Have you been following what’s been happening at the Port of Centralia over the summer?
In early July, the Port of Centralia formally notified the public that former Port Commissioner Dan Keahey was moving out of his district and that one of the seats on the elected three-member commission was opening up for applications.
This put in motion a specific timeline for decision-making, per Washington State law.
Over the coming weeks, five applicants would be selected, announced and interviewed to fill the remainder of former Port Commissioner Keahey’s term.
Currently, the two sitting commissioners are evaluating various aspects of the front-running candidates, trying to decide who will best fill the vacant seat. Most recently, there have been requests for legal evaluations of potential conflicts of interest for remaining candidates.
If the two commissioners cannot decide between their respective preferred candidates within the coming days, that decision — per the timeline outlined by the Revised Code of the State of Washington — will be removed from their hands and put in the hands of the Lewis County Board of County Commissioners.
No matter what your views on local economics might be, this decision could set in motion an interesting shift in the local political scene.
If you’ve followed news articles the last four to five years, you’ll know that there’s been no lack of friction between the Port of Centralia and the Board of County Commissioners. With one new Port of Centralia Commissioner elected recently and a potential shakeup on the horizon on the County Commission — pending the November election, if the primary election results are any indication — it’s a good time to tune into discussions about long-term economic goals for our cities and county.
And, speaking of that past friction between the Board of County Commissioners and the Port of Centralia, if the decision to appoint the next Port of Centralia Commissioner is removed from the Port Commission and put into the hands of the County Commissioners — will the current County Commissioners make that appointment decision … or the potential incoming Commissioner(s)?
You see, public port districts can do a lot of things. We as citizens elect port commissioners within our port districts to represent our interests as they make decisions on how to best leverage the port’s assets to attract new businesses and jobs, while also enhancing economic prosperity within their district.
In the “oldn’ days,” citizens often struggled for commerce access to waterfronts — marine ports — against private businesses, like wealthy railroads. In 1911, the Washington State Legislature set the stage for citizens to create public port districts and elect local commissioners to govern them — considered a progressive move at the time. Washington now has more public port districts than any state at 75 total, which today include “airports, marine terminals, marinas, railroads, and industrial parks, and in some cases, promote tourism,” according to WashingtonPorts.org.
You’re likely familiar with the Port of Centralia and the Port of Chehalis and their respective properties. And the Port of Centralia is a huge, viable asset to our local economic base by bringing in job opportunities and tax revenue. Centralia Station still has a ton of future potential.
The Port of Chehalis Commission differentiated itself in recent years and diversified projects by choosing to invest in new partnerships like the Chehalis Coworks — a non-traditional project. There’s also the Southwest Washington Grain Project that started operating in the Port of Chehalis this summer. Port Commissioners help decide the priorities and drive the direction of Port projects, resources, and investments.
Port of Grays Harbor has embraced the cannabis industry. The Port of Tacoma and Seattle have “workforce development” programs and training centers.
Back in 2017, the Port of Kalama Commission were the ones that entered into the lease agreement with McMenamin’s to build the Kalama Harbor Lodge, to attract jobs and tourism revenue to the area.
Yeah ... that was a port commission that made that happen in Kalama. And that’s just a couple of examples.
So, if you believe that the Port of Centralia should be doing more to attract more family-wage or higher-paying jobs, this is a conversation you should be tuning into. If you believe that the Port of Centralia commission should be a more active voice in the conversation to address traffic congestion in Centralia — as was a conversation during recent elections — this is a discussion you should be involved in. Or, if you believe the Port of Centralia should be evaluating more progressive opportunities, now is a good time to talk to your elected representative and ask them their thoughts and share your ideas.
We are so fortunate to have the Port of Centralia in Lewis County and we should be excited that a potential new chapter is on the horizon with more fresh voices potentially coming into the mix. As citizens, it’s high time to be thinking about local long-term economic goals, even in the midst of the economic challenges posed by the pandemic.
Brittany Voie is a columnist for The Chronicle. She lives south of Chehalis with her husband and two young sons. She welcomes correspondence from the community at email@example.com.