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AGLO 1974 No. 33 - March 15, 1974
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

DISTRICTS ‑- PORTS ‑- LEASES ‑- PROPERTY ‑- AIRPORTS ‑- AGRICULTURAL FARMING

A port district, in leasing certain land which it owns adjacent to an airport operated by it, may restrict the lessee's use of that land to the maintenance and operation of an agricultural farm where such use is determined to be necessary in connection with the airport operation; such a district, however, may not itself engage in farming activities.

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                                                                  March 15, 1974

Honorable Charles D. Kilbury
State Representative, 16th District
P.O. Box 2482
Pasco, Washington 99302                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1974 No. 33

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested our opinion on three questions which we paraphrase as follows:

            (1) May a port district, in leasing certain land which it owns adjacent to an airport operated by it, restrict the lessee's use of that land to the maintenance and operation of an agricultural farm?

            (2) If question (1) is answered in the affirmative, may the port district drill and develop wells on the land for use both by prospective agricultural tenants and potential future industrial users?

            (3) May a port district, in entering into such a lease as is contemplated by question (1), include therein a provision giving the district the right to enter upon the land in the event of a breach by the lessee and, itself, complete the farming operation during the balance of the year in which the breach occurred?

            We answer question (1) in the affirmative, as qualified in our analysis; question (2) in the affirmative; and question (3) in the negative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Question (1):

            RCW 53.08.080 provides that a port district:

            ". . . may lease all lands, wharves, docks, and real and personal property owned and controlled by it, upon such terms as the port commission deems proper: . . ."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            This broad statutory grant of power, however, must be read in the light of RCW 53.04.010, the basic provision authorizing the establishment of port districts and setting forth the purposes for which such districts may be established, which provides that:

            "Port districts are hereby authorized to be established in the various counties of the state for the purposes of acquisition, construction, maintenance, operation, development and regulation within the district of harbor improvements, rail or motor vehicle transfer and terminal facilities, water transfer and terminal facilities, air transfer and terminal facilities, or any combination of such transfer and terminal facilities, and other commercial transportation, transfer, handling, storage and terminal facilities, and industrial improvements."

            Inasmuch as agricultural farming is not one of the purposes for which a port district may be established, it readily follows that it would not be proper for such a district to acquire a tract of land for the purpose of developing and operating a farm thereon ‑ either by itself or through a private tenant-farmer.  You have advised us, however, that the land to which your questions refer was not initially obtained for that purpose but, instead, was acquired by the port district involved as a site for the construction and maintenance of a public airport.  The airport has since been constructed and is currently in operation, and the port district desires to put the remainder of the tract which abuts on the airport, proper, to some beneficial and revenue producing use that will not interfere with the ability of aircraft to land and take off from the airport runways.

            Under these circumstances, and given the adoption of an appropriate resolution by the port district commissioners to the effect that, in their considered judgment, this would be the best and most beneficial use of the property in question from the standpoint of the port district and its airport operations, we believe that a lease of this particular property by the district for agricultural farming only would be consistent with RCW 53.08.080 and RCW 53.04.010,supra, and, hence, would be legally defensible.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Question (2):

            Your second question assumes the foregoing answer to question (1), and asks whether the port district can drill and develop wells on the land involved for use both by a prospective agricultural tenant and for possible future industrial use.

            RCW 53.08.040 grants specific authority to a port district to develop and improve its land in certain ways, as follows:

            "A district may improve its lands by dredging, filling, bulkheading, providing waterways or otherwise developing such lands for sale or lease for industrial and commercial purposes.  A district may also acquire, construct, install, improve, and operate sewer and water utilities to serve its own property and other property owners under terms, conditions, and rates to be fixed and approved by the port commission. . . ."

            Based upon this language, we would answer your second question in the affirmative.

            Question (3):

            Finally you have asked:

            May a port district, in entering into such a lease as is contemplated by question (1), include therein a provision giving the district the right to enter upon the land in the event of a breach by the lessee and, itself, complete the farming operation during the balance of the year in which the breach occurred?

            As heretofore indicated, the operation of agricultural farms is not one of the purposes for which port districts may be established.  See, RCW 53.04.010,supra.  It therefore follows that even though such a district may lease its land for farming purposes under the circumstances here involved, and drill wells for future industrial use on that land, the district may not itself go into the business of farming that land.  If the tenant-farmer on the land should breach his lease, therefore, the port district would simply have to evict that tenant and find another one willing to take over the operation  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] for the remainder of the lease's term.  The lease, of course, could provide for that contingency.

            It is hoped that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

JAMES K. PHARRIS
Assistant Attorney General

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