With unemployment a chronic problem on Grays Harbor, Congressman Derek Kilmer has largely focused on economic development during his most recent tour of the 6th Congressional District.
Much of his current trip has consisted of stops at local businesses and Rotary clubs — in addition to an event at Montesano High School and a visit to Grays Harbor Community Hospital.
Kilmer, a Democrat from Gig Harbor, says it’s possible to have a strong natural resources-based segment of the economy and protect the environment. In December he formed the Olympic Peninsula Collaborative and introduced the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild, and Scenic Rivers Act in January.
But Kilmer told The Daily World editorial board Wednesday that economic recovery in Grays Harbor County won’t depend on timber jobs alone — the region must also focus on Port of Grays Harbor growth and small businesses.
“Everyone I talk to agrees that a one-legged stool can’t stand, so we have to focus on the other legs of the economy,” Kilmer said.
Asked to compare the northern and southern Olympic Peninsula segments of his district, he said, both have identified some of the strongest assets and used them well. The Port Angeles area, he said, has done a good job making its “front porch” attractive and that’s enhanced tourism. The Grays Harbor portion of the district has emphasized its port facilities and shipping has become a “juggernaut” in the local economy, he said.
While on the Harbor, Kilmer talked to City of Aberdeen officials about plans for downtown revitalization efforts. The city recently hired Cary Bozeman as an economic development consultant. Bozeman oversaw similar revitalization efforts as the mayor of Bremerton from 2001 to 2009. Former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks aided Bozeman’s efforts by securing federal funding in the form of earmarks.
However, finding funding for Aberdeen’s projects may be a little more difficult, Kilmer said. Dicks was a long-time representative who was the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, and Congress largely eliminated earmarks in 2012.
If Aberdeen seeks federal revitalization funds, it will likely come in the form of competitive grants and low-intrerest loans, he said.
“The process of pursuing federal funds is certainly a lot different than it was five, 10 years ago,” Kilmer said.
At the editorial board session, Kilmer also discussed one of Grays Harbor’s more divisive subjects: Wild Olympics, which hasn’t received a hearing in the House Committee on Natural Resources. The committee is chaired by fellow Washingtonian U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, a Republican from Pasco.
“There simply aren’t any wilderness bills moving through that committee right now,” Kilmer said.
While he doesn’t expect the bill to move forward this year, Kimer said Wild Olympics is gaining favorable public opinion on Olympic Peninsula communities.
The newest iteration of the bill would designate fewer acres of land as wilderness, protect some existing roads and trails from closure and eliminate the “willing seller” provision that could have paved the way for expansion of Olympic National Park in the future.
“I had to feel comfortable that there wouldn’t be any negative economic impacts or impacts to private property,” Kilmer said.
With the Olympic Peninsula Collaborative — a group consisting of 16 conservation and recreation groups, timber representatives and timber-related companies — Kilmer has been working to expedite the logging on Forest Service lands.
The collaborative is still in its infancy, but Kilmer said the various stakeholders plan to tour the region and learn about various forestry treatments in coming months. He said he also hopes to continue open and non-combative conversation between collaborative members.