Thu, Nov 21, 2019
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Willapa Harbor Herald • Town Crier
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Vader funding snag hindering industrial development

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Vader’s sole industrial zone, located on the westernmost edge of the city limits, has sat underdeveloped for a number of years, despite ongoing efforts to prepare the land for use.

Efforts to develop Vader’s industrial zone have hit a roadblock after a request for an economic development grant was denied last month.

Mayor Ken Smith reported during the Oct. 1 Vader City Council Meeting a request for $178,000 from Lewis County for the installation of utility lines through under-developed industrial property west of town was turned down on the grounds the request seemed too high for the nature of the project, with officials stating an itemized engineering report was also needed.

Vader had sought to make use of .09 Funding (monies acquired from state sales taxes and managed by counties to be allocated, upon request, to cities for infrastructure projects stimulating economic growth) and had been able to use such funds in the past to bring utility lines under the railroad tracks and to the edge of the property.

Vader’s most recent request had been made in concert with developer Brandon Milton after he approached the council for further funding to connect utilities to the four parcels in the industrial zone. (Milton is the owner of Absolute German, the only tenant currently in the zone, and co-owner of Seattle-based development company MPM, owner of the four parcels.)

An initial request made in August for the project was denied on the grounds .09 Funding could not be used to develop private property, according to Smith. Milton then offered to sell the 24-foot-by-500-foot tract of land intended for a road and utility construction to Vader for $1, so the project would then qualify for funding.

During their September meeting, the .09 Funding Board (organized through the Lewis County Economic Development Council, and on which Smith serves as a member) considered the proposal and turned it down, with dissenters stating they would need more specific engineering details to justify the cost of the project. Smith also said Vader’s current legal struggles with Lewis County regarding receivership of the city’s water system were of concern, with statements made it would be better to wait until a memorandum of understanding between the two is in place.

Smith said he has spoken with Milton and it remains his intent to apply for funding again once Vader is able to accommodate the requests made by the board. But Smith indicated at least the memorandum of understanding is not expected to be approved until later this winter, and also said the .09 Funding Board takes a break during those months as construction projects typically cease until the spring.

However, setbacks to developing the district have not been uncommon, as MDM has been hampered by recent economic slowdowns since acquiring the property in 2004. Milton said it remains his goal to develop the property and to bring industry back to the city.

In the mean time, other projects may qualify for .09 Funding, including efforts to acquire the wastewater treatment services of Blue Array, as well as a concerted effort with BNSF to repave Annonen Rd. just north of SR 506.

A proposed agreement for Blue Array’s services, last discussed Sept. 17, even included an estimated $200,000 in .09 Funding when taking into account city resources, a sum half of what Toledo received for their anticipated sewer plant upgrades earlier this year. While the council was expected to discuss Blue Array’s response to the proposal during their most recent meeting, they did so in executive session and approved no contracts that night.

An official decision to apply for .09 Funding to repave Annonen Rd. has not been presented to the council, as Smith said too many request at once may hinder the city’s chances of an individual project’s approval. But he has indicated repair of the road remains a priority for the city and he has been speaking with BNSF officials to learn what coordinated efforts can be made.

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