Rep. Kilmer visits Port of Grays Harbor

U.S. Representative for Washington’s 6th District Derek Kilmer (D-WA) visited the Port of Grays Harbor last week to discuss opportunities to secure federal funding for projects at the Port.

The passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) in early November could help spur future federal investment in the Port and improve the economic viability of Grays Harbor.

Funding for port investments primarily come through competitive programs managed by the U.S. Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (MARAD). The Port of Grays Harbor submitted a Port Infrastructure Development Program (PIDP) grant application for its East Terminal 4 Redevelopment and Expansion project in October, but was notified last week that they had not been selected to receive funding.

According to Kilmer, there has traditionally been a scarcity of federal funds available for port development.

“Historically there’s been more demand than funds available, but what’s important is that there’s now $2.25 billion in additional funding for ports,” he said.

This additional funding to PIDP grants is designated to improve facilities, operations, and intermodal connections to coastal seaports, rivers, and Great Lakes ports. The funds will support projects that meet the goals of the IIJA: decarbonization, improved movement of goods through America’s ports, and enhanced port resiliency in the face of climate change.

In their recent PIDP grant application, the Port sought $4.1 million in grant funds to be matched by $1.1 million in Port funds. The funds were intended to make the former 520 casting basin site adjacent to Terminal 4 functional by securing the flood gate, removing associated infrastructure, and filling the basin.

The Port purchased the 55-acre site, which was used to build the pontoons used on the 520 floating bridge across Lake Washington, at the end of 2018. The site has remained inactive for several years since the pontoon project was completed, but the East Terminal 4 Redevelopment and Expansion project would increase the Port’s terminal cargo space by 50% and put the idle industrial site back into productive use for the Grays Harbor community.

“They did a really good job at developing the site within the budget of the project, but reusing this site as it is built today is infeasible,” said Port Engineer Kris Koski on a ride around the facility.

Kilmer is hopeful that the new funds for ports provided by the Infrastructure Bill will lead to more opportunities for economic development in Grays Harbor County.

“We want to make sure that the port can take advantage of funding from the Infrastructure Bill. The federal government ought to be helping support the port and keep jobs here,” he said.

The IIJA will deliver $550 billion of new federal investment in America’s infrastructure over the next five years, with $17.1 billion dedicated specifically to seaports. Part of this funding includes a new port-specific program designed to reduce truck emissions at ports, which has $250 million in available funding.

Trade and port infrastructure is a key employer in Washington, and the state is a vital conduit for exporting goods elsewhere in the United States. Projects, such as marine port upgrades and improved rail crossings are likely to make the state a top contender for funding.

Senators Patty Murry (D-WA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) already announced $60 million in new federal awards for four transportation infrastructure projects in Western Washington. Among these was a $2.08 million federal grant to pay for pre-design work on the US 12 rail separation project in East Aberdeen.

The need for improved port infrastructure has been exacerbated by a surge in demand and the pressures of a COVID economy. Funding from the IIJA may help alleviate the current supply chain crisis.

“​​Modern, resilient, and sustainable port, airport, and freight infrastructure will support U.S. competitiveness by removing bottlenecks and expediting commerce and reduce the environmental impact on neighboring communities,” said a fact sheet from the White House on the Infrastructure Bill.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the United States Army Corps of Engineers has an estimated backlog of $109 billion in construction projects, as well as authorized but unfunded maintenance projects.

While it might take some time for these new federal funds to trickle down to Grays Harbor County, the historic availability of port-specific funds presents an opportunity for the Port of Grays Harbor to realize their projects.

“A lot of these projects where there’s been interest locally, the federal government can be a partner with those projects and help keep those jobs,” said Kilmer.