On November 27, 1964, the Yakima County Board of County Commissioners officially declares the formation of the Port of Sunnyside. The new public port district, Yakima County's first, encompasses an area in and around the City of Sunnyside in the eastern part of the county. Area voters approved creation of the port in the November 3 election. Like many port districts in Eastern Washington, the Port of Sunnyside is intended to promote industrial development and help diversify the area's agriculture-based economy. Sunnyside's port commissioners will take a unique approach to this task, planning and building an Industrial Waste Water Treatment Facility (IWWTF) to serve food processing plants. Opening with a single customer in 1974, the IWWTF will attract many companies, including a large Darigold powdered milk plant, to Sunnyside. In addition to providing waste-water treatment for local food processors, the Port of Sunnyside will develop industrial and business parks that enhance the district's economic development.
Washington's public port districts were first authorized by the legislature in 1911 to develop harbor improvements necessary to retain and expand maritime trade and commerce. State leaders soon recognized that the port district method of promoting jobs and economic development through public investment worked for more than harbors, and port districts were given expanded powers to promote general industrial development. By the 1950s, the legislature made clear that port districts could be formed even in areas without navigable water or need for harbor improvements, and many communities in Eastern Washington organized ports to promote regional development.
Investing in a Port District
Civic leaders in the Sunnyside area were the first in Yakima County to organize a port district. (A second Yakima County district, the Port of Grandview, the state's newest, was created in 1988, 23 years after Grandview residents and businesses firmly rebuffed a proposal by the new Port of Sunnyside to annex the Grandview area into the Sunnyside port district.) The Yakima valley's ample sunshine and fertile volcanic soil made it an agricultural center from the time settlers in the late 1800s began drawing irrigation water from the Yakima River via a system of irrigation canals -- the Sunnyside Canal, opened in 1892, was one of the first and largest. The irrigation canals, soon largely taken over and expanded by the Federal Bureau of Reclamation's Yakima Project, helped Yakima County become a leading producer of apples, mint, hops, and other crops. However, by the 1960s Sunnyside civic leaders looked to diversify from that agricultural base, and they saw creation of a port district as the means to do so.
Along with others, the three men who would become the first port commissioners -- William S. Barnard (1898-1987) and Richard Golob, both farmers themselves, and Van E. Nutley -- convinced their fellow farmers and businessmen that paying additional taxes to a port district was an investment in economic development that would pay dividends for the whole community. Voters agreed.
In the November 3, 1964, election, residents of the proposed district approved formation of the Port of Sunnyside by a vote of 2,022 in favor to 1,840 opposed. Golob, Barnard, and Nutley were elected to the Port Commission. A little more than three weeks later, on November 27, the Board of County Commissioners met to certify the election returns and officially declare that the Port of Sunnyside "is hereby formed as a municipal corporation of the State of Washington" ("Certification of Canvass ...").
Waste Water Treatment
Over the next decade the port commissioners worked to acquire land and build the infrastructure for an industrial park. In doing so, they were following a model of port district development used throughout the state and especially in Eastern Washington, where there was inexpensive power, thanks to the Columbia Basin project, and plenty of land for industrial development, but the necessary infrastructure -- power and water lines, sewers, roads, and buildings -- frequently required greater investment than private industry could or would undertake. By the early 1970s, the Port of Sunnyside commissioners had come up with a unique application of this basic model, by focusing on a specific need of a particular industry: treating the large quantities of waste water that food processing generated.
Food processors naturally look to locate near the source of their supplies, and the Sunnyside area produced plenty of food. But processors also need a means of disposing their waste water, and that is what the port commissioners set out to provide, in order to bring the industry to Sunnyside. In 1972, the Port acquired 190 acres and began developing the Industrial Waste Water Treatment Facility on the site. The IWWTF employed a treatment process the Port called "cradle to grave recycling" (Port of Sunnyside website). After passing through treatment lagoons, the treated water was sprayed on alfalfa fields that occupied much of the facility's acreage. The alfalfa was then harvested and sold to area dairies and cattle ranches, completing the circle. Fees paid by companies using the system covered the costs of the operation.
In 1974, Independent Foods became the first company to move to Sunnyside to take advantage of the IWWTF; the apple and pear processor discharged 83,649 cubic feet of waste water to the facility for treatment that first year. Pipe manufacturer Robintech (now JM Eagle) began discharging to the IWWTF in 1975 and other companies followed. In 1990 Darigold established a powdered milk plant in Sunnyside and became the treatment facility's largest single user, discharging one half to two thirds of the total waste water over the years. In 2009, the IWWTF treated 43.8 million cubic feet of waste water from 17 companies, with Darigold, Independent Foods, and Valley Processing, a fruit juice and concentrate processor, jointly accounting for nearly 90 percent of that total.
The Port expanded and upgraded the IWWTF over the years, adding 360 acres to the facility, which grew to include four treatment lagoons, a sequencing batch reactor, and 400 acres of alfalfa fields irrigated with the treated water. The Port also maintained an accredited laboratory at the IWWTF to test and monitor the waste water received and the treatment system. When concerns were raised about nitrates from the facility affecting an aquifer (not used for drinking water), the Port made major improvements to the system. In 2005 it built the sequencing batch reactor, which intensified waste water treatment, converting nitrates to nitrogen (released to join the nitrogen in the atmosphere) and so reducing the quantity of nitrates in the water sprayed on the fields. Port staff has worked with industries using the system to re-use more of their water and reduce the volume needing treatment.
In 2010, the Port opened a new De-watering Facility, allowing the IWWTF to separate suspended solids from the industrial waste water. The Port has also acquired 400 acres of land on the Yakima River -- at the site where the early Yakima County settler Ben Snipes (1835-1906) had claimed the first Yakima River water right more than a century earlier -- and plans to construct wetland habitat along the river. The Port will discharge treated water from the IWWTF (as much as 4 million gallons daily) into the constructed wetlands, further expanding IWWTF capacity while benefiting the river by increasing flows and cooling the water in summer (which aids in restoring salmon runs).
The IWWTF serves mostly food or food related industries (the pipe manufacturing plant and a steel fabricator are exceptions), but the Port of Sunnyside has also developed general industrial and business sites that are home to a wide range of companies. At the same time it was building the IWWTF, the Port was acquiring land and installing infrastructure for its first industrial park. One of the first to locate in the park was Tioga Industries, which manufactured RVs on a site later occupied by Valley Manufactured Housing.
In 1999, the Port acquired more than 100 acres near the Sunnyside Municipal Airport and began working with the City of Sunnyside, which owns and operates the airport, on improvements to the airport and the adjacent Port-owned property. In 2003 the Port completed a master development plan for a new industrial and business park and the City approved the Port site as a Planned Unit Development. Infrastructure construction began in 2008 and the first 12 parcels were ready in 2009. The first business, a medical clinic, opened that year and was soon joined by a veterinary practice and the local school district's transportation center. The business park has been named Golob Landing in honor of Richard Golob, one of the Port's three original commissioners and the former owner of the property.
In developing sites where companies can do business in the district, the Port of Sunnyside is like many around the state -- nearly two thirds of the state's public ports operate industrial areas. What makes Sunnyside unique is the IWWTF, which has allowed a particular industry, food processing, to flourish in the district, bringing with it the economic benefits that Golob, Barnard, Nutley, and the others who organized the Port hoped to achieve. In 2009, the 17 companies using the IWWTF jointly pumped $30 million in payroll, and several million dollars more in purchases of goods and services, into the local economy.