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Airport land a perfect fit for eco-business park

Cattle graze in the field behind the Airport Industrial Park sign across from the U.S. Coast Guard station. (Cindy Yingst)
By Cindy Yingst, Friday, April 13, 2018

What better place to study the effects of tides and wetlands than in the thick of them.

The Port of Astoria’s business park -- a concept devised long ago yet still an empty field – could become home to a Center for Environmental Studies.

“One of the biggest things we face in our area is navigating the balance of living in a sensitive ecological area with our economic restraints,” said Jim Knight, executive director of the Port of Astoria.

The port’s land adjacent to the airport could fit the bill.

It’s been vacant for years and garnering no interest from developers, perhaps because it’s in a sensitive area that could be affected by tsunamis, wind, tides and wetlands. Not to mention Federal Aviation Administration restrictions.

Enter the USDA’s Rural Development Business Grant program.

The program targets anything that would promote small and emerging companies employing 50 or fewer employees making $1 million in gross revenue or less. Deadline to apply is April 30.

Grants range from $10,000 to $500,000.

Kevin Cronin, who was hired by the port to work on this and other grant proposals, said their initial request will be for $25,000, which would be enough to study the project’s feasibility and give them a cost estimate, site plan and basic market analysis.

Some of those who have expressed interest include Clatsop Community College, CREST and the OSU Extension program, which has long outgrown its office at the seafood lab years ago, Cronin said.

Knight foresees enticing an investor who would construct a 20,000- to 30,000-square-feet professional services campus to house companies devoted to environmentally sensitive construction.

“We’re in a unique position to create better partnerships,” Knight said.

We could become a leader in the state through research and education – finding new ways to help develop this town – instead of the constant battle between how to affordably develop properties without harming the ecological balance,” Knight said.

Last week, the city of Warrenton sent a letter supporting the plan.

“The new center compliments the existing research and development center at the Oregon State University Seafood Lab and Columbia Memorial Hospital’s Cancer Center,” reads the letter signed by Mayor Henry Balensifer. “We are interested in seeing this new center developed to further expand the career and technical trade opportunities of our citizens … as well as provide research into the best practices for sustainable and resilient development within our city.”

Balensifer, who works for Lektro, which is based at the airport, said the city is excited about the possibility of industrial or business expansion at the airport.

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