Redevelopment sought at cleaned-up Columbia River site

RIDGEFIELD — The Port of Ridgefield is looking into redeveloping a site that used to be one of the state’s most contaminated pieces of waterfront.

There’s renewed optimism that a mixed-use waterfront development may take shape there after a decade of industrial cleanup near a tributary of the Columbia River, The Columbian reported.

Building at the Millers’ Landing site is still years away. The port and the city of Ridgefield need to work out access issues and then attract developers interested in the site just cleared for development by the state Department of Ecology.

For three decades, Pacific Wood Treating used the property to treat telephone poles and railroad ties with a chemical preserving agent.

Mayor Ron Onslow, who lives just north of the site, said the area along the Lake River is now pristine and shows great promise of becoming a place for people to work and live.

There are other challenges to developing the area. Freight trains pass the property each day, blaring their horns and forcing cars to wait for their passage.

And real estate development in Clark County has been stalled. Of the 6 million square feet of multitenant space in the county, 1.1 million square feet is vacant. That’s a vacancy rate of 18.3 percent, which real estate professionals consider too high to justify more building.

Eric Fuller, who runs a Vancouver-based brokerage, said the start of development will likely depend on when the county recovers from the recession. He called Millers’ Landing a great prospect for a tenant who doesn’t mind being in a secluded area.

The property is appealing because of its proximity to the river, he said. But it might take time to properly market it.

The port has time because it must first build an overpass across the railroad tracks. That $12 million project is dependent on state dollars. A draft transportation package before the state Legislature earmarks $7 million for it, but that could change.

Fuller said he doesn’t expect the property to receive strong interest from developers until the overpass is completed.

Brent Grening, executive director of the port, agrees.

While the overpass may be built within the next few years, other development may take an additional five or six.

The port has already started marketing Millers’ Landing to real estate brokers to gauge their interest, but hasn’t shied away from mentioning its past.

Grening said the site is safe, with all pollution capped underground. And even if contaminants are found on the property, the port will ultimately be responsible for disposing of them because it will continue to own Millers’ Landing.

Just under the surface of the wood-treating mill, a hodgepodge of chemicals — creosote, copper chromium arsenic and pentachlorophenol, a known carcinogen — leached into the soil and waterway, mixing to create a highly volatile black sludge.

The extent of the contamination didn’t become known until the end of the 1990s.

Cleanup of the site cost $70 million, and only a sliver of that, roughly $1.8 million, was covered by Pacific Wood Treating’s insurance after the company went out of business.

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Information from: The Columbian, http://www.columbian.com

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