A last-minute agreement Thursday between Port Hueneme and the Oxnard Harbor District is expected to help pave the way for the transfer of 33 acres of Navy land to the port.
The harbor district's board of commissioners approved by a 4-0 vote, with one abstention, a proposal that would give the city a bigger cut of the port's revenue in exchange for its approval of the land deal.
After months of negotiations, the agreement came just days before a Dec. 31 deadline issued by the Department of Transportation, the federal agency arranging the free transfer of the Naval Civil Engineering Laboratory property to the commercial Port of Hueneme. The port is owned by the harbor district.
"I'm glad to move on to the next step," said port Executive Director William Buenger, who helped negotiate the agreement. "The city stands to gain significantly as a result of this agreement, as do we."
The property-- nearly half the size of the existing 70-acre port--will be a boon for the land-limited site. The port has been consistently growing for the past decade and, in the last two years, has strained its land capacity with the construction of two large refrigerated buildings to accommodate its position as the nation's leading citrus exporter.
"In order to handle more of that business, the agricultural business and especially the car business, the port requires a lot of space to expand," said Ray Bowman, executive director of the California Central Coast World Trade Center. "Whenever a port grows, that supplies jobs and revenue to the area."
The Port Hueneme City Council has tentatively scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday to discuss the agreement.
City Manager Dick Velthoen said he believes the council probably will follow the harbor commissioners' lead in approving the agreement, adding that it would benefit both parties.
Currently the city receives 5% of port revenue, which amounted to about $400,000 in the last fiscal year. The money is intended to cover direct and indirect costs of city services, such as police protection and road repair.
Under the new arrangement, the percentage will increase to 6.25% when the port takes possession of the Navy property. Over time, that percentage will increase as the port's revenues do--with an upper limit of 8% if the port is able to nearly double its total revenue.
"The harbor district's application for the property is already in Washington," said port marketing director Kam Quarles. "The only thing keeping the application from going forward was the city's consent. If both bodies approve the agreement, we're on our way."
Now the application must go through a series of federal agencies. The Department of Transportation will act as an intermediary between the local harbor district and the Department of Defense.
The Navy plans to make the land available in April when it moves the engineering and research operations housed there to Port Hueneme's Naval Construction Battalion Center.
If the process goes smoothly, the Port of Hueneme could be the first commercial port in the country to receive base-closure land in this manner.
Under the transfer, about 25 acres of the land would be used for port-related uses. A consultant retained by the port already has developed a land-use proposal designed to maximize the amount of cargo that could pass through the port.
The agreement also allows private groups using the naval facilities, such as the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, to possibly remain on site. In addition, a strip of land along the beach and sea wall will be preserved for public access and recreation.
Quarles said the partial shutdown of the federal government, if it continues, might delay consideration of the application. However, the port is prepared to take possession as soon as possible.
"We know what we want to do with the property and we're ready to go the day they shut it down," he said.