Port of Vancouver USA

Frequently Asked Questions


FAQ-red3The Port of Vancouver USA is a fascinating and complex place where trains whistle, cargo moves and work gets done, all day, every day. We get lots of questions about who we are, what we do and why we do it. We’ve developed a list of frequently asked questions to address some of the most common queries and help people better understand our world and our role in the community.

If your questions aren’t addressed here, or there’s more you’d like to talk with us about, please feel free to contact us at 360-693-3611 or info@portvanusa.com.

We are a 104-year-old independent public agency with a mission of providing economic benefit to our community through leadership, stewardship and partnership in marine, industrial and waterfront development.

We manage and develop about 1,643 acres of public property with the primary purpose of marine and industrial development. Port property is home to more than 50 businesses that employ around 3,200 employees who generate about $2.9 billion in annual economic impact across the region.

The port was formed more than a century ago to ensure that prime industrial and marine property on the waterfront was retained for public economic benefit. Today, the Port serves as landlord for more than 2,100 acres with tenants and customers that move more than 6 million metric tons of goods each year. In addition, the port serves as a critically important developer of marine and industrial property to generate additional economic activity for the public benefit.

Port customers and tenants handle a broad range of goods and cargoes. Our geographic location and infrastructure, aided by our unique confluence of river, rails and roads make the port particularly attractive for moving international goods. The Port of Vancouver is also the furthest inland deep-water port on the Columbia River, allowing ocean-going vessels to cost-effectively load and discharge their cargoes. Ten percent of the nation’s wheat harvest moves through the Port of Vancouver, and the port serves as a key West Coast point of entry for Subaru vehicles and wind energy components. The port also handles large volumes of steel and scrap metal, corn, soybeans, copper, fertilizers and petroleum products such as diesel and jet fuel.

One of our major areas of focus is improving the flow of freight through the port. The West Vancouver Freight Access project realigns and nearly triples our track miles, making it more efficient to load and unload trains. We’ve developed 58 acres of ready-to-build industrial land through our Centennial Industrial Park, in which we're building a new light-industrial facility to support advanced manufacturing, warehousing, distribution and other industries. We are also redeveloping a 10-acre site we own on the Columbia River. Known as Terminal 1, the site is the port’s birthplace and home to our first warehouse, built in the 1920s through a partnership with the City of Vancouver. When fully developed, Terminal 1 could feature a public marketplace, new hotel, retail and commercial office space, and visitor amenities.

From a global perspective, the Port of Vancouver is a link in one of the most efficient shipping connections between the Midcontinent and the Pacific Rim. Our deep-water inland port features four miles of waterfront, is served by two rail carriers and two interstates, and offers two of North America’s largest mobile harbor cranes. We have 800 acres of improved property that includes 2 million square feet of warehouse space. We are also actively seeking tenants for Columbia Gateway, an additional 500 acres of port property available for development.

Our currently developed industrial properties are nearly completely leased, and global trade across our marine terminals is brisk and ever-growing. To create even more economic opportunities and jobs, we have been pursuing improvements to the flow of goods as well as the development of additional marine and industrial properties. Our current work involves a freight access initiative that improves the safety and flow of rail traffic, as well as improving hundreds of acres of industrial development for current and future development. We also are actively partnering and investing to achieve redevelopment goals for Vancouver’s downtown waterfront. These projects all have tremendous promise for generating economic benefit for our community and are only made possible through long-term planning and partnerships.

Definitely. As we pursue our century-old mission of providing economic benefit for the public, we build our business plans by studying marketplace opportunities in relation to our properties under development. As we seek a diversity of tenants and customers, we always examine their financial stability, investment commitment and responsible operation, as well as their past record and future plans for safety and environmental stewardship. Finally, we consider the timing and sequence of tenants relative to the port’s overall business and financial flow. Our intent is to achieve steadily improving economic benefit to our community while protecting tenants, neighbors and the environment.

The port certainly supports green energy and is considered among ports as one of the leaders in embracing green energy. The port benefits greatly from tenant and customer diversification. Virtually every company and industry has cyclical ups and downs. Our approach is to seek a diverse range of tenants and customers to help us deliver consistent economic impact. For example, we are proud of our leadership importing wind turbine components on behalf of the three largest manufacturers, but that industry has faced tremendous ups and downs due to the availability of government subsidies.

Yes. In a state where one in three jobs is connected to international trade, the port sees opportunity for jobs and economic activity by serving as a link in the flow of goods. The port sees additional opportunity in addressing our region’s severe shortage of available land for industrial development. Currently, the port and its tenants employ 3,200 directly and more than 20,000 indirectly.

The port is a profitable organization, which is good news for local taxpayers. This means the income generated from sources like tenant leases and vessel fees more than covers operating costs such as salaries, rents, utilities and business services. The port also invests deeply in capital improvements, much like a family invests in improvements to its home. These capital improvements are paid partly from income the port generates, and they also are paid by tenants and customers through fees, port district residents through taxes, and state and federal government agencies through competitive grant programs. These investments help make it possible for the port to deliver greater economic impact to the community for years to come.

Yes. For more than a decade we have partnered with the developer, city, rail industry leaders and others to help achieve the vision of connecting our downtown community to the Columbia River. We leased property to the developer, participated in early studies and planning, invested $16 million in rail infrastructure necessary for the project, and invested about $1 million for utilities and infrastructure improvements. We are also redeveloping our adjacent, 10-acre site – Terminal 1 – to enhance the overall waterfront and complement the development by the City and Columbia Waterfront LLC.

The port considers itself part of the neighborhood and strives to make the areas where it operates a quality place to live and work. As a public agency, the port routinely welcomes input and suggestions from neighbors, beginning with formal comments at our twice-monthly commission meetings, through written correspondence, and by scheduling public tours. We also attend neighborhood meetings and give presentations and updates throughout the community. Neighbor feedback has been extremely helpful in improving traffic flow, abating noise, creating bike and pedestrian paths, and in sharing neighborhood priorities. In addition, our tenants and customers share our sense of neighborhood responsibility by actively supporting schools and community activities and by volunteering.

Please call the port’s general phone number, 360-693-3611, which is staffed during normal business hours and managed by security personnel at other times. We also welcome inquiries or comments at info@portvanusa.com, which is monitored daily and comments are routed to the appropriate person or organization for response.

The port is governed by a three-person board of commissioners, whose members are elected on six-year staggered terms. Commissioners hold official public meetings twice a month, and participate in other meetings and activities in between. Generally speaking, they dedicate about 20-40 hours a week to port business.

Commissioners are paid a $800 monthly stipend and $114 per day for port-related meetings, up to 120 meetings per year. They are also eligible for health benefits and can submit expenses for reimbursement. The port has a program similar to other ports where commissioners are eligible for additional compensation as the port meets certain business growth milestones and demands on the commissioners’ time, talents and expertise increase accordingly. The adjustment to port commissioner compensation is set per RCW 53.12.260.

Commissioners hire a CEO who is charged with overseeing port operations and carrying out policies. In total, the port has about 110 direct staff, about half of which are focused on security and maintenance. The other half is focused on administration, finance, human resources, real estate, contracts, operations, sales and marketing.

The port receives a portion of property taxes paid by property owners in the port district, which covers the greater Vancouver area. For example, a person who owns a home assessed at $295,000 - the median price in Clark County - would pay about $89 annually. The total amount collected annually is approximately $10 million. These funds are used exclusively for payment of debt service, environmental remediation and capital projects, such as rail and dock improvements. No tax dollars are used to pay staff salaries or salaries and expenses associated with our Board of Commissioners.

Property owners in the port district invest in the port through an annual property tax levy. In other words, they invest in an economic engine that produces local jobs, stimulates local business activity, and generates taxes that support schools, roads and emergency services. The port and its tenants directly employ 3,200 people and indirectly employ another 17,000 people who generate about $2.9 billion in economic activity. This generates about $313 million in local spending on housing, food, goods and services. Combined, the port and its tenants pay more than $103 million annually in state and local taxes.

Yes. Compared to privately-owned properties, citizens have far more transparency and input into the port’s governance, decision-making, finances and operations. As an independent public agency, our structure and operations require it. The port is governed by three elected commissioners who live in the port district. We welcome and actively seek public input, beginning with hosting public comment periods at each of the port’s twice-monthly meetings, and by making port representatives available for group tours and special meetings. We also reach out to neighbors to gain input and keep them apprised of port developments by attending meetings, giving presentations and distributing updates. Ultimately, the port considers itself part of the neighborhood and strives to operate as a good neighbor.

That idea surfaces regularly and is often discussed by our commission, all of whom support efforts to limit or reduce the tax burden on our citizens. However, the port currently relies heavily upon property tax proceeds to leverage other investments to improve and develop port property. Meanwhile, the public benefits both from the economic impact generated through the port, and from the ability to choose the individuals who serve on the port’s board of commissioners and establish port policy.

Washington state port districts are required by RCW 53.20 to have an official “Comprehensive Scheme of Harbor Improvements and Industrial Development” to communicate with the public about management of port assets. Usually referred to as “the comp scheme,” it’s essentially a record of how the port is managing public land, facilities and infrastructure. Whenever there are changes to the comp scheme, the port must hold a public meeting and the Board of Commissioners must approve the changes. Sometimes, comp scheme changes are also required to go through processes such as the State Environmental Policy Act to identify potential environmental impacts and necessary mitigation.

By volume, our largest tenant is United Grain Corporation, which annually exports 10 percent of America’s wheat harvest to markets abroad. The port also serves as a primary port of entry for steel, Subaru vehicles and wind energy components.

The port is working with the North Dakota Department of Agriculture to improve efficiency and reliability of freight movement between our two regions. Because North Dakota is a leading producer of agricultural products and the port is a major export hub for agricultural products, we’re natural partners to engage in business opportunities that benefit both regions. 

As a West Coast, deep-water port with access to rail and road, we are ideally situated to trade with countries along the Pacific Rim. We also do business in many other parts of the world, including Europe and South America.

Yes. Hazardous products have been moving safely through the port for many years. Examples include gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, propane, butane, methanol, caustic soda and biofuels. These products are part of a diverse mix of cargoes and handled by port tenants Tesoro, NuStar Energy and NGL Supply Terminal Company, LLC.

Yes. After a two-year negotiating period, the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union signed a new four-year labor contract. Port tenant United Grain Corporation is part of the Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association. Although not part of the contract negotiations, the port clearly communicated its priorities throughout the process: to keep everyone safe, to protect property from damage, and to keep the port open for business.

As a matter of practice, we perform a competitive market analysis of each leased property. Features and amenities of each site are taken into consideration as part of the market analysis. By state law, the port must receive fair market value for its property, protecting both taxpayers and private business interests in our community.

The port has a comprehensive Tenant Environmental Management Program, which includes pre-lease screening of potential tenants and their practices, periodic on-site reviews of tenant environmental protection practices, outreach and communication with tenants, and sharing best management practices used by other port tenants.

Careful consideration is given to environmental, safety and business factors when determining what cargoes move through the port. Each potential cargo is thoroughly analyzed by staff with expertise in safety, economics and environmental protection. All leases, which are approved by the Board of Commissioners, take these factors into account and require compliance with all laws and port standards.

Tenants pay annual building and ground lease rates and rail fees. Marine customers pay dockage, wharfage, service & facilities, storage and terminal handling fees for products moved through the port.

About one vessel a day or 400 a year load or unload cargo at the port. Approximately 5 million metric tons of cargo is handled each year.

The port has more than 50 tenants across a broad range of industries. Combined, the port and its tenants employ 2,300 people, making the port the second-largest private employer in Clark County, next to Peace Health. An additional 17,000 jobs are indirectly created by the port’s $1.6 billion annual economic activity.

The port has owned a significant portion of Vancouver's urban waterfront that has seen many uses over the past 90 years. Uses have ranged from a working dock to a restaurant and finally to an established hotel business that has been an icon in Vancouver for nearly 50 years. Changes in the surrounding properties have influenced the port's timing for redevelopment, including the strategic change by the city of Vancouver to redevelop the waterfront into mixed-use, culminating in the sale of the former Boise Cascade working property to Columbia Waterfront LLC. Other factors, including the effort to build a new Columbia River Crossing within the I-5 corridor, impacted timing of the redevelopment while the port concentrated its efforts on improving rail service and maritime assets.

With the completion of the port’s West Vancouver Freight Access project and the indefinite delay of a new I-5 bridge, the port saw an opportunity to concentrate on Terminal 1. Working closely with the Red Lion at the Quay, the port entered into negotiations to construct a replacement hotel that would be in line with the community's vision of a new waterfront and continue the port's tradition of providing downtown hotel accommodations.

On April 14, 2015, the port’s board of commissioners approved the selection of NBBJ, a planning, design and consulting firm, to lead a master planning effort.  NBBJ will use current city plans, market data, and discussions with stakeholders and citizens to create an overarching master plan for the port’s property.   The port is also working with Leland Consulting to fast-track development of the first building on the property – a mixed use building that could house the port’s administrative offices as well as other tenants. 

The port has been working with Red Lion Hotels, an economic development partner for more than 50 years, regarding their property on Terminal 1. The port’s hope is to continue providing accommodations at the downtown waterfront while supplying rooms to support the publicly owned Hilton Convention Center. The port and Red Lion Hotels will continue working closely together to determine the best path forward for both organizations.

Yes, the American Empress steamboat will continue to use the high-dock berth at Terminal 1 to provide its popular excursions along the Columbia River.

Katy Brooks, Economic Development Director: 360-992-1128, or kbrooks@portvanusa.com

Julie Rawls, Community Relations Specialist: 360-992-1137, or jrawls@portvanusa.com

Yes, the lower dock at Terminal 1 will continue to be available for pleasure craft to use.

Yes! You may have already noticed work taking place around the Red Lion hotel. Utility work has been underway since fall 2014, and the new utilities will serve multiple properties along the waterfront.  These improvements are a joint effort between the port, the city and Columbia Waterfront LLC. The work includes the installation of deep storm water, sanitary sewer and water lines for Columbia Street, extensions of Esther and Grant streets, and a new street – Columbia Way – that will connect the port properties to the city’s waterfront project. Centennial Center, Red Lion’s largest meeting space, was removed in early 2015 to make way for Columbia Way. When Columbia Way is finished in late 2015, it will be a new city street with sidewalks, streetlights, and other urban amenities. 

Port staff and leadership have been out in the community, speaking to various groups about the project and soliciting feedback. There will be multiple opportunities for public input as the master planning process moves forward. Upcoming public events include a June 18, 2015, commission workshop at the port office, and an open house on July 15, 2015, at the Clark County Amphitheater. Visit our Events page to learn more about these opportunities to add your voice to development of the waterfront project.

The port also hosts public comment periods at each of our twice-monthly Board of Commissioners meetings, where citizens are welcome to comment on any port subject. Dates and times of these meetings can be found on the port’s main Web page, www.portvanusa.com.

If you would like to schedule a briefing on the port’s waterfront project for your group, please contact Community Relations Specialist Julie Rawls at 360-992-1137 or jrawls@portvanusa.com.

The port’s elected Board of Commissioners developed five guiding principles for the project:

  • Provide public access to the Columbia River waterfront;
  • Develop public assets in a financially responsible manner;
  • Utilize sustainable development practices;
  • Interpret the port’s history as an economic engine for Southwest Washington;
  • Create a development that supports the community through economic growth and job creation.

The 13.5-acre site is comprised of six buildable lots. Four will be developed by the port, and two have been leased to a private development company working with the city of Vancouver on its separate waterfront development (see next question for more about this). On its four lots, the port envisions a combination of hotel, mixed-use development (office and retail), a link to the east and west city waterfront parks, parking, public art, and public attractions. It is still very early in the development process, but initial concepts are very exciting! The port is also considering moving its administrative offices from Lower River Road to the Terminal 1 site to make port public meetings and staff more easily accessible to citizens.

The site, known as the port’s Terminal 1, is currently home to Torque Coffee RoastersAbSci, an outdoor public amphitheater, and public docks.

Next door to Terminal 1 is a 35-acre development under construction by the city of Vancouver and Columbia Waterfront LLC. The port has been working with both organizations for a decade to lay the groundwork – parcels, roads, rail lines and utilities – to help reconnect our community to the waterfront. The city’s project will soon be home to jobs, restaurants, shops, housing, a hotel and a 7-acre public park. The port is working closely with the city and Columbia Waterfront LLC so each project fits seamlessly together and creates a waterfront experience unique to our community. The result will be a newly-revitalized, vibrant section of the waterfront stretching along the newly-constructed Columbia Way from Columbia Street to Esther Street.

The port owns about 13.5 acres of waterfront property divided into six lots. Two of these lots are under long-term lease to Columbia Waterfront LLC, with the four remaining lots to be developed by the port. The acreage is a prime waterfront location on the Columbia River just west of the Interstate Bridge. It sits at the entrance to our state and community and offers a once-in-a-century opportunity to create an extraordinary development for Vancouver.

The port is both a landowner and developer of this site, and will pay for the development in a variety of ways. Some construction will be privately funded on a land lease, while other buildings and public spaces may be funded through bonds and public-private partnerships. The port is working on a development estimate.

Terminal 1 is the Port of Vancouver’s birthplace. It’s where the port established its first facilities – in partnership with the city of Vancouver – in 1925. Terminal 1 has been home to a prune warehouse, wartime shipbuilding, and the first Red Lion hotel in Washington state. The timbers that comprise the roof of The Quay Restaurant are the same timbers that supported the original Terminal 1 warehouse.  This history is extremely important to the port and the planned redevelopment will help us better share this history with our community and visitors.

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