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Port approves subdivision

Commissioners for the Port of The Dalles unanimously approved a plan Wednesday to develop the first stage of the North Chenoweth subdivision, meaning bid documents could be published in as little as weeks and bids could be returned just a few weeks after that.

“I’m sitting here with a smile on my face,” said Commissioner Greg Weast during the meeting’s council comments segment.

“Me, too,” added Commissioner Mike Courtney.

The decision has been years in the making. Google held an option on the land until 2011, then the port engaged in an extensive due diligence process. The primary goal of the port is to stimulate job growth within the community, and port officials hope the project will bring lots of jobs, as well as expand the city tax base. The property is located north of Chenoweth Creek at the end of River Road. The first phase of development will be 40.35 acres.

The Port’s project engineer, Kenneth Valentine of Harper Houf Peterson Righellis Inc., walked the commission through a variety of issues that have been resolved to clear the way for that decision, including subdivision approval, sanitary sewer installation and permission to cross railroad tracks.

“One of the biggest challenges is providing sanitary sewer service to the site,” Valentine said. “It’s a regional problem, not exclusive to this site.”

No gravity sewer service is available to the area, he said. Sewage has to be pumped to a manhole on Second Street.

Originally, the port had hoped to have help in constructing the pipeline that would stretch from North Chenoweth to West Second through the WM3 site — the proposed Walmart site. But objections to Walmart’s plan to construct a Super Store there have resulted in lengthy appeals delays.

“We saw it was going to hold up our project,” Valentine said.

A preliminary arrangement has been worked out between the port, the City of The Dalles and WM3 to establish a reimbursement district whereby developers who build along the pipeline outside the North Chenoweth subdivision would reimburse the port for their share of the sewer line costs.

“The city can approve the reimbursement district by resolution,” noted Andrea Klaas, the port’s executive director.

Originally, the pipeline had been expected to go straight through the middle of the WM3 site, but as a result of those delays, the line will be rerouted. The line also has to skirt a wetland area. The relocation raised some concerns about building into a slope and potential risks for the adjacent wetland, but Valentine assured the commission that the process used is relatively common practice.

“We’ll be able to skim right by the wetlands,” he said. “In a couple of places we’ll be about six feet away from the edge of the wetland, weaving our way through.”

The wetland will be fenced, so contractors will have a clear line showing where they can’t go.

The Oregon Department of State Lands has told the port no wetland permit is required. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has not commented on the plan, noted Michael Held, the port’s development coordinator, but according to discussion with the Corps, lack of comment can be interpreted to mean no objections.

Notification of the two agencies was a courtesy, Valentine added.

A permit to run the sewer line below railroad tracks is ready to be issued by Union Pacific when the appropriate fee is paid. Valentine said the permit took less time to secure than he expected, only three weeks.

The city planning office is reviewing copies of the subdivision’s 90 percent complete engineering documents, Valentine noted. He has also sent a preliminary utility plan for review to private utilities, including Northern Wasco County PUD.

Valentine expects the other utilities to follow the PUD’s lead, as they often have in the past.

“This is an expensive site to develop for a couple of reasons,” Valentine said.

One of those reasons is that the bridge to the site a few years ago does not include enough utility crossing conduits, only one water line, one sanitary sewer crossing and a fiber-optic cable.

“We’ll need to add more crossings to the bridge,” Valentine said.

Another consideration is the cost of fill material. Original specs for the job had been to add fill to raise the elevation of the site up to the 99-foot elevation where the Corps of Engineers has its river easement.

“That’s a really high elevation,” Valentine said. “The flood plain elevation is closer to 93 feet.”

The port was able to resolve that obstacle in the Google development by determining that the 99-foot elevation would only occur in an event where the river overflowed Bonneville Dam downriver, or in a catastrophic breach of The Dalles Dam — both highly unlikely events, Klaas noted.

Raising the subdivision site to the 99-foot level would require a huge amount of fill, Valentine said, as much as 300,000 yards.

Even only bringing the site to flood level will require substantial fill, about 120,000 cubic yards. Part of that will be to replace the 20,000 to 50,000 cubic yards of wood chips from the former chip mill site that must be removed.

Cost of grading and developing the site at the 99-foot level would be about $8 million, noted Held.

The port commission discarded that notion and instead approved a plan that would develop the original second phase of the subdivision plan first, bringing utilities past the original first phase, but leaving the ground ungraded.

The idea, Valentine said, would be to develop that portion of the subdivision later with some of the revenues from the first portion, or level the site over time with available fill.

Cost of initial development for this plan would be about $5 million. The port has slightly less than that in its capital construction war chest, revenues from sales of land in its earlier subdivisions.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has indicated a willingness to grant up to $750,000 to help pay for road development. The port has also applied for a $2.5 million loan from the state Infrastructure Finance Authority at 3 percent interest. The loan would be paid back through project revenues.

“We had discussed trying to get federal money from the Economic Development Administration,” Klaas noted. “The reason we didn’t go that route is that we would have had to hold the land for 20 years.”

The funding would have been incompatible with the port’s usual approach to development, which is to sell the land.

The funding package allows the port to retain a portion of its capital development fund for other projects.

As Valentine noted, cost of the subdivision is high — at between $120,000 and $150,000, as estimated by port commissioners, it would be substantially higher than per-acre asking prices for land in communities listed in a comparison study, which ranged from $84,615 per acre in McMinnville down to $10,599 per acre in Arlington.

Ports are known to step in and develop challenging land as a way to benefit their communities when the cost is too high for private developers to do so.

“[This subdivision] will add more value to the city’s tax base and will create jobs,” Commissioner Courtney noted.

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