1943 by the federal government to support Hanford-related operations and was closed to private or commercial flights. At that time, it was known as Atomic Energy Field. In 1960, the Atomic Energy Commission, through the General Services Administration, donated 40 acres next to the airport to the Port and agreed to allow the Port to open it to the public and operate it. The Richland Airport was officially opened in 1961.

Today, the Richland Airport supports a large general aviation community and is the base for approximately 173 aircraft. The Port has also developed a number of manufacturing and warehouse facilities at the airport along with serving as a base for MedStar’s life flight services.

A Nuclear Port

Meanwhile, the Port was moving ahead with plans to create another industrial park on the former Camp Hanford land along the banks of the Columbia River, today known as the Technology & Business Campus. The Corps of Engineers sold 290 acres to the Port in 1961 for $100,000. The original use was to be a public dock.  In 1972, the Port had the river dredged and then built a major dock, currently used primarily by the U.S. Navy for off-loading nuclear materials bound for the Hanford site.

The Port of Benton was officially declared a "nuclear port" in 1965; one of only five in the nation, meaning it was authorized to handle radioactive materials, including nuclear waste and spent fuel elements. The dock received nationwide attention in 1989 when the remains of the nation’s oldest commercial reactor from Shippingport, Pennsylvania, arrived at the dock on a barge, ending an 8,000-mile journey.  It was bound for the Hanford site, where it was buried.

Technology & Business Campus

In 1965, the Port began developing the rest of the site and changed the name from Richland North Area to Richland Industrial Park. The first tenant, Automata Corporation, arrived in 1970, followed by Holosonics, the Washington Public Power Supply System’s headquarters (now Energy Northwest), Sigma Research, Alpha Biochemical (now Penford Products) and Stirling Technology. In 1988, the Port donated 21 acres of the industrial park to Washington State University for its Tri-Cities campus. By 1994, the Port had changed the name again from Richland Industrial Park to the Technology & Business Campus.

As of 2011, the Technology & Business Campus has 23 tenants and employs more than 2,000 people. Adjacent to the park, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, operated by Battelle, has its main campus. 

Research and Industry

In 1996, the Port acquired the portion of the Hanford site known as the 3000 Area, and then developed it under the name Richland Industrial Center (not to be confused with Richland Industrial Park). This park and the Technology & Business Campus were designated by the State of Washington in 2007 as an Innovation Partnership Zone. They were combined in a master plan, along with the neighboring properties, as a commercial/mixed use research park.  The name was changed in 2008 to the Richland Innovation Center and currently has 18 tenants. 

In 1998, the Department of Energy transferred 760 acres in North Richland to the Port, which has developed it into an industrial park called the Manufacturing Mall.  Sixteen tenants currently lease space in the mall, along with American Rock/Eucon Corporation, which operates a rock quarry in a portion of the site. In 2000, Kaiser Aluminum obtained an aluminum extrusion press from Hanford to use in making difficult shapes such as baseball bats out of aluminum.   

The U.S.S. Triton

In 2009, the Port created a dramatic new landmark within the Technology & Business Campus as it began work on the U.S.S. Triton Submarine Sail Memorial Park.  The U.S.S. Triton is a decommissioned nuclear submarine, launched in 1959 and famous for being the first U.S. submarine to circumnavigate the globe while submerged. 

In October 2009, the Triton’s 230 foot tall "sail” -- its superstructure -- was placed in concrete at the park. Over the next several years, the Port plans to develop information kiosks, paths, flagpoles, and lawn areas in the park. Port Commissioner Robert D. Larson conceived the idea for the park as a way to honor the Port’s close partnership over the years with the U.S. Navy.

Benton City's Industrial Park

Meanwhile, the Port had been busy developing sites in Benton City and Prosser. In 1975, the Port purchased 26 acres in Benton City to create the Benton City Industrial Park on the east side of the city’s commercial district.

The first tenant was Northwest Metals. As of 2011, the tenants include: Benton County Fire District #2, Elevator Manufacturing, C.J. Plastics, Basin General Machine, and 

Grapes, Wine, and Apples in Prosser

In 1963, the Port moved into industrial development in a big way and acquired a 70-acre site in Prosser, which would later become known as the Prosser Wine & Food Park. In February 1964, Seneca Grape Juice Corporation became a major tenant, utilizing the vast grape and apple acreage in the Yakima Valley. "We plan to make this site an industrial park like they have in the East,” said Commissioner Lindburg when the Seneca deal was announced. "It will accommodate four or five industries and be attractively landscaped" ("Grape-Processing").

The Seneca plant broke ground in April 1964, but immediately ran into a roadblock:  a statewide plumbers and steamfitters strike. The Pasco local agreed to “complete the plant on an emergency basis so Seneca could be operational by grape harvest” ("50th Anniversary"). The plant was formally dedicated in March 1965 and was touted as "the most technologically advanced processing plant in either the Concord grape or apple processing industries" ("Dedication").

The plant is now owned by Tree Top. In 1965, Prosser Fruit Services built an apple processing facility there for shipping apples to the Pacific Rim. This facility was later purchased by Holtzinger Fruit and most recently by Zirkle Fruit.

The wine component of the Prosser Wine & Food Park was inaugurated in 1982 when Hogue Cellars began making wine in the park. Hogue Cellars grew into a major wine brand and in 1985, Hogue purchased the building where they now have their tasting room. In 1989, Hogue expanded into a 300,000 square foot production facility. By 2007, Hogue was producing 400,000 cases a year.

In 1998, a second development building was constructed in the Prosser Wine & Food Park. In addition to Tree Top and Hogue Cellars, the park’s tenants as of 2011 included Alexandria Nicole Cellars, Blue Flame Spirits, Cowan Vineyards, and Heaven’s Cave Cellars. Other companies who have purchased and developed property in the park are Kenyon Zero Storage, Kestrel Vintner’s, Mercer Estates and Zirkle Fruit.

In 2000, the Port purchased 32 acres in Prosser, with the plan of building a bonded wine warehouse. That project never happened, but shortly afterward Yellow Rose Nursery moved into what was then called the North Prosser Business Park. Soon after that, Willow Crest Winery opened a wine production facility.  The Yakima Valley’s wine industry was booming and by 2008 10 wineries were operating in the park, which was renamed Vintner’s Village. It, along with the nearby Prosser Wine & Food Park, has become a prime stop for tourists on wine tours of the Yakima Valley.  As of 2011, infrastructure and roads are being constructed on an 18-acre expansion project known as Vintner’s Village Phase 2.

A Building and an Island

In 2009, the Port purchased a building that was almost 100 years old in downtown Benton City. After extensive remodeling, the building now is home to Benton City’s only pharmacy and a clothing store.

In 2007, a lease on Crow Butte Park, an island in the middle of the Columbia River, was transferred from a private association to the Port by the Corps of Engineers, which originally developed the park. The Port operates the park with support from Benton County and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Past support was also provided by Klickitat County. The park has a 50-site campground, shelters, restrooms, and showers. Hiking trails cover 1,500 acres of mostly grassland and a causeway provides access to the park from the Washington side of the Columbia River.

Also in 2007, the Washington Public Ports Association recognized the Port of Benton as "Port of the Year."

As of 2011, the Port’s executive director is Scott D. Keller and the commissioners are Jane F. Hagarty, Roy D. Keck, and Robert D. Larson.


"The Port of Benton 50th Anniversary Edition: 50 Years of Progress," ed by Jan Jackson (Richland: Port of Benton, spring 2008) available at Port of Benton website accessed January 30, 2011 (; "Election Urged on Port District," The Spokesman Review, July 4, 1958, p. 5; "All-One District Gets Nod," Tri-City Herald, May 28, 1959, p. 1;  "6 Districts Approve Ports," Tri-City Herald, November 7, 1958, p. 16; "The Portland Commission of Public Docks Congratulates" (advertisement), Tri-City Herald, November 27, 1958, p. 36; "Benton Port Sets Budget," Tri-City Herald, Jan. 11, 1959, p. 14; "Grape-Processing Plant Will Locate in Prosser," Tri-City Herald, February 11, 1964. P. 1; "Dedication Tuesday for Fruit Processing Plant," Tri-City Herald, March 21, 1965, p. 8-A; Drew Foster, "USS Triton Submarine Memorial Park gets sub sail," Tri-City Herald, October 24, 2009.

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You