Heukers to buy Cascade Locks Port site for smoked fish plant

Heuker Family Lands LLC of Dodson is set to buy a 3.4-acre piece of land from the Port of Cascade Locks, where the company plans to site a fish processing and smoking facility.

The Heuker Brothers, who own a commercial fishing company that catches salmon in Alaska and the Columbia River, hope a plant at the Port’s Business Park will take their business “to the next level,” allowing them to smoke and package their own fish, then sell it around the Columbia Gorge.

“(We want) to take it to the next level, to take it to these smaller markets so they actually know our fish,” said owner Tim Heuker of Heuker Bros.

Cascade Locks General Manager Paul Koch said the land sale for the property, tucked at the north end of Cramblett Way, is scheduled to close Jan. 14, 2016.

Originally, the Port and the Heukers agreed to sign off on Dec. 15, but the Port extended the deadline due to harrowing storm conditions in the western Gorge, which delayed the Heukers from turning in some of their papers.

The land transaction has been several years in the making, with both parties’ attorneys “ironing out” the terms, Koch said.

“It’s all positive,” Koch said of the Port Commission’s sentiments toward siting the Heuker business in Cascade Locks. “You’re looking at a town that hasn’t seen economic development in 30 years.”

Though smaller businesses have sprouted up in Cascade Locks, including Brigham Fish Market, Jumpin’ Jax Java and Thunder Island Brewing, a large-scale industrial user hasn’t come since Bear Mountain Forest Products. Puff Factory, a nascent freeze dried fruit company, withdrew plans to site a plant in the Port’s Business Park and applied in October for a spot in Odell. That company still rents a small industrial equipment building at the Port’s property.

Meanwhile, the Port has been prepping utilities in its Business Park to make way for industrial strength users. Port crews installed a new road, Columbia Gorge Way, over the summer and are endeavoring to install electricity, water and sewer upgrades by next May.

The Port’s utility upgrade comes alongside the City of Cascade Locks’ municipal water infrastructure overhaul, which aims to prevent leakages and provide adequate fire flow for large scale businesses.

The Heukers hope a plant in Cascade Locks will free up a new avenue for their business, pushing them into the distribution realm.

Currently, the company works out of Dodson but doesn’t have the zoning permits necessary to process their own fish. Heuker said the business can clean the fish, but they aren’t permitted for smoking, canning and retail distribution.

A processing plant would allow the company to brand fish for sale in cities throughout the Gorge, including Hood River and White Salmon. Smaller, local stores will be the prime destination, but “all the Gorge” could be eligible, Heuker said.

As of now, the Heukers truck off their fresh product directly to buyers. Some of the customers are restaurants in the Portland area, such as Portland City Grill.

The transition from a fresh fish company to one that also provides packaged food will take months, if not years. Heuker estimated at least a year until production — the plant’s equipment likely won’t be set in gear by fall 2016, the Columbia River’s next “bread and butter” fishing season.

The Port land sale could mark the second property the Heukers own in Cascade Locks.

First was the historic fire hall on 505 WaNaPa St., which the fishing company bought from the city for $150,000 in April. The old hall had sat vacant since 2005.

Heuker said he’s interested in getting a new business as a tenant, particularly “something to keep people coming in year ‘round,” as a long-term business partner. One promising inquiry came from a cidery, he said, but the proprietor eventually stopped communicating and “faded away,” so the Heukers are still searching.

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