Port touts banner year for exports, development

Improvements to the railroads, port are coming

The Port of Grays Harbor celebrated 2023 during its annual business report Wednesday at the Rotary Log Cabin as it reported a solid year for development and business.

Millions of tons of cargo flowing through and millions of dollars of investment flowing in are good signs for the future, said Executive Director Gary Nelson as he addressed partners and guests.

“It’s hard not to reflect on the changes that have occurred over the last 24 years. I’ll be honest, it’s extremely fulfilling to go out on a record setting year,” Nelson said. “Perhaps the achievement I”m most proud of over my 24 years is that team I work with each day.”

Retiring soon, Nelson is handing the helm to Leonard Barnes to take the port forward. The port has some major projects coming to fruition, the largest of which is the Terminal 4 Expansion and Redevelopment Project, which will see the port expand its capability for import and export, and redevelop parts of the grounds for more efficient and flexible cargo handling.

“80 percent of cargo travels in or out by rail. Rail is vital to our economic success,” said Barnes, the new executive director. “This would not be possible without a safe and reliable rail system.”

Partnering organizations, such as Genesee and Wyoming Railroad, which owns the Puget Sound & Pacific (PSAP) line linking the port to the main lines, and Pacific Shellfish, sent speakers to the presentation.

“The amount of activity we have for this railroad over the last couple years is way way above what you might expect,” said Mike Peters, chief customer officer for the railroad. “I think that’s reflective of the work that folks at the port have done, but, also the folks in the community.”

Peters affirmed the railroad’s commitment to the county, with plans to harden infrastructure, building more sidings, and expand the capacity of the interchange with the main lines. Peters stated that PSAP is anticipating expanding its staffing by about 30% in the coming years as the traffic on the line to the port is expected to double.

“There had been some, let’s say, less than full investment in previous years, with previous owners. We’ve been here for 12 years, and we’re continuing to invest in the railroad,” Peters said. “For us this is just the start.”

Westport Marina General Manager Molly Bold also spoke to improvements underway to accommodate the larger vessels plying their trade out of Grays Harbor.

“What once were the big boats in town are now average-sized vessels,” Bold said. “You begin to feel the pressure this marina is feeling from the industry, and it’s a great thing.”

The marina is working to retool and better utilize its space, replacing some slips with larger spaces to accommodate modern vessels, and keep the marina current. Westport was the port in the country with the ninth largest volume and value of seafood, Nelson said.

“Demand creates pressure, and pressure creates urgency. Market pressure is creating urgency to modernize the marina now,” Bold said. “We must move full speed into the modernization required.”

Nelson thanked staff and the community for their work and their partnership over the years as he retires.

“I have a lot of memories,” Nelson said. “It’s icing on the cake to see the way the community has responded and grown.”

Contact Senior Reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@thedailyworld.com.

Port of Grays Harbor
The Port of Grays Harbor in Aberdeen.

Port of Grays Harbor The Port of Grays Harbor in Aberdeen.