Ridgefield cleanup nears end of trail

Waterfront site boasts new path; port eyes it for retail development

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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For years, the Port of Ridgefield and state regulators have worked together to remove and scrub clean the toxic remnants of a bankrupt industrial waterfront operation.

On Wednesday, the public is invited to celebrate the beginnings of a revitalized 41-acre waterfront site — one lined with a new walking trail and laden with hopes it will become a hub for retailers, restaurants and offices, and outdoor enthusiasts.

Port commissioners will open the new, three-quarters-of-a-mile-long paved waterfront path with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4 p.m. at the west end of Division Street in Ridgefield. For the port and the state Department of Ecology, the event will mark a milestone in their $70 million, state-funded effort to clean up pollution left over decades by Pacific Wood Treating, which declared bankruptcy and shut down in 1993.

For citizens, the ceremony will highlight an unprecedented status for Ridgefield's waterfront: it's now open for public use.

"It wasn't a place where people could come and wander the site," said Brent Grening, the port's CEO, recalling the private, industrial use of the waterfront property dating to the 1800s. And that's why, he said, it's important to celebrate how far things have come.

"We can now begin to invite the public and market the site as an opportunity," Grening said. "It is now a development opportunity. The cleanup is behind us."

Indeed, most of the 41-acre site, including the former footprint of Pacific Wood Treating, has been mopped up, according to Craig Rankine, a site manager with the state Department of Ecology. The port's cleanup of the site has included removal of about 25,000 gallons of liquid contamination and 1.5 million pounds of toxic sludge.

"Everything we can do upland has been done," Rankine said.

The final phase of the cleanup is expected to occur over the next two years. That will include dredging of contaminated sediment in Lake River and Carty Lake. For now, the new path, built as part of the larger process of rehabilitating the waterfront site, allows people to walk along Lake River and to view Carty Lake and the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. After Wednesday's ribbon-cutting event, the public is invited to join port commissioners for a stroll along the river and to participate in the port's 10th annual commissioner picnic and open house.

The effort to rejuvenate Ridgefield's waterfront joins similar initiatives to clean up and rebuild former industrial properties in the U.S. That includes Clark County, where there are plans to redevelop Vancouver's waterfront — the site of the former Boise Cascade paper mill — and to revive a former lumber mill site near the border of the cities of Camas and Washougal.

The Port of Ridgefield's long-term vision for the waterfront parcel is to transform it into a mixed-use development: Millers' Landing. It would include restaurants, retailers, office space and, possibly, a boutique hotel. And it would make room for more public amenities and access to the river.

Grening said the port recently began inviting real estate brokers to visit the site, to show them how far it's come.

"A lot of people have been on this site over the years, but if you come out today, I think you'll be surprised at what the property looks like," he said. "It's important to begin to see it, talk about it and think about it as an opportunity."

To gauge private-sector interest in redeveloping the property, Grening said, the port is considering issuing a request for qualifications from developers across the nation. The next step would be to request formal proposals and then to create a shortlist of the most qualified potential development partners.

"That's how I see this thing tracking forward," Grening said. He added that a "public-private partnership is where we're headed."

But the overarching goal, Grening said, is to make the best of a unique opportunity. "It's far more important for us to do this right than to do this fast," he said.

Aaron Corvin: http://twitter.com/col_econ; http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; 360-735-4518; aaron.corvin@columbian.com.