PDA takes final steps to turn Satsop over to the Port

The Public Development Authority that has governed the Satsop Business Park for the past 13 years since its inception took the final steps on Tuesday to turn the facility over to the Port of Grays Harbor.

In its final meeting, the PDA board adopted a resolution transferring all assets and liabilities at the business park to the Port, which already has hired Hoquiam city planner Alissa Thurman to be manager of business development at Satsop.

The board also adopted a 2013 spending plan that will be incorporated as part of the Port’s budget, said Port Executive Director Gary Nelson.

The business park formally tendered its operations to the Port Oct. 2, and the next week, the Port Commission accepted the offer. The Port plans to operate Satsop as a division of its overall operations, similar to how the Port operates the Industrial Properties Division, the Westport Marina and Bowerman Airport.

Port staff members say the addition of Satsop increases the Port’s properties to more than 1,000 acres of industrial properties and an additional 1,300 acres of sustainably-managed forestland. There are more than 30 businesses operating on about 440 acres at the business park, which includes a training center used by a number of agencies for everything from heavy equipment operation, to tunnel digging and rescue, to semi-truck driving.

In an interview after the final Satsop PDA meeting, Nelson said the Port will keep business park CEO Tami Garrow on the Port payroll through March when she will retire and Thurman will take over some of her responsibilities. Garrow’s announced retirement earlier in the year expedited talks of the consolidation with the Port.

“We’re anxious to get on with it,” he said.

Garrow on Tuesday presented her final budget that anticipates expenses of $2.268 million, 5 percent less than the 2012 expense budget of $2.38 million.

“We have been able to keep costs under control and achieve significant reductions for several years now. We hope to do so again in 2013,” Garrow’s budget memo said.

Expenses will be balanced by revenues of $4.97 million, Garrow said, noting the budget anticipates $2.145 million in grant funds (half of the $4 million appropriation awarded) for a new sewer system. Although the budget counts on no new tenants, Garrow estimates the business park will end 2013 with “$386,000 to the positive.”

Nelson said the Port doesn’t see any lingering concerns about taking over the business park, which has developed at the site where the Washington Public Power Supply System had abandoned and defaulted on the nuclear power project that once had been planned there.

The changes won’t be dramatic, Nelson emphasized, but there will be more of a “private sector bent in terms of partnerships.”

“Using the incredible assets that have been built up there by Tami and her team as leverage for private investment is the objective,” he said.

PDA members recently were told by staff that there has been interest by a large company in one of Satsop’s largest vacant buildings zoned for industrial manufacturing, known as the Spec Building (50,000 square feet), and the Port will bring a new team with a wider client base to the effort to market the facility.

“We’ve been trying to make it as smooth a transition as possible,” Nelson said.

Garrow will continue to oversee any issues that arise with the change, such as in signing over deeds, right of ways or permits that may need to be transferred.

Thurman will make $83,000 in her new position, and Nelson said she was hired as much for her potential as far as comparing her to Garrow.

“Obviously, Tami has been in the business a lot longer,” Nelson said. “We hired Alissa because we saw a lot of potential and she has a lot of skills.” She will report to a senior management staff that includes Nelson, Deputy Executive Director Leonard Barnes, Director of Environmental and Engineering Services Marc Horton, and Finance Director Mary Nelson.

Most of the financial functions at the business park will now be handled at the main Port offices, and Nelson said there would be some realignment of responsibilities.

“That’s just trying to be more efficient with the two organizations,” Nelson said.

With the consolidation, the Port will add another person to its accounting staff.

Nelson said there didn’t appear to be any financial troubles in making the transition and he noted Garrow’s budget appears to address any contingencies that might arise.

“I think we’ll be fine. They’ve had a string of very good audits,” Nelson said.

At one time, he added, taking over Satsop would have seemed like a fairly big operation for the Port, but not so much since the Port’s marine terminals and industrial properties have been booming in recent years.

“I’m comfortable that the team still in place at Satsop, and with Alissa’s leadership, they’ll manage their expenses and do just fine,” Nelson said. “The key thing, just like here, is you’ve got to get more business.”