Q & A: Port of Grays Harbor executive director looks to the future

It’s his first few months in the new job

The Daily World recently interviewed Leonard Barnes, new executive director of the Port of Grays Harbor, about how the new position is fitting.

Barnes has served with the port for most of his life, working closely with former director Gary Nelson as the port negotiated the last two decades of economic upheaval, diversifying the industries and charting a path toward a successful future.

Answers have been edited for style and clarity.

How’s the first few months been?

The first two months on the job have been busy. We have a lot going on and several big projects in the air, but I made it a point to get out to all of our facilities and chat with staff about operations and priorities moving forward. The Port has an awesome team. People make it happen. I wanted to take the time to get out and meet with everyone right out of the gate.

Any surprises in the big seat? What’s the most exciting part of taking on the top job for you?

There are always challenges and issues that come up day to day in a multi-faceted Port like ours. But we have a solid team and they do a great job working through those challenges as they come up.

The most exciting part of the job is working with all the employees at the Port of Grays Harbor as well as continuing to work with all of our current customers along with building new relationships and partnerships with others in our community and abroad.

What’re your biggest priorities?

The main priority right now is making sure the T4 Expansion keeps moving. We are very close to being ready to go to bid. As we have stated time and time again, this is a transformational project for our customer (Ag Processing Inc.), the Port and our community. AGP’s private investment in our community is a commitment and they want to continue to be a great partner and remain in Grays Harbor for generations to come. We have to make sure we can make the investments in our public infrastructure that will continue to attract businesses like AGP.

Another big priority is the Westport Marina Modernization Project. As most know, the marina is No. 1 in state for commercial seafood landed but it’s not widely known that the Westport Marina also ranks No. 9 in the entire nation in both value and volume of seafood landed. Our five major seafood processors send millions of pounds of seafood to more than 70 countries around the world. We all know it is also the hub of recreational fishing on the coast as well.

Whether folks are bringing their own boats down to launch at the marina and utilizing the moorage, or are coming to Westport to fish off of one the many charters that help put Westport on the map, the marina is a happening place. The marina modernization includes a strategic and phased approach to reconfigure, replace and rehabilitate the floating dock infrastructure that is critical to both the commercial and recreational fishing fleets.

I would also add that finding ways to enhance and create more public access opportunities for our community and tourists who come to enjoy Grays Harbor County is high on the list as well.

How did long service with the Port help shape your perspective on what you want to do here?

I have experienced a lot during my almost 40 years with the Port. I am fortunate to say most of it has been positive but there were definitely some challenging times. Navigating through the challenging times has certainly shaped my perspective on the port’s role as an economic engine for our community.

When I started, we were only handling forest products here at the port. Now we have an incredibly diverse cargo mix that still includes forest products but also liquid bulks, break bulk, autos and agricultural products. My predecessor did a great job of leading the port through a period of diversification that was much needed and critical to our growth. I look forward to taking the Port through another period of growth over the next several years, and not just at the marine terminals. Satsop’s unique infrastructure has it well-suited for many opportunities in the near future. And we will be working hard to ensure the marina modernization project moves forward to support all of its various users.

What do you think the biggest issue facing the port in the next 5-10 years is?

We all work incredibly hard at attracting economic opportunities to Grays Harbor but regulatory and permitting issues continue to be a challenge both here at our Port and beyond. The port industry, as a whole, has had far too many examples of projects that would have brought significant private investment and job creation opportunities to various communities but never came to fruition due to uncertainty and delays surrounding the regulatory and permitting process. I am hopeful that some of the big issues are understood and work is being done to provide more clarity and certainty to the process but this remains a huge hurdle and area of concern, particularly in rural communities like ours.

Should the county expect any big visible changes soon?

The short answer is yes. AGP is on track to break ground on their $170 million soymeal export facility at Terminal 4 this summer. The port hopes to be not-far-behind them in beginning construction on our $60 million Terminal 4 Expansion and Redevelopment project to support their investment which will add 40,000 feet of rail within the marine terminal complex, a new fendering system and stormwater collection and treatment facility at T4 and create more than 30 acres of cargo laydown area to support future operations at Terminal 4A. There are several other projects going on this summer throughout the Port including improvements out at Friends Landing, Bowerman Airport, the repaving of Port Industrial Way and improvements to the Esplanade out at the Marina.

Anything you think folks should know?

The port will continue to deliver on responsibly and sustainably managing our environment, infrastructure and financial resources. This is Grays Harbor’s public port. We want everyone to know what’s happening here and be proud of it.

We are blessed with an awesome team of employees. They are all making a difference for our Port and the community we live in.

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