WALLULA - The evolution of a cottonwood farm into an industrial development begins its long journey here with a final harvest, Port of Walla Walla officials say.
Boise Inc. begins a two-year harvest of the remaining trees from the 1,900-acre property it sold to the Port of Walla Walla in 2007, prompting Port officials to consider how to best utilize the land in the unknown period of time before an economic development project emerges.
"The challenge is what to do with the property now prior to economic development," said Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz.
Boise's harvesting efforts are expected to stretch into the latter part of next year, as per the $4 million purchase agreement between the paper company and the Port.
But the leveling of the trees is only the start of work as the Port prepares the land for the future.
Kuntz said the Port has to clear hordes of stumps on the property, as well as woody debris left behind. It also must reinstitute circle irrigation to prepare the land for agriculture production in a move expected to make the property profitable until an industrial tenant is recruited.
The work is expected to be a worthwhile tradeoff for what is considered by the Port to be prime industrial property.
Located across U.S. Highway 12 from Boise's mill, the land has access to rail, barge and highway, as well as a water right to pump about 4,700 acre feet per year.
When Boise determined the land was not needed for its long-term future, Port officials were more than happy to take the property off the company's hands two years ago.
The $4 million price tag was paid with a $2 million revenue bond loan agreement with Banner Bank and the issuance of $2 million in general obligation revenue bonds, which are paid for by the income from a bonded project.
As part of the agreement, Boise retained the rights to harvest the trees that existed on the land. The harvest of two-thirds of those is expected to begin now. The final third will be harvested next year, Kuntz said.
Leads on the property rolled in almost immediately after the purchase. Procter & Gamble, as well as proponents of a coal gasification plant and a polysilicon operation were among the first to show interest in the land.
That was before the recession, however, and a drought for major economic development projects over the last year.
Kuntz said economic development activity has picked up in the last 30 days with more inquiries to the Port. Nothing, however, has been as large scale as what the Port hopes will land at the Wallula property.
In the meantime, he said the agency will likely contract with a farm operator to begin the transition of the land, once known for its orderly rows of cottonwoods.
"We're focused on getting it back into agriculture production for the time being," he said. "That's probably the highest and best use."
Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8321.