On October 6, 1958, the Grant County Board of County Commissioners passes a resolution that places creation of the county's third public port district before voters. In the subsequent November 4, 1958, election, citizens in the Mattawa area decidedly vote the Port of Mattawa into being by a vote of 106 to 28. During the 1950s and 1960s the small port district will focus on industrial development to take advantage of increased accessibility for commercial vessels on the Columbia River. In the twenty-first century work by the Port of Mattawa will attract winemakers to the district as well as provide space in industrial parks for a variety of businesses and services essential to the economic health of the town. The hard work of the tiny port will gain recognition in 2000, when it will win the Washington Public Ports Association’s Port of the Year Award.
Public Ports and Dams
Ports in Washington state have a unique governing structure; unlike port systems in other states, the ports in Washington State are not simply a department of a municipal government. Instead, they are independent public entities, which have similar powers to municipalities including the ability to tax and to condemn property by eminent domain. Although the first ports centered on deepwater harbors such as Seattle and Tacoma, by the 1950s, state legislation had given ports the ability to prepare land for industrial uses in an effort to attract new industries to the district. This work involves influencing zoning decisions, fostering commercial real estate interest, and installing necessary infrastructure to meet the needs of emerging industry.
The movement for the Port of Mattawa grew out of a larger effort to create a countywide port in Grant County. The Port District No. 1 of Grant County (Port of Quincy) formed in the first months of 1958, and a plan surfaced to expand the port district to include a larger portion of the county or even the whole county. The interest in a strong port district anticipated new infrastructure on the Columbia River, which would open up the region to new agricultural development. The inclusion of navigation locks in the Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams on the Columbia River would open up Grant County to water transportation with rates 17.5 percent below rail rates in 1958.
Mattawa the Town and the Port
The construction of dams also brought many laborers and other employees associated with the work. Although the town site of Mattawa was one of the oldest platted areas in the county, the town was only incorporated on June 3, 1958. Of the 550 people officially registered to vote in the town, most worked on dam construction with the rest providing medical and retail services.
In the 1950s the town would have looked brand new with only three or four masonry structures and frame houses. The majority of residents lived in trailers. The citizens in these districts wanted their tax dollars to work a little closer to home. A push back against the countywide plan resulted in the formation of two smaller districts around Mattawa and Royal Slope. The Chamber of Commerce of Ephrata formed a committee to investigate the advantages of creating a port district, and it held public meetings to explain the reach and responsibility of a port district to the citizenry with experts coming from other parts of the state. Then, on October 6, 1958, the Board of Commissioners of Grant County passed a resolution in support of the Port of Mattawa; the port district included 138,240 acres around the Wahluke School District and the town of Mattawa.
In the subsequent election on November 4, 1958, the citizens of Mattawa overwhelmingly approved creation of their own port district by a vote of 106 to 28, and they elected as commissioners Charles Crowder, Robert P. Adams, and Robert L. Garoutte, who also served as the marshal of Mattawa. As dictated by state law, these men volunteered their time. This leadership would bring in a total income of $500 for the district that year.
In the same election, the Port of Royal Slope also passed with a vote of 206 to 33. This decision brought the number of port districts in Grant County up to three. By the 1960s and 1970s, the introduction of hydroelectric power and the Columbia Basin Federal Irrigation Project brought more farms and people to the area. An additional powerhouse built at the Grand Coulee Dam tripled the energy output, and this energy source, in addition to irrigation technology, made the region more attractive to various industries including agriculture. The influx of people and industries has resulted in 10 port districts in Grant County as of 2011.
Working with the Public Ports Association
On March 14, 1964, the Port of Mattawa joined the Washington Public Ports Association (WPPA), and James McCurdy acted as the first port trustee to the WPPA. The association created and supported a network of ports in the state; it offered the Port of Mattawa information, ideas, and experiences from other member ports. The association also provided research materials and support for advertising and promotional projects. A representative of the Port of Mattawa corresponded with the WPPA throughout the years about projects ranging from industrial developments to land and asset purchases.
The state law regarding the responsibilities and abilities of ports is purposefully very specific; often, expertise from WPPA helped the Port of Mattawa by clarifying the legal reach of the Port. Within just a few years of becoming a member, it helped the Port of Mattawa navigate a sensitive land development issue with state Department of Natural Resources.
The recent projects of the port have continued to provide attractive facilities for emerging industries. In 1997, the port purchased 100 acres of land for $100,000 just outside of Mattawa. With an eye toward spurring industrial growth, the port changed the zoning to "light industrial" and platted the land into 10 tracts. It installed infrastructure such as heavy-duty electrical and telephone conduit as well as improved the road system. The total project cost $370,000, and six tracts have been sold for $307,000. An orchardist purchased four of the tracts and the remaining tracts have been promoted to agriculture-related businesses.
The Port of Mattawa has created economic growth in the town by building four industrial parks; a variety of businesses lease spaces in these industrial parks. These properties have allowed small businesses to incubate, and the Port actively makes improvements to the infrastructure to encourage diverse development and to keep pace with their industrial tenants.
In March 2008, the port received a loan for $1 million and a grant for $800,000 from the Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) to construct an industrial wastewater treatment facility. The facility allowed for two wine makers, Flanagan and Jones Inc and Wahluke Wine Company, in the district to discharge wastewater from grape crushing processes, and it is also considered a strong draw for future business developments. The facility processes the wastewater and makes it reusable as water acceptable for irrigating apples and cherries trees as well as wine grape plants.
Honors and Continuing Progress
With an operating budget of $95,000 in 2000, Port of Mattawa is very small when compared to the Ports of Seattle ($260 million), Bellingham ($10.4 million), and Chelan ($980,000). Despite its small size, it has managed to make a big impression, and in 2000, the port district won the Washington Public Port Association’s Port of the Year Award. The win came as a surprise to the port, but as Mike Conley, the business developer of the port at the time, said “I realized we had a good story to tell and was very proud of what we had accomplished over the past several years” (Janovich).
Some of the recent projects include ongoing work with the Grant County Water Conservancy Board toward providing water from its reservoir to serve the growing area surrounding Mattawa. Additionally, the port received a U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development grant to build a new facility just west of Mattawa that houses port offices, small businesses, and the Wahluke School District Alternative Program.