(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – On Saturday, March 20, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) was honored by the Columbia River Crab Fishermen's Association with its Black Hat Award. The award was presented by Dale Beasley, the organization's president, at the Pacific Ocean Fisheries Conference in Ilwaco, Washington. Joining Beasley were Les Cook and Dan Todd of the Port of Chinook, and former Black Hat recipients Congressman Brian Baird and former State Senator Sid Snyder.
Murray was recognized for her success in getting the Port of Chinook dredged. The project began last September and directly saved 40 jobs, along with another 350 jobs that rely on the Port of Chinook at nearby stores, campgrounds, restaurants, and boat repair shops.
Last August, the Port of Chinook informed Murray that unless the channel was dredged, the port would have to close. That would have devastated the local economy.
Murray, a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water, used her influential position to get the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the channel and keep the port open. Although the Bush Administration's budget denies dredging funding to "low-use" ports such as Chinook, Murray recognizes the importance of the port to the local economy.
In a letter to Murray last September, Glenn Vanselow, Executive Director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, explained the need for dredging: "The navigation channels of small ports in Washington state often serve as the economic lifeline for these communities. Without immediate dredging, Chinook was faced with the prospect of closing its marina to nearly all boat traffic. This would have surely led to economic disaster in Chinook, where it is estimated that two-thirds of the town's population is employed as a result of port-related businesses."
In accepting the award, Murray said, "Unfortunately, some people in Washington, D.C., don't realize how important your work is. According to them, low-use ports are not important. But we know that the Port of Chinook supports hundreds of jobs, and we know that a lot of families will be hurt if the Port shuts down." She added, "The Port is an economic engine, and I'm not going to let anything stand in the way of your jobs and economic development."
Southwest Washington has been hit hard by the economic downturn of the past few years. The unemployment rate in Pacific County is 9.8 percent.
In addition to the jobs that were saved, Murray's quick work with the Army Corps of Engineers also saved about $200,000 in dredge mobilization costs. That's because the Port of Chinook work was tied into a nearby dredging project that was already underway at the Port Ilwaco, saving on mobilization costs.
Murray has also been a long-term advocate for Washington's fisheries. In recent years she has:
- Used her position on the Senate Appropriations Committee to extend state authority over the Dungeness Crab Fishery and provide much-needed assistance to the area’s crab fishermen;
- Secured $5 million in disaster assistance to West Coast fisheries for the groundfish crisis;
- Worked to change outdated fishing rules to help sardine fishermen maximize their catch;
- And secured $2 million over two years to help eradicate Spartina grass from Willipa Bay. Spartina is decimating Washington’s oyster industry.
"We've made progress, but our work is not done," Murray said. "Next, we're going to widen the channel at the Port of Chinook from 120 to 150 feet," referring to $500,000 project she also secured funding for. The project is scheduled to begin in September.
"We cannot afford to have ships sitting at anchor or fishing boats waiting for high tide. We need to keep our products moving, and we need to keep these jobs in place," Murray said.
Senator Murray’s Remarks:
Thank you, Dale [Dale Beasley, Columbia River Crab Fisherman's Association], for that introduction and thank you all for that warm welcome. I'm honored to receive this award, and I want to thank Dale and the Columbia River Crab Fishermen. I've been proud to partner with you over the years, and our partnership is especially important today.
I know this is a very tough time for our state's economy – especially here in Southwest Washington. The unemployment rate in Pacific County is a staggering 9.8 percent. While big layoffs in other parts of our state get a lot of news attention, I know that every job matters. We won't have a statewide recovery until every corner of our state is creating jobs, and that's why what happens in communities like Ilwaco, Long Beach, and Chinook is so important.
I'm proud to work with all of you to keep the industries that are here in business, and to provide the infrastructure and support to attract more jobs. I know that the Port is an economic engine, and I'm not going to let anything stand in the way of your jobs and economic development.
Unfortunately, some people in Washington, D.C. don't realize how important your work is. Last year, the White House decided to eliminate dredging at "low-use" ports. According to them, low-use ports are not important. Well they sure are important to us! We know that the Port of Chinook supports hundreds of jobs, and we know that a lot of families will be hurt if the Port shuts down.
I had already been working on the dredging issue along with Congressman Baird and others. For Fiscal Year 2004, I added $500,000 for dredging at Chinook. But Dan Todd – and people at Bell Buoy – told my office that you couldn't wait any longer. You told me that if the channel was not dredged quickly, the port would have to close during the fall and winter crab season. And as Dan has said many times, if the port shuts down, the community shuts down too.
So I worked to get the Corps of Engineers to shift their priorities so the channel could stay open. It took a lot of letters and phone calls, but we got it done – and it's saved a lot of jobs.
Keeping the port open means 50 full-time employees at Bell Buoy Crab stay on the job. Keeping the port open means that recreational fishermen bring their boats to Chinook – where they spend money and support the local economy. And keeping the port open means saving the 350 jobs that rely on the Port of Chinook – jobs at stores, campgrounds, restaurants, and boat repair shops.
That might not sound important to some people in Washington, D.C., but it's important to us, and we got it done. I really want to thank the Corps of Engineers for being so responsive. I especially want to thank Dan for his leadership in protecting all the jobs that the port creates.
As I said at the beginning, we've been partners, and over the years, I've been proud to stand up for our fisheries.
A few years ago, Dale told me that state management of the Dungeness Crab Fishery was going to expire. That would have been bad news for our crab fishermen. So I used my position on the Appropriations Committee to extend that state authority and help our crab fishermen.
In 2000, when the ground fish crisis was hurting so many on the West Coast, I secured $5 million in disaster assistance. $1.5 million came right here to Washington to help our hard-hit communities.
Last year, outdated rules were hurting the sardine fishery. Congressmen Baird and I put pressure on NMFS to issue new rules so we could maximize the catch and keep our processing plants in business.
I've also been proud to work with you to fight Spartina grass, which is decimating our oyster industry. Over the last two years, I've secured $2 million to help Fish & Wildlife and the oystermen eradicate Spartina in Willipa Bay. And we are making progress. For the first time in a decade, the number of acres covered in Spartina has actually declined, and I'm going to keep working until we finish the job.
I've also been proud to support your transportation needs. In 2002, I secured money so that Pacific County Transit could buy two new buses. And I continue to use my position as the ranking member of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee to support your infrastructure needs.
Together, we've made progress, but our work is not done. Next, we're going to widen the channel at the Port of Chinook from 120 to 150 feet. I've already secured the money for that, and the work will start in September. I'm also working with Mack Funk at the Port of Ilwaco and Howard Teague at the Port of Nahcotta on the challenges they're facing.
I won't be satisfied until we've turned this economy around, and I know that moving products in-and-out of our ports is critical. It's true whether we are talking about shipping grain out of Kalama, moving containers into Tacoma, or bringing crabs into Chinook. We cannot afford to have ships sitting at anchor – or fishing boats waiting for high-tide. We need to keep our products moving, and we need to keep these jobs in place.
I'm going to do everything I can to keep economic engines – like the Port of Chinook – running. Thank you again for this award, and I'm proud to be your partner as we work to turn this economy around.