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March 28, 2023

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Port of Vancouver cleans up former brownfield site, readies waterfront for more business

$13 million invested to rehabilitate berth

By , Columbian staff writer
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Work started last summer on Port of Vancouver USA's Berth 17 at the port's Terminal 5. Work on the berth, which includes removing an old crane, is expected to be completed this summer.
Work started last summer on Port of Vancouver USA's Berth 17 at the port's Terminal 5. Work on the berth, which includes removing an old crane, is expected to be completed this summer. (Port of Vancouver) Photo Gallery

The Port of Vancouver has rehabilitated an old brownfield site and is now making improvements to its associated maritime dock. The rehabilitation of the berth is a big investment — around $13 million — but when work is complete, the port expects to bring more business to the city’s shoreline.

The site, known as Terminal 5 and its associated Berth 17, were once part of an aluminum smelter. Alcoa produced aluminum for aircraft during World War II before eventually selling the facility to another operator. The smelter closed for good in 2000, and the port bought the land several years later.

The property has been cleaned up and incrementally improved since the port took ownership of it, including the construction of a railroad loop on its western edge about a decade ago.

“It’s a brownfield site that has been taken from the smelting site, environmentally cleaned up and then turned into this rail loop that we’re trying to develop for different tenants,” said Kent Cash, chief operations officer at the Port of Vancouver.

“That’s kind of part of our business —taking those brownfield sites and bringing them back to beneficial use for the community and for economic development,” added Monty Edberg, director of engineering and project delivery at the port.

Once proposed as a crude oil terminal, Terminal 5 is awaiting a long-term tenant. Today it is used to lay down large cargo, mostly wind turbine components, coming off cargo ships.

A berth rebirth

The rehabilitation of Berth 17 has been happening in phases. First, the port replaced the fender system, which acts like a shock absorber between the vessel and the dock.

Now, the port has begun replacing the wooden dolphins, which are pilings used to tie off ships, with steel and concrete structures.

On the dock itself, a large crane and a gallery building are both being removed.

Upland moorage points, which ships can tie their lines to in order to hold themselves in position, are also being installed.

And the port is in the process of building better roads and providing utilities to the dock. The utilities are a big part of the project, as they’ll allow ships to get power from the shore rather than run their diesel generators.

“That’s a nonpolluting way for them to power their vessel while they’re sitting there,” said Edberg.

The port expects the berth rehabilitation to be complete in August. Engineering work began on it about two years ago and the current contract was awarded last summer.

There may be additional work done on the dock, depending on what modifications tenants need.

Future plans

The port expects the site to be either used to handle freight such as minerals or agricultural products, or rented to shipowners, such as the federal government, that need to park vessels for an extended period. The port frequently hosts vessels from the U.S. Maritime Administration’s Ready Reserve Fleet.

The first phase of the project cost about $2 million, while the second is projected to cost around $11 million.

The rehabilitation will be a draw for customers, said Cash. The improvements will make the berth ready for tenants who need to move quickly.

“Our primary objective at the port is economic development,” said Cash. “The improvements will help the folks working at the terminals, the Longshoremen, the linesmen, the people working on the railroads, the people supplying the equipment, contractors working on the project and so on.

“There’s just so much benefit spread around the community and beyond doing things like this,” he added.