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'It's a huge deal': Federal dollars speed up Port Angeles project

A ship moves through the water in front of downtown Port Angeles, with mountains and clouds in the background.
Ed Ronco
Port Angeles, as seen from Ediz Hook, in 2018.

The site of a former plywood mill in Port Angeles has taken a big step toward becoming a center of the marine trades, thanks to a grant from the federal government.

The $7.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce will pay for infrastructure improvements at the Port of Port Angeles, which will clear the way for the port to build a Marine Trades Industrial Park.

“It’s a huge deal,” said Steven Burke, District 2 Commissioner for the Port of Port Angeles. “This is fast-tracking this project. It doesn’t feel like fast-tracking because we applied for this grant about three years ago.”

Building the space for marine trades has been a top goal for the port for years – and is part of a larger picture of economic diversification in part of the state that was once far more reliant on the timber industry.

A fair amount of timber still moves through Port Angeles, but the natural resources economy isn't what it used to be. An attempt by another company to revive the KPly plywood mill about a decade ago, ended unsuccessfully.

Burke says officials have been hoping for years to do something else with the 19-acre site.

“We were looking at diversifying in another area that could compliment natural resources, that had living wage jobs,” he said. “We kind of focused down into marine trades which, historically, has been part of our town for a very long time.”

Without the federal grant money, this would be a 10-year project, Burke said. But now, they could have tenants in buildings – that don’t exist yet – in as soon as five years.

The marine trades project will include space for boats to be built and serviced, and Burke says it's better for the environment than what was on the property.

Old mills stored fuel in underground tanks, which leaked. Being able to remediate the site will make a difference, he said.

"For us, converting it from an old mill to marine trades allowed us to do a complete cleanup of that site," Burke said.

Burke says the aim is to bolster the city’s already strong marine trades, including marine electricians, marine plumbers, and boat builders and repair services.

The port will match the federal grant with $3.8 million of its own money.

Learn more: The Peninsula Daily News has an in-depth story on this issue.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.