Gary Nelson thanks Hoquiam City Council

On Friday, Gary Nelson will officially retire after 24 years as executive director at the Port of Grays Harbor, which will make way for Leonard Barnes to take over as director of the second oldest port district in Washington State.

Nelson, a longtime Hoquiam resident, spoke briefly to Hoquiam City Council from behind the lectern in the council chambers after Kayla Dunlap, director of government and public affairs, had just given an update on the port to the city council.

“If there are no questions, I can’t pass up the opportunity to say ‘thank you,’” Nelson said. “I’ve actually lived in Hoquiam longer than anywhere else I’ve lived in my life. I married a local girl. It’s really been a pleasure living here in the city of Hoquiam. I want to commend the council, the staff and your predecessors. My last day’s Friday, so I don’t have to worry about any retribution, but in my book, this is far and away the best managed city in the county. And I’ve been to all of them, several times. Thank you again. It’s been my honor to serve you.”

The transition couldn’t come at a better time for Barnes, who will take over a port that has numerous projects set for the near future. Nelson touched on Barnes taking over.

“I feel really good about the people, Leonard Barnes in particular, that will be assuming the responsibility for the leadership of the port” Nelson said. “I feel I’m leaving it in great hands. Awesome hands. Thank you very much.”

Port slideshow

Dunlap read the mission of the port: To best utilize our resources to facilitate, enhance and stimulate international trade, economic development and tourism for the betterment of the region.

Dunlap discussed many points the port is working on, including the Westport Marina Modernization Project, the work at Satsop Business Park (SBP), such as the “very important project on Haul Road,” and a website — — which shows a series of videos about SBP. But the big update was on the marine terminals — specifically Terminal 4’s expansion and redevelopment project.

“This is the big one,” Dunlap said. “This is happening.”

Dunlap said AG Processing Inc., (AGP), at Terminal 2, which exports soy meal, would like to “essentially duplicate” what they’re doing down at Terminal 4.

“They are looking to put in a second export facility, it will not include storage at this time” Dunlap said. “In order for them to do this and attract that $170 million in private investment, we need to make some improvements of our own.”

The first major piece of that, according to Dunlap, is the rail infrastructure.

“We are looking to add 40,000 feet of rail onto our marine terminal complex,” Dunlap said.

The second piece is on the dock

“That is a pretty old dock,” Dunlap said. “It definitely needs a stormwater upgrade, so we will put in stormwater collection and treatment facility, as well as a new fender system. Then the other critical piece of this is … that is the former pontoon casting basin there. It’s about a 50-acre site. We acquired it at the end of 2018. We are looking to fill the basin and create a cargo lay-down area.”

Dunlap explained when the rail goes in it’s going to “cut up a lot of the cargo area,” so things like “handling logs and autos across all that rail will not be doable.”

“So we need that cargo lay-down area to support operations at Terminal 4a,” Dunlap said. “We want to make sure we can use both of those … going forward.”

The port’s investment is about $60 million, Dunlap said.

“We did receive a $25.5 million (Port Infrastructure Development Program) grant that we are very, very close to having obligated,” Dunlap said. “We are hoping to get to construction this summer, which is pretty exciting for that grant process.”

A few of the project impacts

“We are talking about 80 long-term jobs, a huge portion of those will be longshore jobs, rail jobs, tug site jobs,” Dunlap said. “Some good family-wage paying jobs. As I mentioned AGP’s investment of $170 million. When this is up and running, we will easily be doubling our export of soy meal. So going from almost three million metric tons now to six-plus (million metric tons.)”

Dunlap explained “the whole impetus of this,” is the “demand for renewable fuel.”

“So when you crush a soybean back in the Midwest at one of AGP’s 10 crushing facilities, about 80% of that is meal and 20% or so goes to oil,” Dunlap said. “So there is going to be a lot of crush coming online and it has to have somewhere to go. It can’t all be consumed in the U.S., or even go to Mexico or Canada. Southeast Asia is a big consumer of meal. It’s going into their agriculture — chicken and pigs, things like that — as they want to add more protein to their diets. … It’s going to aid in food security around the world.”

“We’re almost to Q2 in 2024 and things are wrapping up nicely,” Dunlap said. “As I mentioned, we are really looking to get to construction by this summer. … Partnerships are critical. That’s what really makes this all possible. Our partnerships with our customers, with our community leaders, with our elected officials, we very much value our partnerships. As Gary likes to say ‘big things happen in small places.’ We will really work hard to make sure that keeps happening. And you all are why we do what we do. We’re your public port district. We want you to know what’s going on. We want you to be proud of what’s going on in your back yard.”

Barnes’ comments on Nelson

“I’ve known Gary since he started at the port,” said Barnes, who has most recently served as the port’s deputy executive director. “It’s not often you are an executive director of a port for over 20 years, that’s very rare. But it shows his leadership and commitment that he’s made to all of the communities in Grays Harbor County, but also across the U.S., as he’s served on national boards too with great recognition. He did an amazing job of creating economic development in the communities, which provide jobs and tax bases for the communities abroad.”

As for the timing, Barnes sounded confident in taking over.

“I’ve worked very closely with Gary,” Barnes said. “I’ve been the deputy executive director for the port, working over some of our operations, properties, etcetera. I’ve worked very closely with Gary… (He’s) a great mentor. I’m look forward to the challenge and the opportunities ahead of us for our community as we all grow together.”

Barnes sounded like he’s a fan of the job Dunlap does in communicating for the port.

“Success happens with people,” Barnes said. “We have great people at the port who are really invested, have a passion and a good work ethic. That shows in the things we see in our community that they’ve been working on. We’re really blessed to have great people. You’re only as good as your people, your workers. We have amazing workers, whether it’s ILWU dock workers on vessels and unloading rail, or it’s our maintenance facility people, our log equipment operators, the port staff. We have great leadership, people who just go the extra mile to turn every stone and every rock to make sure we’re looking and vetting all opportunities, and making sure we’re doing things the community wants, correctly.”

Contact Reporter Matthew N. Wells at