Weyco poised to donate land for Seaport Landing

The Weyehaeuser Co. and the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport have entered into final negotiations in a plan for the timber company to donate its mothballed waterfront sawmill property to the Seaport to become the future home for a museum and a place to dock the Lady Washington.

The land is across from Morrison Riverfront Park at the entrance to Aberdeen. The Seaport envisions a large, eye-catching center that would pay homage to the area’s historical maritime heritage and be among the first things motorists would see as they enter town.

On Wednesday, the Seaport Authority unanimously authorized its chairman, Laura Pilgrim Rust, “to take all steps necessary and advisable to finalize negotiations and execute such documents as may be necessary to accept the offer of Weyerhaeuser to transfer property to the Seaport.”

Rust told her fellow Seaport Authority members that the deal is scheduled to tentatively close on March 29, “which happens to be Good Friday.”

The action taken Wednesday is the first public acknowledgement that Weyerhaeuser was willing to donate much of the old sawmill property, which has sat dormant for about seven years. Previously, the Seaport had been in talks to buy the site.

Seaport Executive Director Les Bolton said there’s still a lot of paperwork to do and the whole deal needs to be signed off on by the state Department of Natural Resources, which owns the aquatic land in front of the property. Weyerhaeuser leases that property and would sub-lease it to the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport. Under the sub-lease deal, the Seaport would have to meet the lease’s conditions, including coming up with a soil sampling plan and dealing with piles of woody debris that accumulate, Bolton said. There also may be issues with shoring up a slide of land known as Pocket Beach near the old Weyerhaeuser pier, Bolton said. Costs associated with those plans aren’t yet clear, Bolton said.

Two major environmental assessments done by a consultant for Weyerhaeuser and turned over to the Seaport for review showed no major environmental contamination on the site, Bolton said, although the DNR still wants regular sampling done.

“There’s nothing that exceeds standards, but they still want more testing,” Bolton told the board.

The Seaport Landing project has been in the works for years now. In 2004, the Seaport released a master plan for 2.5 acres of land that called for the construction of a pier, a building and the construction of a tall ship that would be on land and accessible for educational purposes. In 2008, the plan was updated with the same general concept. The Seaport re-focused its efforts on a new plan in 2010 focusing on the mothballed Weyerhaeuser mill site.

The development has been pitched as including moorage for the Seaport’s tall ships, the Hawaiian Chieftain and Lady Washington, as well as a small vessel marina, and interpretive facilities relating the history of boat building, timber and sawmills and the cultural and natural history of the Harbor. Bolton said the whole project would take millions of dollars.

On Wednesday, Bolton said the money to actually build the facility is still a question to be figured out.

“But this is great news,” Bolton said. “We’re at the best position we’ve ever been in.”

A spokesman for Weyerhaeuser didn’t return a message seeking comment Wednesday evening.

In December, Weyerhaeuser worked with the Seaport to do a boundary line adjustment on its property breaking up the property so that just the 24 acres could be donated to the Seaport, instead of the entire site, which included the adjoining log sorting yard.

The donation is valued at $2.34 million, according to an independent appraisal done by McKee & Schalka of Seattle. The site consists of the pier, dock, buildings and infrastructure, located across from the Rotary Log Pavilion.

Seaport Authority member Linda Orgel pointed out that the Seaport would also acquire $680,000 worth of equipment on site, in addition to the property.

“If there’s a fork lift on site when it all closes, it’s ours,” Rust told the board, noting that one idea would be to assess what’s on the site and what could be sold for scrap to help finance Seaport Landing. As part of the sale, the Seaport had to acknowledge a restrictive covenant, which notes that the only uses for the site right now would be industrial in nature. Because of that, the state Department of Ecology has oversight over the site, Bolton noted.

To even start considering building Seaport Landing, they would need a zoning change from the city of Aberdeen.

Last April, the Aberdeen City Council formally endorsed that plan. The city council unanimously approved a non-binding resolution urging the Seaport to create a “first-class public waterfront facility” that turns the former industrial site into something that is “practical, economic and environmentally safe.”

The Aberdeen Planning Commission is also considering recommending a zoning change for a good chunk of the city’s waterfront to mixed-use commercial as it updates its comprehensive plan.

Although there’s been lots of support, formal action to actually change the zoning must be submitted and acted upon by the city.

On Wednesday, the Seaport Authority passed a separate resolution, which would make the Seaport’s property and building at Junction City collateral for Weyerhaeuser until the lease with the state Department of Natural Resources expires in 2015.

Attorney Art Blauvelt, who works for the Seaport Authority, noted that the property could still be leased or even sold and, if sold, $1 million of that sale would go into an escrow account until the Weyerhaeuser lease with the state expires and then would go back to the Seaport.

As it happens, the Seaport was using its property at Junction City as collateral for a loan it has with The Bank of the Pacific on the Hawaiian Chieftain, the tall ship the Seaport owns that often travels with the Lady Washington. The Seaport Authority’s approved resolution would change the collateral on the bank loan to be on the Lady Washington, which is owned free and clear. Bolton said that the Seaport owes about $650,000 still on the loan for the Chieftain.

That means if everything goes sour, the Seaport could lose the Chieftain and the Lady Washington to the bank and its property at Junction City to Weyerhaeuser.

Bolton and Rust both said they’re optimistic things will work out.

While Weyerhaeuser is tentatively offering to donate the property, the Seaport would still have to cover some of the costs.

As part of the resolution with The Bank of the Pacific, the Seaport would be able take a loan of up to $80,000 to help the cover all of the expenses dealing with taking the donation, which would include title insurance, consultants and closing costs.

“We’re going to have to work really hard to get the loan paid off,” Rust told her fellow board members. “… The bank doesn’t want to be the owner of two boats.”