PORT TOWNSEND — U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer sat down with members of the city’s maritime sector and local government officials at the Port Townsend Yacht Club to discuss the centrality of the area’s marine industry sited at the Boat Haven Marina and Boat Yard owned by the Port of Port Townsend.
Kilmer, who represents the 6th Congressional District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula, is sponsoring a $6.16 million Community Project Funding request to replace the failing Boat Haven breakwater.
State and local governments and certain nonprofits are eligible for the earmarks.
“This is a no-brainer,” said Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, on Friday afternoon. “We know how many trades, people make their livings here. We know how much economic opportunity happens here. We know how important the marina is and how important it is for the Coast Guard and its boat. Making sure that we modernize the port portion of this is really important.”
The port owns and maintains 550 feet of the 2,550-foot-long breakwater that protects the businesses, workers, commercial and recreational vessels and U.S. Coast Guard facility and its Osprey cutter.
In December 2018, the south side of breakwater was damaged by a winter storm. The port made repairs to the structure in 1983 and 2016, but the sand-filled cofferdam structure with stone armoring built in the 1930s is in poor condition, said Eron Berg, the port’s executive director.
The remaining 1,875-foot section constructed in the 1960s owned by the United States Army Corps of Engineers is in fine shape, he said.
The Community Project Funding would be used toward the cost of demolishing the port’s section of the breakwater and constructing a new one. Ownership would then be transferred to the Army Corps, which would maintain the entire structure.
“Everything the port does at Boat Haven, which is our primary economic initiative in Jefferson County and really the heart of the working waterfront, is behind that part of the breakwater,” Berg said.
A number of people talked of the ability to train young people in the maritime trades so they can stay in Port Townsend or seek jobs throughout the state, in Alaska and beyond depends on the viability of Boat Haven and the Boat Yard.
Betsy Davis, executive director of the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, said Port Townsend’s marine industry provides opportunities for hands-on training on a wide range of vessels that differentiates it from other schools.
“We want to train people for jobs for these businesses, and the businesses in turn help make our school relevant to people,” Davis said. “We added a marine systems program that comes down to the Boat Yard the first week of school and walks around and starts looking and identifying all the different systems.”
One of the goals of his office, Kilmer said, has been working to create more economic opportunities for more people in more places, particularly rural areas.
“The job growth in this country has been very concentrated in large metropolitan areas, and there’s a lot of communities that I represent where there’s a real fear that their main export is going to be young people, so a big part of our approach is making sure that no matter what Zip code you live in, you’ve got a shot and can make a good living,” he said.
Kilmer heard that as much as Boat Haven and the Boat Yard and the waterfront are economic drivers, they also are essential to Port Townsend’s sense of what it is as a community.
“Without the marine industry here, we become much more of a retirement community,” Mayor David Faber said. “This is a major aspect of our economy and our culture. Maintaining that vibrancy is key to us not losing our identity.”
There is no guarantee that the port — or any other of the intended project recipients — will receive its request. Kilmer is asking for a total of $17.91 million in Community Project Funding. He said he will try to get as much as he can for every one of the projects in his district.
“In the House bill, everything took a pretty substantial haircut,” Kilmer said of appropriations legislation. “So we’ll see how all of this process goes in terms of trying to get more funding.”
Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.