Creating certainty at the Port of Peninsula

Jay Personius, Port of Peninsula executive director, center, gave Discovery group members a tour, including a spat seed tank on the dock.

If you checked in with me last week you know that I’m part of a sustainability/community development think tank we call “Discovery.” We’ve met every six months for nearly two decades; and last weekend our group spent four days at Glenn Leichman’s Willapa Acres exploring the Peninsula with locals.

Special thanks to artists, chefs, and business folks: David Campiche and Laurie Anderson, Phil and Nancy Allen, Fred Johnson, Nanci Main and Jay Personius. We ‘shroomed together, our eyes focused downward; we walked the beach and the bay watching the clouds; we sat by the fire and talked; we ate heartily and well; and we learned a lot about each other and the wonders of the Peninsula.

One of our local marvels is surely the Port of Peninsula, a “little” harbor tucked away in Nahcotta just north of Bailey’s Bakery and Café and across from Nanci Main and Jimella’s Lucas’ famous Ark Restaurant and Bakery. On Sunday, we packed a lunch and hustled up to visit Jay, executive director of the port.

For those of us who live on the north end, we feel we have sort of a secret: the Long Beach Peninsula is really not about Long Beach. I know I may ruffle a few feathers but here goes.

Yes, I know Ilwaco and Long Beach are the two, and only, municipalities; I know that Ilwaco has a prominent harbor just across from Sand Island, a Saturday Market, a fabulous museum, and a firehouse that burned down — (sorry, I couldn’t help it). I know Long Beach is our spit’s namesake, with tourist haunts galore, Kite Festival, SandSations, its own Friday market and, back by popular demand, go-carts. However, grab your hats, Nahcotta’s Port of Peninsula is the largest revenue provider in the whole of Pacific County.

According to Jay, “Washington state is number one in the nation for bivalve production — that includes oysters, Manila clams and geoducks. And our landings revenue in the Nahcotta Boat Basin is $60 million dollars annually.” $60 million! One third of the county workforce is directly employed at the bay (including Ports at Tokeland, Raymond and Bay Center.) I’d say that’s one of our best-kept secrets.

“Our landings are up,” Jay continues, “In the five years since I’ve been here, we’ve increased our production times three.” There are many reasons for this. One is, sorry to say, the misfortunes of others. “In the last 20 years, our area has benefitted from natural disasters in other places — like oil spills, hurricanes.”

Yup, just last week I heard a radio story about the Boss family of Apalachicola, Florida. Five generations of the Boss family have worked the tidelands on the Gulf of Mexico south of Tallahassee, but Hurricane Michael blasted them out of the water. Their processing plant and dockside restaurant were destroyed. Even their website is closed down. They swear they will rebuild, but this recent disaster is heaped on top of a decades-long water dispute with Georgia. (They need increased fresh water flow into the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin to help their beleaguered oyster industry.) Katrina delivered a similar blow to Louisiana’s oystering in 2005.

As Jay says, “For oysters, it’s use it or lose it.” Once an oyster region has been damaged, it is extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, to bring it back up.

Meanwhile, our Willapa Bay is a treasure: our sediment is rated “pristine” by the Army Corps of Engineers; it’s a watershed that has benefited by being kept as rural as possible. We have little agricultural run-off. (There used to be a couple dairies close but no longer.) There is plenty of fresh-water feeding into the bay, and we’re not in hurricane territory. So far, Willapa Bay has been in a perfect position to pick up the demand for oysters that other areas have been too damaged to provide.

“I would say there is unlimited demand for seafood protein,” Jay continues. “There’s just a question of getting it out.” And, as far as Jay is concerned, that’s his job: to create the industrial framework our shellfish growers need to produce, harvest, and ship their product.

Jay is an innovative entrepreneur thinking about the big picture on Willapa Bay: the structures, mechanisms, and systems needed to support a healthy working waterfront for bivalve production. He calls it “creating certainty.” That’s his product.

Just a couple critical examples. When the temperatures are above 60 degrees, oysters hauled out of the bay and into trucks for shipment need to be iced. Before Jay arrived there was no ice production at the port. In 2015 Jay wrote a grant to build an ice plant onsite, being sure to include work for local vendors.

“The design for our ice facility looks like it might be from Chernobyl, but it is actually copied after a sausage company in Oregon that has something similar on the floor. We created our own specs and brought in an engineer to assist. Then we guarantee that local contractors get in on the work.”

The ice machine itself came from a Seattle manufacturer, and the work of creating the galvanized frame that holds it was taken on by local welder Bob Girouard of Bay Machine Works, just a couple blocks away. Salted ice falls into 25 cubic foot plastic tubs; each is sold for $33, which is the cheapest ice you can buy in the area. (If the port was in the market simply to make money, they could charge more like $60 a tub.)

The port produces and sells about 1,000 tubs a year and now has two refrigerated units for ice storage, each holding 36 ice tubs apiece; so there is no wait for ice.

Recently the port contracted to clear and improve four acres across the street for truck, equipment and shell storage. Space is rented for six cents a square foot, as needed, which means oyster companies can count on that space and make decisions on the spot if an opportunity comes up out of the blue — like, say, to buy 200 truckloads of extra shell.

The port also has two cranes purchased at $52,000 each and provides training for a member of each of the companies that work at the port. Then they’re allowed to use the cranes at $50 an hour.

Jay says, “So what does this port do? Ports are really economic development districts. We look for and provide missing infrastructure — such as ice, fuel, hoists, moorage, haul out, etc. — that can increase certainty for our stakeholders. We build infrastructure; we amortize it over the longest possible schedule that we can; we bet on our own maintenance and training; we are a centralized hub for environmental impacts; we create certainty for the players out here; and we measure our success on the success of our users.” This is a classic formula for building a robust economic base that can support a productive and healthy community.

My Discovery colleagues, studied in innovative business models, recognized Jay’s talent immediately. His visionary approach to developing the port illustrates an integrated model for sustainability that takes into account human, financial and environmental capital — called by some the triple bottom line.

The morning after our port visit, Fred Johnson stopped by Glenn’s place for a consult with the Discovery team on his organic farm in Naselle, Fred’s Homegrown. We’re working with him to realize his vision, and Jay’s model will inform our conversation. (Stay tuned for future updates on Fred’s project.)

What an inspiration it is to have a fellow like Jay working for our common good.

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