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What is a Public Port?

A Port district is a municipal corporation, organized under state law and authorized by a majority vote of the residents in the proposed district, and is governed by a locally elected board of commissioners.  The District can be as large as an entire county or as small as a city or town; its boundaries are defined when it is formed.

When ports were first formed in the early 1900s, their primary purpose was to provide facilities for marine transportation and commerce. Over the years, the Legislature has expanded the list of port powers and functions. Some ports deal with all aspects of economic development, others with only one or two. They may:

  • Develop lands for industrial and commercial needs.
  • Provide general economic development programs.
  • Buy, lease and sell property.
  • Provide air and water pollution control works.
  • Operate trade centers and export trading companies.
  • Establish and operate foreign trade zones.
  • Promote tourism.

Powers and Functions

Ports still provide and operate commercial marine transportation facilities, helping to ship anything from grain (bulk) to container cargoes. Ports also maintain and operate airports, commercial and pleasure boat marinas, subsidized space for start-up businesses, cold-storage plants, log-export yards, boat launch ramps, and even a short-haul railroad.


Port activities and functions are financed in a variety of ways. These include lease-rental fees, other charges for services and the use of land and other facilities; property tax levies; proceeds from bonds sold for capital project construction; and grants and gifts.

Port Governance

Each port in Washington state is governed by its own commission, which acts as a board of directors for the port. The commission is elected by citizens in the port district and may consist of three or five commissioners. Most port commissioners serve a six-year term. Port commissioners in countywide port districts with a population of 100,000 or more serve four-year terms. Any port district may elect to convert to a four-year commissioner term.

Duties of a Port Commissioner

A port commissioner is elected by the public and serves as a member of the port commission for a six-year term. The port commission is primarily responsible for:

Planning, Goal Setting, Evaluation:

The port commission helps plan the port’s future, and then guides the port’s activities in that direction. This planning process involves the port commission, executive director, port staff, customers and citizens/voters. The process usually includes identifying a port’s mission and goals, and developing strategies to achieve them. The port commission is ultimately responsible for evaluating and updating the planning process.

Port District Policymaking:

The port commission develops and adopts port district policies and governs operations. For example, developing guidelines for long-term economic development, establishing positions and employment policies, and adopting budgets.


The port commission approves and adopts an annual budget. Some of the key budget decisions include authorizing and adopting tax levy amounts, adopting policies, and disposing and distributing supplies, property, and equipment.

Designating the Port's Executive Director/Manager:

The port commission is responsible for recruiting, hiring and evaluating the performance of the port’s chief executive. The commission delegates responsibility to this port administrator, then respects that delegated authority.

Objectives and Principles

Port of Pasco Business Objectives

  • Use partnerships and alliances to identify new business opportunities and to achieve our goals.
  • Maximize the value of our assets.
  • Advance economic stability of the District.
  • Recognize business and tenant retention and recruitment as our first priorities.
  • Commit to operating safe and environmentally conscious facilities.
  • Recognize employees as our most valuable asset.

Port of Pasco Guiding Principles

  • Make short term decisions that are consistent with, and reinforce our long term plans.
  • Avail ourselves of all opportunities for job creation and industrial retention.
  • Leverage our resources through creative problem solving and effective partnerships.
  • Weigh financial risk against return on investment job creation and retention and distribution of resources.

Port of Pasco History

The Port of Pasco is a local municipal corporation established by the voters of Franklin County in 1940. The Port Commission, the governing body, is made up of three local residents who are elected to a six-year term, with one of the nonpartisan positions up for election every two years.

The Port was originally formed to provide facilities for barge shipments of grain from the area on the Columbia River to the seacoast terminals. Over the years, the Port has continued to provide this capability and much more.

In 1959 with 94% voter approval, the Port purchased a World War II Army Depot, now known as Big Pasco Industrial Center. The facility has 600 acres of land with several miles of railroad tracks and streets and over 1.7 million square feet of buildings. This space, comparable to almost 16 blocks, has been leased to firms to improve the job opportunities of the area. The tenants presently employ almost 450 workers at this location. The Port of Pasco installed the first container crane facility on the upper Columbia River for barging products to and from Pasco. The container barge terminal averages over 2700 containers each year, with most of the containers used in exporting local products.

In 1963, the Port agreed to take over the former World War II U.S. Navy facility, known as the Pasco Airport, from the City of Pasco, and renamed it the Tri-Cities Airport. Over the years, the Port has made major improvements to runways and safety clearance areas, and built a new terminal building for what is now a regional airport. Approximately 700 people are employed by firms located at the Airport facility, including several industrial-type firms and organizations commonly associated with airports.

The Port of Pasco now provides facilities at the Tri-Cities Airport, the Big Pasco Industrial Center, the Pasco Processing Center, and the Container Barge Terminal, totaling assets worth in excess of $130 million dollars.

The Port of Pasco is a port of transportation. Vital transportation links are one of the keys to the Port of Pasco facilities. The area’s geographic location makes it a hub for the entire Pacific Northwest area. Highway access to all the facilities is excellent via interstate 182, U.S. 395 and U.S. 12. Mainline railroad service is provided by Burlington Northern Santa Fe, which operates a major switchyard at Pasco. Air transportation, for both passengers and cargo, is available at the Tri-Cities Airport. Barge shipments, bulk and in containers, is available within port facilities at the largest public marine terminal on the upper Columbia River.

The Port of Pasco has issued Industrial Revenue Bonds for development of industrial lands, facilities, services and activities in the Port of Pasco. The revenue bonds provide tax-exempt interest to bond holders, which allows the bonds to be issued at a lower rate of interest. The Economic Development Corporation of the Port of Pasco has established criteria for the eligibility and issuance of its industrial revenue bonds. It is the goal of the Port of Pasco to encourage and assist industrial development at the Port facilities.