Development flourishes in Camas

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 
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Camas

• Population: 19,355.

• Must see: Lacamas Lake, Camas Public Library, Washougal River Greenway Trail, charming downtown.

• Website: http://www.ci.camas.wa.us.

Portrait

For more information on life in Clark County, visit www.columbian.com/portrait.

Camas has also trended upward in terms of population. The city started the 2000s with around 12,000 residents. It now is Clark County’s second-largest city with 19,355 residents.

Local officials hope business growth will continue in the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association’s second year. Longtime Camas Mayor Paul Dennis stepped down in May 2011 to lead CWEDA.

Dennis’ successor Scott Higgins is optimistic that the city can pull in more tech and industrial jobs, plus commercial and retail positions this year.

“We have a long-standing record of attracting business to Camas,” Higgins said. “We want to continue that trend.”

The pulp and paper mill, acquired by Koch Industries in 2007, remains a major physical presence at the west entrance of town, even though it has endured years of cuts. Clark County’s largest employer for most of the 20th century has reduced its workforce to 500 jobs, down 80 percent from its post-World War II heyday.

Camas attracted cleaner industry in the 1990s, including semiconductor businesses WaferTech and Linear Technology. Those businesses each struggled amid the recession, but began showing signs of a rebound in 2009.

The community continues to work to woo industry that will be good for the economy and the environment. At the same time, the city wants to keep its small-town identity, best expressed in locally owned businesses that have taken root in downtown.

In August 2011, officials announced the city’s purchase of 55 acres of land, which ensures Fallen Leaf Lake Park’s water and trails will be there for the next generation. Camas purchased the 55 acres of shoreline, wetlands and forest, plus the 20-acre Fallen Leaf Lake, for $2.05 million, using city, county, state and federal dollars. The project site had for decades served as a private park.

The prior year Camas dedicated the $3.7 million Washougal River Greenway Trail — a project 20 years in the making. The 125-acre park includes a 1.1-mile paved trail and 370-foot steel-trussed pedestrian bridge that connects to the Lacamas Heritage Trail, extending north 7.5 miles along Lacamas Creek and Lacamas Lake.

Infrastructure enhancements are expected this year. Among the potential developments are retail and commercial buildings off the 192nd corridor. The city also has a $2 million Northwest 38th Avenue extension into Vancouver in the works.The Washington State Department of Transportation started its $57 million Camas-Washougal widening and interchange project in 2011. The project is expected to improve the stretch of Highway 14 between the Northwest Sixth Avenue interchange in Camas and Sixth Street in Washougal. WSDOT officials expect it will be completed in late this year or early 2013.

Camas and Washougal have worked together on other items in recent years.

The cities’ fire departments entered into a temporary six-month merger in mid-2011, in order to curtail an EMS budget shortage. The move has worked well and even saved money, Higgins said.

In 2010, city officials in Camas and neighboring Washougal worked together to save the local Municipal Court from closure. Near the end of 2009, District Court officials notified the cities that, because of budget cuts, they could no longer afford to operate the east county court. Through cutbacks in hours and changes to the payment system, the cities and county were able to find a solution that satisfied all parties.

Outsiders have taken notice of Camas’ ability to recruit business and build partnerships.