Port of Whitman County Mulls Expansion

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Posted May 15, 2018

The Port of Whitman County is eyeing expansion of its operations at Central Ferry and has taken initial steps in a long process that could see it acquire nearby wildlife mitigation property from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

On Thursday, Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers introduced the Port of Whitman Economic Expansion Act, which would authorize the corps to trade its Central Ferry Habitat Management Unit to the port.

The bill would not move ownership of the property but instead simply make it eligible for a swap and authorize the corps to explore the idea. The agency and the port would still have to go through an extensive public process to accomplish the deal.

Joe Poire, executive director of the port, said if the land is acquired it would be zoned heavy-industrial and allow for the expansion of the types of activities that take place at its Port of Central Ferry. Poire described those operations as centering on the movement of agricultural products, including crops and chemical fertilizers. The port there is served both by barges on the Snake River and a rail line.

The grassy, 564-acre Central Ferry Habitat Management Unit is managed by the corps to mitigate for wildlife habitat lost when Snake River dams inundated the shoreline. It is one of several such properties managed by the Corps' Walla Walla District. Poire said he didn't know if the potential trade would involve all 564 acres or a smaller portion of it. Part of the property is flat, and another portion is on a hillside.

If the trade is approved, the port would have to purchase another piece of property that would serve the same wildlife mitigation function. Poire said that property has not been identified.

"The corps will tell us what they want us to buy. It has to be adjacent to other corps property and fit into their master habitat management scheme," he said.

The port would also have to pay for any studies required to facilitate the swap, such as environmental reviews and archeological surveys.

The corps also manages land that was once Central Ferry State Park in the same area. However, that land is west of State Route 127. The property subject to potential trade is east of the highway and north of the port's existing property.

Source: Lewiston Tribune