Congressman Derek Kilmer says he’s meeting with timber industry officials and other interest groups in hopes of coming up with a plan to boost production in the Olympic National Forest.
“I don’t have a grand plan to unveil quite yet,” Kilmer said, after making numerous stops around the Harbor on Saturday.
He acknowledged that there’s been great interest on the Olympic Peninsula to do more thinning and logging projects in the national forest.
It’s been a decades-long complaint that the U.S. Forest Service has never met the logging goals set forth in the Northwest Forest Plan, despite an increased demand for timber.
Grays Harbor County Commissioner Frank Gordon said that he’s especially encouraged that Kilmer wants to do more to help in the forests around the Amanda Park area, which saw huge blowdown during the past few wind storms and yet is located in a roadless area where logging is not possible.
“Congressman Kilmer understands that all of this talk about the Wild Olympics and more wilderness areas needs to happen at the same time that we talk about increasing production in our forests,” Gordon said.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray says she will re-introduce legislation this year that would expand wilderness designations and put areas around Olympic National Park off limits to logging. It’s a proposal she first introduced with then-Congressman Norm Dicks last June in the Senate after environmental groups known as the Wild Olympics Campaign spent several years working on the plan. Kilmer has not yet signed on to the plan.
Kilmer spent two hours Saturday in Aberdeen at the Expo Grays Harbor, an event put on by Greater Grays Harbor Inc., which attracted all sorts of businesses and community members. The trip follows a stop he made in Aberdeen last month for a round table with small business leaders. He conducted another round table at SeaMar in Aberdeen on Saturday “and talked about a lot of things that are, frankly, in the crosshairs at the federal level in terms of services.”
“I’ve really enjoyed getting to know your business community,” Kilmer said. “I like talking to local employers. Part of my focus is trying to figure out how we help small businesses and get things going again. I did a lot of listening, actually. … There are no silver bullets to fixing the economy and helping them, but we learned about a lot of little things. Everything from workforce issues and making sure we can find good, skilled workers to a lot of interest in seeing growth of opportunity at the Port and tremendous enthusiasm to seeing how we grow opportunities because exports are sure growing. There’s been talk of tax reform and helping small businesses have a better, more level playing field.”
Kilmer says he is concerned about the recent curtailment of operations at Harbor Paper in Hoquiam. Last month, the paper mill abruptly closed down as it replaced its top manager John Begley with the son of the paper mill’s owner.
Kilmer said he met with owner Cesar Scolari earlier this year. Kilmer says he’s made his office available to help Scolari however he needs it. There’s been a lot of talk of helping the county out with a New Market Tax Credit.
“We’re trying to maintain the lines of communication to make sure we can be helpful,” Kilmer said. “I want to make sure for every employer, big or small, we’re doing what we can to be helpful.”
One stop Saturday at a small business that got him especially excited was the Sucher & Sons Star Wars Store in Aberdeen.
Kilmer says he’s an avid Star Wars fan and he and his deputy district director perused the store and talked with store owner Don Sucher.
“Let’s just say that I did not leave empty handed and my 6-year-old is going to be very happy,” Kilmer said. “And, I will be back.”
He finished his tour of the area a bit out of the district at the 88th Annual Pacific County Democrats’ Crab Feed in South Bend, where he told fellow Democrats that he was sharing an apartment in Washington, D.C., with new Congressman Denny Heck of Olympia from the new 10th Congressional District.
“We think, if nothing else, we might write a sitcom,” Kilmer said. “For the record, I’m the neat one.”