Port of Toledo Boatyard Boosts Capacity, Economy
An initial $1.5 million gamble made in 2010 is looking more and more prescient – and profitable – for port officials in Toledo, Oregon and the coastal communities the port serves.
Since purchasing the former Fred Wahl boatyard at Sturgeon Bend on the Yaquina River in December 2010, port commissioners, manager and staff have guided a revitalization project that culminated in late 2016 with numerous improvements, among them new haul-out piers and a 660-ton mobile lift that port manager Bud Shoemake said "greatly enhances the boatyard's efficiency."
"We can now handle all of our local fleet, and anything else that can navigate the river to the boatyard," Shoemake said.
Wahl shut down the facility in 2008 after nearly a decade on the 20-acre sliver of land near the small, but industrious city of Toledo. The dwindling number of haul-outs along Oregon's coast and decline in private boatyards provided the impetus for Port of Toledo officials to pursue the purchase and revitalization project.
In fact, Shoemake calls the project "a game changer for the region and the state."
The improvements allowed full utilization of the property not long after the five-member port commission approved the build-out plan in 2013, with backing from city and county officials.
So far, the gamble has paid off.
Shoemake said the port's key role is economic development for the region, especially traditional industries like commercial fisheries. Operating since 1910, the port's main focal point is Toledo's waterfront on Depot Slough, a longtime haven for commercial moorage and marine-related businesses catering to the needs of commercial fishermen.
The Oregon Transportation Commission considers the port and its boatyard essential to maintaining Oregon's economic competitiveness by keeping commercial fishing and research vessels shipshape and seaworthy, and connections to markets intact and fully functional. The commission approved a $4.7 million Connect Oregon grant to allow the port to pursue the $6.2 million revitalization plan that Shoemake said would eventually add 50 jobs to the local economy and 167 jobs statewide.
Transportation officials say the port and boatyard are ideally situated at an intersection of river, railroad and highway.
While commercial fishing fortunes ebb and flow more dramatically than the ocean tides and currents, the industry overall remains a viable piece of Oregon's coastal and state economy. It generates about 4,000 jobs and accounts for about 15 percent of earned income in Oregon's central coast communities (Newport, Toledo, Depoe Bay), according to economic analysts. A 2014 state economic study showed that Oregon's coastal ports contribute 15,759 direct and indirect jobs and $904 million to the state's gross domestic product. NOAA's 2014 fisheries report ranked Oregon sixth in the nation in overall fish landings, with 291 million pounds valued at $157.7 million. Newport topped all Pacific Coast ports and finished 11th nationally, landing 124 million pounds valued at $53 million.
Toledo's boatyard and related marine businesses already provided service and support for Newport's elite fishing fleet. The latest project makes the site even more valuable to the industry, and the timing was fortuitous.
River Bend boatyard, located farther downriver, shut down in October 2015, leaving the Port of Toledo facility as the only remaining haul-out in the area. The boatyard project replaced an aging, failing dry dock capable of handling only one vessel at a time with the high-capacity lift and piers that allow boatyard crews to haul out and work on several vessels of varying size at one time. It also added a new wash-down pad, expanded hard moorage spaces, and created a cargo transfer area by relocating the boatyard's access road and utilities.
The rejuvenated boatyard has since forged a reputation as one of Oregon's premier vessel service and repair facilities.
Because the boatyard provides a vital link for commercial fishing and marine research vessels, the Newport, Oregon-based Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, the Port of Newport, commercial fishermen Mike Pettis (F/V Patriot, F/V Challenge and F/V Jake-B), Bob Eder and Michelle Longo Eder (F/V Timmy Boy), and Kurt Cochran (F/V New Life, F/V Marathon and F/V Bay Islander), and many marine service businesses enthusiastically supported the effort.
Fishermen say they like having the option on the easily navigable, well-marked Yaquina River. The do-it-yourself open yard provides access to a group of preferred independent contractors, and being close to homeport is a bonus for the Newport-based fleet.
Kurt Cochran recently had his 90-foot trawler F/V Marathon hauled out at the boatyard for a major refit.
While the Marathon crew fishes primarily in Alaskan waters for cod, pollock, sole and rockfish, most of its crewmembers (and crewmembers for Cochran's two other trawlers) live in Lincoln County. He says being able to do often time-consuming maintenance and overhauls so close to home is a boon to the men and women who spend much time at sea plying their trade.
Reino Randall agrees with that assessment.
Randall, a well-known, highly-skilled boat builder, serves as a project manager at the Toledo boatyard, overseeing many of the haul-outs "one project at a time from beginning to end." Shoemake said Randall "has a stellar reputation as a master craftsman" along the entire Pacific coast.
"I've heard those rumors," Randall mused when asked about his reputation. "After 45 years, you've got to learn something."
Randall's services are in demand from California to Alaska, but for the past 16 years, Newport has been home. Barry Fisher, another well-known character in Newport commercial fishing lore, noticed Randall's skill when the two worked together on a project in Samoa, and eventually convinced Reino to make the move to Oregon's shores.
Like others who ply a trade related to commercial fishing, Randall realizes that a healthy local fishing industry means on-going work for boat builders and other marine specialists.
"We have a commercial fleet here that's second to none," he stated. "I've also worked in boatyards from California to Seattle. Per capita, Newport and Toledo has an incredible pool of talent. There's a lot of skill in this little town."
Creating a place to bring such talent together and providing quality service to keep the commercial fishing fleet afloat and the fishing economy healthy are prime factors behind the Port of Toledo's efforts to resurrect the boatyard and make the necessary improvements to offer a full menu of services. Adding the 660-ton mobile lift changed everything.
"Much of the local fleet is too big for the port's small lift," said Randall, noting that the boatyard retrofit and its potential economic impact "is huge" for both the fishing industry and nearby coastal communities.
"So many yards have gone out of business these past few years," he added. "Everybody I've talked to, they're ecstatic about having it here."
Shoemake and Toledo port officials understand and are fully aware of the possibilities. The port itself has experienced a boost, now boasting a staff of 25 that at one time had shriveled to just three.
"We're getting a lot of attention, including from the distant fleet," he said. "And we haven't really marketed ourselves much." Word of mouth among fishermen is priceless, but Shoemake realizes that advertising and marketing must eventually come into play. Meanwhile, they remain focused on enhancing the facility and building on its success.
The final piece of the plan is to add an immense airtight, watertight, climate-controlled work building – 150 feet long, 80 feet wide, and 90 feet high at the roof peak – that would allow boatyard work year-round, regardless of weather conditions. Connect Oregon is providing a $2 million economic development grant for the effort, which should break ground this spring.
"This is an important facility, not only for this community but for the Newport fishing fleet," Shoemake said. "Without it, the central coast economy would lose millions of dollars in economic opportunity every year."
He and the port commissioners are also pursuing another planning grant to look at the next steps in the port's evolution.
All Oregon ports – from larger harbors (Coos Bay, Newport, Astoria) with international shipping and regional-scale fishing fleets to smaller, shallow-draft sites with limited capabilities – are integral to their communities' lifestyles and economies. The seafood industry also supports associated fish processing plants, mechanics, welders, refrigeration specialists, machine shops, marine electronics sales and service firms, professional services (attorneys and accountants) and marine suppliers – mostly clustered adjacent to the waterfronts.
Located seven miles inland along the Yaquina River and adjacent sloughs, the Port of Toledo encompasses 443 square miles of territory, including the cities of Toledo and Siletz, and owns several industrial properties and extensive tracts of developable land. It currently leases to more than 10 private businesses, all of which increase local economic activity and bring jobs to the community.
Overall, Oregon's ports comprise a vital regional network of marine infrastructure, and remain integral parts of their communities.
And the Port of Toledo is showing how smaller ports can make significant contributions.