Design Workshop Planned for Touchet Valley Trail

The Port of Columbia and the Touchet Valley Trail Steering Committee, in partnership with the National Park Service (NPS) Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) program, will host a design workshop in Waitsburg and Dayton to develop early-stage general design concepts for a non-motorized trail connecting the two towns.  Design professionals from the Washington Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (WASLA) will volunteer their time to facilitate an intensive two-day workshop with community stakeholders on October 25-26.  Ten students from Washington State University and two students from University of Washington will also be participating in the design process. “Only one project is chosen each year for this type of NPS/WASLA collaboration,” stated Jennie Dickinson, executive director of the Port of Columbia. “We are very grateful that the proposed Touchet Valley Trail was chosen as this year’s project.”

The process will include site visits on public lands along the proposed trail corridor on Friday, October 25th, a day-long design workshop, or a “charrette,” on Saturday, October 26th, and an opportunity for public participation Saturday at 5:00 pm. The charrette is being coordinated with WSU faculty and offers a unique mentorship and professional development opportunity for landscape architecture students from WSU as a part of their junior level design coursework.  WSU and UW students will work alongside landscape architecture professionals and other design team members to help produce an early-stage initial conceptual plan for the Touchet Valley Trail.  This plan will provide a reference point as formal surveying and design planning begins later this year.

Feedback from adjacent landowners, from an on-line community survey, and from recent open houses in Waitsburg and Dayton will be shared with the design teams prior to the charrette.  Part of their work will include brainstorming solutions to some of the design challenges and concerns raised by community members in the last few months.

The public is invited to attend and participate in the final portion of the workshop on Saturday, October 26th from 5-7 p.m. at the Columbia County Fairgrounds Pavilion.  This public portion of the event includes a Design Ideas Presentation by each of the four design teams followed by a sticky dot exercise in which members of the public will be asked to identify which design ideas they think could work best. Community members can also visit with the design teams during the sticky dot exercise, and comments will be recorded for future consideration. Sandwiches will be provided as a light dinner and several door prizes will be awarded at the end of the evening.

NPS RTCA staff work collaboratively with local communities to conserve and enhance special places like the Touchet Valley, as well as identify funding sources, engage the public, and create recreation opportunities. Last year, the NPS’s RTCA program awarded the Port of Columbia County and its cooperating partners a community assistance grant. Rather than provide funds, the grant covers NPS staff time to provide technical assistance to local communities. The partners are utilizing this expertise for public outreach and early-stage conceptual planning for the proposed Touchet Valley Trail.

 

In 2000, National Park Service and ASLA formalized a partnership to help communities across the nation plan, design, and manage their natural, cultural, and recreation resources. This unique partnership expanded opportunities for ASLA chapters and NPS staff across the country. Dozens of community projects have benefited from this valuable collaboration.  “The NPS/ASLA partnership benefits communities in the early stages of projects with the design and problem-solving skills of landscape architects,” said RTCA Community Planner, Alexandra Stone.

 

The proposed Touchet Valley Trail is a part of the Blue Mountain Region Trails Plan adopted in 2018.  It will connect the communities of Waitsburg and Dayton along the existing active rail line owned by the Port of Columbia.

About the Touchet Valley Trail Steering Committee

The Port of Columbia, in collaboration with the National Park Service, has convened a Touchet Valley Trail Steering Committee to help guide the planning process for the proposed trail.  The steering committee is comprised of stakeholders for the project. To learn more, visit Port of Columbia.

 

About Washington — ASLA

The Washington Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (WASLA) is the professional association for landscape architects in Washington State. Landscape architects are licensed professionals that lead the stewardship, planning, and design of our built and natural environments. WASLA’s mission is to lead, to educate and to participate in the careful stewardship, wise planning and artful design of our cultural and natural environments.

About the National Park Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program

The National Park Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program supports community-led natural resource conservation and outdoor recreation projects across the nation.

 

 

Touchet Valley Trail survey

It’s long been a desire to have a trail connecting Dayton and Waitsburg.  Thanks in large part to grants from the National Park Service and WSDOT, we are now in the planning stages and want your input!  Please take a moment to fill out our trail survey, visit our Touchet Valley Trail, and like and follow us on Facebook for frequent updates.  There will be numerous opportunities for public input throughout the process – we hope you’ll participate in all of them!

Learn more about economic development on the What’s Up Walla Walla Valley podcast!

The Port is the lead economic development agency for Columbia County. So what exactly is economic development in a community like ours? Listen to this week’s What’s Up Walla Walla Valley podcast to learn more about what our economic development coordinator Kathryn Witherington does, and reach out to her today for help with your business, community idea, or challenge to be tackled.

Kathryn’s contact information:  kathryn@portofcolumbia.org, 509-382-2577 (office), 509-876-1871 (cell – texts welcome!).

 

Broadband Planning Grant Sought

The mission of the Port of Columbia is to maximize public resources and private investment to create jobs, provide infrastructure, and maintain and improve the economic vitality of Columbia County.  As part of this mission, we work constantly to identify new opportunities for our community.

In March of 2018, one of these opportunities arrived when Substitute House Bill 2664 was signed in to law.  This bill gives ports in Washington State the authority to build broadband infrastructure in their jurisdictions.  This authority perfectly encompasses our role at the Port.  We can use the public resources to build a dark fiber line that any private internet service provider can lease to provide faster, more reliable internet to residents of Columbia County.

Quality high speed internet is a necessity if we want Columbia County to remain economically solvent.  Businesses will not locate in rural areas without access to good internet.  Employees will choose to live in other areas if they can’t get the speeds and reliability they need.  The large internet companies are not putting their resources in to rural America.  As often happens, rural America needs to help itself.

In a broadband survey conducted by the Port of Columbia in October 2018, we found that a majority of our community members were either unhappy with or wanted improvements to their existing internet options.  This knowledge, combined with the economic necessity of good internet, has led us to conclude that we need to consider taking advantage of the new authorities granted by HB 2664.  The Port of Columbia intends to apply for a planning grant from the Community Economic Revitalization Board to determine if a Port-built broadband network is the right choice for our community.

The feasibility study that results from this planning grant will answer a variety of questions about the construction of a broadband network.  First, it will examine our existing internet options and determine if additional infrastructure is even needed.  Second, it will look at the financial viability of such a project in Columbia County.  Third, it will analyze emerging internet technologies to make sure that a broadband network won’t be obsolete in the near future.  If the end result of the feasibility study supports the needs for Port-owned broadband infrastructure, then we will seek construction funds to build the network within the next year.

A few important things to note.  First, HB 2664 does not give ports the authority to become internet service providers.  Instead, we would be “building a toll road” of fiber that any private internet service provider can pay to use to provide internet service to their customers.  Essentially, the Port is taking on the construction, operations, and maintenance costs of the infrastructure, leaving ISPs to spend their time and money on improving their customers’ experience.

Second, the cost of construction, operations, and maintenance of a Port-owned broadband network will not be paid with Columbia County tax dollars.  Instead, the construction cost will be funded through state programs and operations and maintenance through the revenues from leases paid by the ISPs.

Finally, public input and partners is imperative to make this a successful project.  We’ll be convening a Community Broadband Team to help guide the planning process.  We’ll be holding a Community Broadband Meeting to hear input from residents and businesses on what your internet needs are and how new broadband infrastructure may meet them.  The goal of this project is to better serve Columbia County residents, and we look forward to hearing from all of you as this process continues.

 

Columbia County Tax Rates: How We All Benefit from New Business

At a recent public hearing regarding a conditional use permit for a proposed new business locating in Columbia County, two themes kept coming up that have caused the Port district concern. The first one was “How is this business helping the community?” and the second one was “The windmills have done nothing for us.”

The first statement was in regards to a potential blockchain business locating here. Many in the audience seemed to think that if the business didn’t provide something they could eat or buy, or didn’t create a lot of new jobs, it wasn’t providing any community benefit. Putting aside whether or not you approve of a blockchain, new businesses locating here do provide value to the community. How? By increasing the tax base, which is the total value of the land and assets of a county. As the tax base grows, the share each individual has to pay goes down. Or, if a community decides to tax themselves for additional services (like ours has), such as a hospital bond or an EMS levy, collecting the new revenue doesn’t cause our taxes to go up a huge amount. A larger tax base creates “room” in the tax pie for additional services.

This leads to the second concerning statement that the wind turbines have done nothing for our county. Nothing could be further from the truth! Besides creating 72 year-round, living-wage jobs with benefits and new revenue for landowners, the value of the wind farms has nearly quadrupled our tax base! This has dramatically reduced our tax rates (see Tax Rate chart.)

Here’s an example: The tax rate is the individual rate each of us pays per $1,000 in value of property we own. Let’s say your house value is $100,000. If you lived in the Delaney tax area in 2014, your total tax bill for the year would have been $1,114. If you lived in Waitsburg in a $100,000 home in 2014, your total tax bill would have been $1,371. That is a 23% difference! Ten years ago, before the wind industry came to Columbia County, your taxes on a house of the same value would have been $1,338 in the Delany tax area.

People will say “but my taxes have still gone up.” Yes, they have! Why? Several reasons. First, the value of real estate has gone up over the last 14 years, as it should. (We don’t want our houses to lose value, do we?) Also, we’ve passed several special levies as shown in the chart. We’ve been able to collect more revenue without huge tax increases. Finally, the state portion of the tax levies change. Your tax bill in 2018 went way up because the state had to change the way they funded schools. They increased their portion of the tax levy by a large margin. We had no control over that increase at the local level.

Our hope is that this tax chart will help explain how new and existing businesses help the community in many ways. The Port wants to continue to foster a pro-business atmosphere in Columbia County, and we need our citizens to help us do so.

December meeting to provide information on upcoming Paid FMLA changes

Join us at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, December 5 at the Liberty Theater in downtown Dayton to learn more about what you are required to do under the new Paid Family & Medical Leave mandatory statewide insurance program.

Almost all employers (business owners, nonprofits, religious institutions, government agencies, and more) have required action to take in January 2019. Learn more and ask your questions.

Please note that small businesses are not exempt from certain parts of this plan. Even if you’re small, you’ll still need to adjust payroll. Come learn more and plan ahead!

There is no cost to attend.
Event: Paid FMLA Forum
Date: Wednesday, December 5
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Location: Liberty Theater, 344 E Main Street, Dayton, WA 99328

Rural tax incentives pay off in a big way!

One of the significant advantages of having new industries invest in a community is the potential of an increased tax base.  In Columbia County, we have already seen the effects of this from one important industry – renewable energy.  Before the wind industry invested in Columbia County, our tax base was just over $286 million.  Ten years later, our tax base has risen to $868 million.  This is an increase of 227%.  A larger tax base means more revenue for local governments like cities, counties, library districts, fire districts, ports, and so on.  The tax base numbers make it clear:  when new businesses come to Columbia County, Columbia County benefits.

Read about how our newest industry, Columbia Pulp, will benefit Columbia County here.