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Ephrata Port Expands with Windmill Maker

by Matthew Weaver, Staff Writer
Columbia Basin Herald, October 16, 2006

EPHRATA -- When Mike Wren first started thinking about a rail and road project for the Port of Ephrata, he hoped it might happen in the next 10 years.

"It looks like it will be done in 2008," Wren marveled. He points to positive partnerships and cooperation with the various agencies he's dealt with as manager for the port district.

It also looks like it's paying off.

From Wren's office at the port, he can see work on new facilities for windmill manufacturer Katana Industries, Inc.

The expansion retains 70 jobs the company started out with, Wren said, and creates 100,000 square-feet of production space.

"That's going to bring with it a whole new operation," Wren explained. He adds the company used to ship materials to their Anacortes facility, to be rolled into subsections and then trucked to Ephrata.

"So they're going to be able to do all of that in the new facility. That brings 40 more jobs with it and about a $4 million capital investment."

Wren said the timing is good for Katana, noting the company's capacity for tower production in 2007 is already taken, and customers are positioning for 2008. Wren attributed the pressure on renewable energy sources, pointing to a discussion by former Oregon governors about breaching dams on the Snake River.

"If that ever really comes to pass, there's a lot of power that would have to be produced to replace those things, so they're in a great position to do that," Wren said of Katana.

The Anacortes operation, which includes culverts and storage tanks, will not be impacted by the expansion in Ephrata, he said, which will be predominately wind tower production.

When Wren arrived at the port district in 2005, he saw two "chokepoints" of growth -- the fact there was no road that could arrive or depart without passing through city residential and school zones, and a 1940s-built rail spur.

"You're talking 56 million pounds of steel next year just inbound to produce the towers that are already contracted," he said.

After funding through the city, county, state legislature, Community Economic and Revitalization Board job development funds and a recent state Department of Transportation fund for freight-rail improvement the port is $82,000 short of the funding necessary to complete rail rehabilitation in 2008, Wren said.

"I think it has a great chance to succeed," he said.

Road construction begins today, Wren said, with the earthwork done this fall and surfacing in the spring. Airport Street extends and connects with Highway 282 at Road A, he said.

"That's going to give us a good route for industrial traffic in and out of here, but it also opens up about 210 acres of property that can be developments," he added.

Also at the port, Wren said construction for a new taxiway at the Ephrata Airport will begin next year. In 2008, the airport will rehabilitate its primary runway. Wren estimated both projects to be worth roughly $3.5 million each.

The port is working with the Ephrata City Council and Grant County Public Utility District to build an additional substation in 2008 to ensure sufficient power for the port and the city, Wren said, noting the Katana expansion leaves "a very small amount of power" coming out of the existing station.

Wren said the last year has continued work on the port's foundation, preparing for growth throughout the county.

"We've even seen it in the increase in people inquiring, whether it be data centers, light manufacturing, heavy manufacturing, distribution," he said, pointing to a rise in the last several months. "It's about being ready for the guy that shows up and wants to build."

Matthew Weaver, Staff Writer
Ephrata Port Expands with Windmill Maker
Columbia Basin Herald, October 16, 2006

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