Ex-Wall Street investment banker advances toward Port Angeles Harbor-Works board seat

By Paige Dickerson
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES -- Port of Port Angeles commissioners have unanimously selected former attorney and ex-Wall Street investment banker Kaj Ahlburg for the Harbor-Works Development Authority board.

The Port Angeles City Council, which officially created Harbor-Works with the port, must confirm the port's appointment. The council action is considered a formality.

Harry Bell, chief forester for Green Crow wood products company, and Grant Munro, former City Council member, also applied for the appointment.

Attorney Bart Irwin, one of the port's appointees, resigned in December, citing travel plans that conflicted with major decisions of the public development authority charged with exploring future development of Rayonier Inc.'s former pulp mill site in east Port Angeles.

The motion to appoint Ahlburg was made by Commissioner Jim McEntire.

"I appreciate all three stepping forward for public service, particularly when the community is somewhat divided on the issue of Harbor-Works," Commissioner John Calhoun said.

"In my opinion, Kaj Ahlburg is the best man for the job, and I would support his nomination."

None of the candidates was present at the time of the vote, but each had spoken earlier at Monday's meeting of port commissioners about his qualifications.

After he was informed that he was chosen, Ahlburg -- who was at work on Wall Street when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks struck -- said he was honored and up for the challenge.

"I'm looking forward to rolling up my sleeves," the cum laude Harvard Law School graduate said.

"A lot will happen in the next several months and there is a lot of work to be done over the next six months.

"I look forward to contributing my expertise to try and make sure the right decisions are made."

Ahlburg said he wanted to be involved in the board because he wanted to help grow the economy in Port Angeles.

"Usually I am skeptical in using public money for acquiring land for economic purposes," said Ahlburg, who is active in the Clallam County Republican Party.

"But in the case of Rayonier, I believe it is justifiable.

"It has become impossible to wait for the private sector to do the cleanup after over a dozen years."

Ahlburg, who is retired, said his experience in law and finance will be beneficial to the board.

"You have three great candidates, and now it is up to you to select which one has the skills to best round out the board," he told the port commissioners.

Calhoun asked each of the candidates if he had read the Harbor-Works charter, and Bell and Ahlburg replied they had.

Munro, the former Port Angeles city councilman, said he had not.

McEntire emphasized to the candidates his desire for Harbor-Works to try to persuade Rayonier and the Department of Ecology to speed up the cleanup process.

Ecology recently announced that three more years of study would be required before cleanup could proceed.

Ahlburg replied: "I was disheartened when I heard about that, and I'm not sure why because they have had over a decade.

"Every year since then, we've heard that it would be done in two or three years.

"If it cannot be compressed it will increase the cost, because there is a cost to uncertainty."

The city created Harbor-Works, with support from the Port of Port Angeles, to acquire Rayonier's vacant pulp mill site on the Port Angeles waterfront, direct the property's redevelopment and assist in its environmental cleanup.

Pockets of PCBs, dioxin, arsenic and other toxins were found on the site after it closed in 1997 after 68 years of pulp mill operation.

It has been an Ecology cleanup project since 2000.

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Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at paige.dickerson@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 26. 2010 12:52AM
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