Port, federal agency mull land swap near Steigerwald

Trade with U.S. Fish and Wildlife could increase Port of C-W’s inventory of ‘usable land’

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The setback levees constructed during the Steigerwald Reconnection Project between 2020 and 2021, kept water from flooding Port of Camas-Washougal property in 2022. (Contributed photo courtesy of the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership)

The Port of Camas-Washougal is negotiating a land-swap transaction with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) that would expand the Port’s inventory of usable, and possibly developable, land near the Steigerwald refuge.

The Port and the USFW started talking about a possible land swap after realizing that one of the levees constructed during the Steigerwald Reconnection Project in 2021 would divide an area of land near the west end of the Steigerwald Wildlife National Refuge, with an 18-acre piece of Port property on one side and 11 acres of USFW land on the other.

“The levee bisects their property and our property,” the Port’s chief executive officer, David Ripp, said. “The thought is, our property is on their side, and their property is on our side, so we’ll do a swap. It would be all uniform then. Our property surrounds (their 11-acre plot) now. It just doesn’t make sense (to keep things the way they are). We could have a contiguous piece of property, and they could have a contiguous piece of property.”

The two organizations agreed to postpone talks until the project finished “to see where the property lines would be after the levee was finished,” according to Ripp.

The Port’s 18 acres was valued at $72,000 while the USFW’s 11 acres was valued at $242,000, meaning the Port would have to pay the federal government agency $172,000 to complete the transaction, according to Ripp, who added that the Port would use funds from its reserve account to pay for the land.

“Our land would have (been valued higher if) we would have had it appraised at the beginning of the timeframe,” he said. “There weren’t as many wetlands there as there are now because of the levee being there. If we would have known our property was going to be devalued, we would have went to the Bonneville Power Administration and said, ‘You need to make us whole,’ so they would have wrote us a check for $172,000 to pay off that difference since we’re our properties getting devalued for us getting cut off by the levee.”

The Port has several options for its potential new land, according to Ripp.

“We would have to do wetland delineation, but there may be a little bit of developable property,” he said during a Port commission meeting on May 14. “Or it could be (used for) future mitigation for other projects if we are determined to do it that way. I think it would benefit us to have that contiguous piece of property. Not that I want to spend the money, but I think this would benefit us in the future.”

Port commissioners agreed with Ripp.

“As much as it’s very frustrating with how (the appraisal process played out), I always look at things from the economical standpoint of, ‘Where are we now and where are we going?’” Port Commissioner John Spencer said during the May 14 meeting. “Where we are now is we’ve got totally unusable land, and we have an opportunity for several acres, anyway, of usable land.”

“I think not to have it and not to know what the future of it might be and who else might get it and what impacts it could possibly have to our sustainable commerce center, it just makes sense (to pursue this),” commissioner Cassi Marshall added. “Also, even if some of it is not developable, I feel like it would have value in terms of our boundary line adjustments and making the right-side lots. I feel like it can even out a lot of that stuff.”

Ripp said that the transaction could conclude within the next two months.

“I’ll reach out to (USFW), and we have a process we have to do,” he said. “We have to surplus our property. It’s like buying a house — you sign the purchase sale agreement, then you do your due diligence and stuff. So basically, we need to hold a public hearing to surplus our property, and then the commission will approve the surplus and at the same time approve buying the property as well.”