by Deborah Steele Hazen
“Clatskanie Experiences Fast Growth, Girds for Even More Expansion.”
Thus read the banner headline in The Sunday Oregonian from Feb. 19, 1967.
A few months ago, an out-of-county subscriber sent us the page from that 46-year- old newspaper that contained the article about the growth Clatskanie was experiencing as the Wauna Mill was being built, and as plans were announced for Portland General Electric (PGE) to build a generating plant at the old Beaver Army Terminal, what we now know as Port Westward.
As we sit at the cusp of what may be a long-awaited resurgence of job-creation in this area, we found this almost half-century-old article interesting in a number of ways.
Here it is:
“‘There’s a hunter sitting on every stump.’
“This complaint last week by a prominent citizen of Clatskanie, Ore., was the principal objection raised against the little city’s fast accelerating growth.
“A logging, commercial fishing and farming community astride highway U.S. 30 some 60-odd miles down the Columbia River from Portland, Clatskanie is experiencing a building and population boom based on construction of the new $94 million Crown-Zellerbach mill at Wauna.
“More than 1,400 construction laborers are working on the massive C-Z project, which was estimated to be 60 percent complete Jan. 1. A company spokesman said 315 permanent employees are on the mill payroll now, slightly more than half the 600 expected to be working fulltime by the middle of May.
“Residential and commercial building permit valuation in Clatskanie totaled $1,127,554 in 1966, according to Mayor Jerry D. Puzey. The valuation was almost evenly divided between the two classifications.
“‘That’s more than we’ve had in the last 10 years put together,’ the mayor said.
“With five residential building permits granted in January alone, more than in some whole years, according to Puzey, building activity will continue strong in 1967.
“When Puzey became mayor of the one-square-mile metropolis 17 years ago, its population was 750. By 1964, with a 13 percent population increase, 850 people were living in the city. Population jumped to 947 in 1965 and to 1,082 in 1966.
“A 30 percent growth to 1,500, is anticipated in 1967, Puzey said, and in five years 6,000 people will live in the city and its closely surrounding areas.
“The prices of lots has doubled, in some cases tripled, in the last three years, according to W. Arthur Steele, editor and publisher of the weekly newspaper, The Clatskanie Chief, and house values have increased 25 to 50 percent. In the same three years, circulation of Steele’s newspaper has increased 60 percent, from 1,500 to 2,400.
“‘U.S. National Bank of Oregon has a franchise on a piece of land just across the city line, and we can annex them the day after they go into business,’ Puzey said, noting that the land had been voted out of the city in 1965 with just such a reannexation in mind. ‘We need another bank in town,’ the mayor said. ‘The present bank (First National Bank of Clatskanie) does a good job, but it’s limited in the amount of loans it can give.’
“High interest rates and tight money in 1966 slowed the city’s building activity, Steele said, and housing, especially apartment units, is in short supply.
“Municipal sewer and water lines have been extended to all new subdivisions, the mayor said, and streetlighting will be added as soon as new residents’ tax dollars help build up the needed cash reserve.
“‘We can pay our bills,’ said City Recorder Roland Pascoe, ‘but it’s just not in the cards to supply all municipal services immediately, and the new residents are very understanding about it.’
Students to Gain
“We’re planning on the city to continue changing,’ said Hugh Paul, chairman of the City Planning Commission. A Portland firm, Planning Services Inc., is conducting an initial survey, funded by local businessmen, of the city’s future needs, he said, and application has been made for federal matching funds to help develop a comprehensive city plan, including zoning.
“Major beneficiaries of the tax largesse to be distributed from the C-Z assessments will be the 1,650 students of Columbia County School Administration District 5-J, encompassing Clatskanie, Knappa, Mayger and Quincy.
“The $1,400,000 school budget this year was drawn from true property valued at slightly less than $24 million. The first Wauna project assessment will appear on Columbia County tax rolls in November, according to William Jones, District 5-J school superintendent, and will raise true property value to more than $52 million. When the C-Z project is completed, property values in the school district should exceed $100 million.
“Possible frosting on the cake is the recently announced $130 million Portland General Electric nuclear power plant, which if located at the former Beaver Army Terminal, would also fall onto the tax rolls from which District 5-J draws its income.
“‘If PGE comes into our district,’ Jones said, ‘we’ll eventually have a tax base of close to $250 million to operate our system. We’ll only have to ask for a fraction of a mill at tax time to build a new school.’
“Clatskanie isn’t going to be satisfied with benefits accruing from the C-Z and PGE money ringing in its stores’ cash registers and going into its schools, according to F.E. Humphrey, owner of Hump’s Restaurant and former city councilman.
“The straightening of high way U.S. 30, cheap power now available and with completion of the PGE project in the early 1970s, easy access to rail, road and water transport and abundant space for industrial construction indicate the Clatskanie area of the Lower Columbia has only begun its commercial and industrial development, Humphrey said.
“‘We can certainly lick any problem facing us,’ he said. ‘We have the talent. We just need the time.’
“And, as in actively inviting Crown Zellerbach’s managers and employees to settle in their city, Clatskanie’s 1,100 citizens plan to make good use of that time.”
Forty-six years later, it is interesting to see how the vision and predictions about Clatskanie did and did not come true.
The Wauna Mill became, and continues to be, the backbone of the local economy.
It’s property tax dollars, combined with PGE’s, made for an excellent local school system from the late 1960s through 1990, when Oregon voters limited property taxes and transferred much of the responsibility for funding the schools to the state.
Not only did Clatskanie’s population not reach 6,000 by 1972, it never reached 2,000, and has, in fact, declined slightly in the last 20 years.
There hasn’t been a new housing start within the city limits for over six years.
As a result of the local family-wage industrial jobs, Clatskanie’s business district boomed during the late 1960s, 1970s and early ‘80s, until a lack of additional new jobs and retail drift to Longview took its toll. Clatskanie’s small business district has been in steady decline ever since.
About six months after The Oregonian ran this article, the Port of St. Helens commission signed a long-term lease for all of the original Beaver Army Terminal property with Westward Properties Inc., a California corporation, that promised to develop the entire property with job-creating industry. That is how Port Westward got its name.
That lease was subsequently conveyed to Kaiser Aetna. Then the property was subleased in 1972 to Brady Hamilton, who conducted a log loading operation for two years. PGE assumed the lease in 1973. It did not build a nuclear plant there – the Trojan nuclear plant was built near Rainier – but PGE completed construction of its Beaver Generating Plant in 1975.
While we don’t doubt the good intentions of the Port of St. Helens commissioners of 46 years ago, in retrospect we think it was a mistake to lease all of the Beaver/Port Westward property to a single entity.
PGE has been a great corporate neighbor, has provided about 80 good-paying permanent jobs, has paid millions of dollars in property taxes, and will pay millions more in the future through its Port Westward Unit I (completed in 2007) and its Unit II (now under construction), but additional permanent employment at the site did not grow appreciably for 40 years until the ethanol plant was constructed.
The financial problems of what is now known as the Columbia Pacific Bio-Refinery have been well-publicized, but it is now under the ownership of Global Partners LP, a Fortune 500 company, and has expanded its operations to include a successful, environmentally-responsible oil transloading facility.
We hope to hear plans for expansion of Global Partners operations at Port Westward soon.
We hope the Columbia County commissioners will grant the rezoning of additional industrial acreage at Port Westward to allow for other industries to site there.
As State Senator Betsy Johnson and State Representative Brad Witt stated at their Oct. 12th town hall meeting here, we believe there is cause for optimism about the local economy.
We don’t want runaway growth, but we also don’t want the community we love to continue to decline. There is a middle ground that includes modest growth, clean, sustainable industrial jobs, and a more prosperous small business district.