Port Commissioner Chuck Caldwell announced his bid for re-election this week, seeking a third term to represent East County on the three-member Port Commission.
Caldwell, a Montesano native, says he’s 81 years old, but feels decades younger and doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.
Caldwell is a Navy veteran, a former Montesano Chamber “Man of the Year,” and has been a member of the Lions Club for more than 40 years. He owns Price & Price Real Estate Inc. in Montesano and with his wife Linda helps oversee the Forest C. and Ruth V. Kelsey Foundation, named after his late mentor, who owned Whitney’s. Last year, the foundation handed out more than $500,000 in scholarships and grants.
Caldwell says he’s excited to finally see the Port rolling along. Just a few years ago, he notes, the Port was making $8 million and had a dozen ships. Now, the Port gets more than $30 million and is pushing 100 ships this year.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done,” Caldwell said. “And I think we have a great team in place.”
For the past decade, Caldwell has worked side-by-side with fellow commissioners Jack Thompson of Aberdeen and Stan Pinnick of Hoquiam along with Executive Director Gary Nelson and Deputy Director Leonard Barnes.
“It’s a lot of work but it’s rewarding,” Caldwell said. “I think we had 26 longshoremen and they were working out of the area because we only had 12 ships. Now, we’re bringing them in from other places to work. Pasha alone has 110 people on their payroll. That’s pretty awesome.”
Caldwell said he’s very pleased the Port has taken over the Satsop Business Park and he says he has high hopes that the park could improve the employment picture in East County.
He says he also wants to be on the Port to ensure there’s a future for the casting basin in Aberdeen building pontoons for the 520 Bridge. In a few years when the pontoons are finished, there remains a question on what will happen to the site.
“I hope we can use it,” Caldwell said. “That’s one reason I want to stay on the Port Commission.”
Caldwell said he also wants to see Bowerman Field in Hoquiam put to better use.
“I’m hoping we can get something going there,” Caldwell said. “We tried to get rid of it, but then the feds stepped in and said if we got rid of it, we’d have to pay back all of the money we ever got for it. Well, we can’t afford that so the airport stays open.”
Caldwell said he would also like to see Westport get a place to repair boats at the dock.
“There’s been a lot of talk about that for years, but it’s so expensive that its hard to get,” he noted.
Caldwell said the Port made the right decision to stay away from transporting coal and he doesn’t plan to support that avenue into the future.
“The coal situation was hurting us,” Caldwell said. “It was hurting us. We had this stigma over our head and no answers for anything, no decisions were being made. They kept dragging their feet. So, I just plainly told them to either fish or cut bait. And if you can’t do either one, it’s time to get out of this thing. We made the right decision there.”
Caldwell does see a future, however, with crude by rail and three proposed facilities at the Port to transport crude oil to be shipped out domestically.
“There isn’t a person who works for the Port, there isn’t a commissioner that wants to have any kind of devastating spill,” Caldwell said. “But they’ve got some of the best track records of anything that is around as far as being able to take care of this stuff. I won’t tell you it isn’t going to happen or can happen but the record is good. The restrictions are good. The regulations are strong and we’ve got people who oversee that.”
Caldwell has been on the Port Commission for 12 years, serving two six-year terms. During his election six years ago, he ran unopposed. He’s the current chairman of the Port Commission.
Filing for Port Commissioner, as well as an assortment of municipal seats, starts on May 13 and goes until May 17.