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At $8.67 million, Port Westward's water system is one of the most expensive undertakings at the site to date

PORT OF ST. HELENS - A water intake and wastewater system installed at Port Westward still has not generated any income or users, Port of St. Helens officials say. The project, which was part of a larger urban renewal district, cost about $8.67 million. A nearly $9 million water intake and discharge system at Port Westward Industrial Park has recuperated no revenue and currently has no users.

The water and wastewater infrastructure was developed as part of the Port Westward Urban Renewal Area. The renewal area was initiated in 2001 as a way to revive the once blighted area in Clatskanie and establish a funding mechanism through property tax increment for infrastructure and economic development projects.

At $8.67 million, Port Westward's water system is one of the most expensive undertakings at the site to date, second only to roughly $15 million spent on two phases of road improvements to improve access for current and future industrial tenants.

Like the other infrastructure projects at Port Westward, the water system was upgraded to serve tenants at the industrial park, but roughly five years after the water system upgrades, the system sits untapped.

Hayes Doug Hayes, executive director of the Port of St. Helens, says that's because there aren't enough tenants at Port Westward to generate user fees or revenue to pay back the cost of the water project. Currently, Global Partners LP, an ethanol transloading company, and Portland General Electric, an energy generation and supplier, lease property at Port Westward.

Hayes said Global Partners does not use the water system, primarily due to access issues. System maintenance requires users to enter PGE's property, which has been a longstanding issue until recently.

"Still no users," Hayes said. "Obviously that would be for future tenants, but the access to it was huge because we have to maintain it. One of the biggest reasons [Global isn't using it] is the access for preventative maintenance on it. There was no clear cut delineation on the maintaining of the water (system)."

The Port is currently in the midst of negotiating access rights with PGE, but that comes after hints of frustration from the county over a communication breakdown and lack of adherence to an intergovernmental agreement between the Port and the county. The IGA calls for routine maintenance and periodic reporting of any user fees collected in connection with the system.

During an unannounced meeting Monday, Oct. 16, between the Columbia County Board of Commissioners and Port commissioners, as well as attorneys for both public agencies, Deputy Executive Director Paula Miranda said an account had been set up to collect user fees, but none have been collected to date.

County Commissioner Henry Heimuller told Port commissioners the county "would like to get the issues resolved as soon as possible," Port meeting minutes state.

Exactly what those issues are remains unclear.

The Columbia County Development Agency, which oversees the Urban Renewal Area, is comprised of current county commissioners.

The agency has met at least four times this year, but posted no meeting minutes.

Following a CCDA executive session meeting Wednesday, Nov. 1, CCDA Chairman and County Commissioner Alex Tardif, declined to discuss the IGA further, citing confidentiality rules tied to executive session meetings.

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