Port of Vancouver will let BHP Billiton extend hold on 60 acres

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The Port of Vancouver agreed Tuesday to continue a preliminary lease agreement with a global company in hopes of eventually reaching a final deal to build a potash export facility at the port's Terminal 5.

The port's Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to extend the preliminary lease with Australian mining giant BHP Billiton. Forcing the extension is a weak global economy that prompted BHP to delay its potash project.

The company's current preliminary lease with the port includes an exclusivity deal that keeps the land BHP wants to lease — up to 60 acres of Terminal 5 — off the market. The company is paying the port $1.2 million annually for exclusive rights to the property.

The extension approved by commissioners keeps the preliminary lease agreement in place until Feb. 13, 2013. Port and BHP officials are expected to hammer out a new preliminary agreement that goes beyond Feb. 13.