On January 8, 1923, the Port of Port Angeles holds its first commission meeting. Established in 1922, the Port today (2011) boasts four deep-water marine terminals, two marinas, two airports, and three industrial parks, and plays a vital role in the economic engine of Clallam County. It is one of 11 deep-draft ports in Washington state capable of handling large ocean-going freight and passenger vessels, and it is the state's only deep-draft port on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Port Angeles is located on a natural harbor that is protected by the long sand spit of Ediz Hook curving east into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Founded in 1862, the small community languished until the mid-1880s, when a surge in population led to it becoming both an incorporated city and the Clallam County seat in 1890.
In 1911 the Washington Legislature authorized local voters to create publicly owned and managed port districts, which could raise revenues and implement waterfront improvements, and a few such districts had been established by the end of the 1910s. Real estate developer and prominent Port Angeles citizen Thomas Aldwell (1868-1954) and others aggressively pushed for the formation of a port district. They recognized that the formation of a port would lead to further industrial development along Port Angeles’s waterfront and argued that the economic growth it would bring would more than offset its costs.
On November 7, 1922, Clallam County voters approved creation of a port district covering the entire county by a nearly two-to-one margin, as a huge pro-port majority in Port Angeles overcame votes against port creation from the county's east and west ends. Nat Hawkins, George Lamb, and Hans Bugge were elected to the port commission. The new port commissioners held their first meeting on January 8, 1923. Bugge died four days later and was replaced by Frank Lotzgesell.
For its first several years the Port acquired (and in other cases created) property along Port Angeles’s waterfront. Part of this waterfront was made up of tidal flats, salt marshes useless for development, and it was necessary to fill them with dredged mud from the harbor before they could be developed. Voters meanwhile approved the Port’s waterfront development plans and accompanying bond issuance in a June 1925 election. The following March the Port contracted with Owens Brothers of Port Angeles for its first big project, the construction of a 550-foot by 150-foot pier at the edge of Cedar Street and Port Angeles Harbor. The job was finished in 1927 and today the site is known as Terminal 1, or T-1 for short.
In 1971 the pier at Terminal 1 was extended and today is 950 feet long, the longest of the Port’s terminals. It is capable of berthing ships up to 1,200 feet long, and has facilities capable of servicing ships requiring major repairs. The Port also operates three other terminals, all built after 1950, and known as Terminals 3, 5, and 7. Terminal 3 is the Port’s primary cargo loading terminal. Terminal 5 is generally used as a ship berth and a barge loading facility for wood chips, and is also used as a construction site. Terminal 7 is designated as a lay berth facility. All four terminals are deep-water terminals and capable of handling large ships.
The Port also owns Terminal 2, which is more commonly known as Port Angeles’s ferry terminal. The Port bought the terminal in 1959 and leased it to Black Ball Transport, which since has used it as part of its operations of the M.V. Coho ferry that runs daily between Port Angeles and Victoria, British Columbia.
The Port built a small boat basin in 1931 consisting of a pile bulkhead, a small dock, and three floats, providing moorage for about 50 boats. But this small basin was not fully protected from the elements, and winter storms routinely damaged boats moored there. Maintenance and operation costs were also prohibitive, partly because the Port did not charge moorage fees. A bigger, more developed basin was needed, and construction of the Port Angeles Boat Haven began late in 1946. Upon completion this marina, located west of Terminal 1, was capable of mooring more than 200 boats. The Boat Haven was expanded in 1958 and renovated in 2006. It now boasts moorage for 410 boats, including several boat houses. The Port Angeles Boat Yard next to the boat haven offers a convenient location for local businesses that provide a wide variety of marine services, such as welding, hydraulic services, and fiberglass repair.
By the 1960s the Port recognized the need for another marina east of Port Angeles, preferably located in or near the city of Sequim. Proposals to build a marina located near the Dungeness Spit met with stiff opposition from environmentalists, but in 1975 actor John Wayne (1907-1979) offered to donate 23 acres of land at Pitship Point on Sequim Bay, approximately 18 miles east of Port Angeles. (During his life Wayne frequently sailed his yacht, The Wild Goose, in the waters off of Port Angeles and liked the area so much that he bought property in Sequim.) The offer came with two conditions: that the land be developed as a public marina, and that construction begin by 1980.
Construction did not begin by 1980, but the Wayne family did not hold the Port to this condition. Instead there were years of planning and wrangling between the Port and Clallam County officials over the size and scope of the marina. Finally in 1983 the Corps of Engineers issued a permit giving the green light to build the $6 million marina, and work began that autumn. The John Wayne Marina was dedicated on September 14, 1985, in a happy affair that was attended by many of the actor’s children. The marina offers 300 permanent slips ranging in length from 28 to 50 feet, and an additional 22 guest slips for boats just passing through.
Port Angeles’s airport first opened in 1937, and served both as a civilian airport and a military airport before the Port assumed ownership in 1951. Known as the Clallam County Municipal Landing Field when the Port took over operations, the airport was renamed William R. Fairchild International Airport in 1969 in honor of the airport’s first supervisor. In the late 1970s the Port expanded the airport, completing a new main runway in 1979 and building a passenger terminal in 1980. At the same time, the Port began development of the Airport Industrial Park, located on 110 acres next to the main runway, for light industrial use. In 2009 the airport served 13,243 passengers. It has two runways measuring 6,347 and 3,245 feet.
During the 1970s the Port began development of another airport located in Sekiu, Washington, approximately 50 miles west of Port Angeles. This airport was dedicated on September 10, 1977. Although much smaller than Fairchild International, it offers a 2,997-foot lighted runway and is a convenient location to fly into for those who are looking to explore the more remote locations of the northwestern corner of the Olympic Peninsula.
The Port’s Economic Impact
In 2006 the Port and its tenants generated a total of 1,701 direct jobs and approximately $190 million in direct business revenues from sales of goods and services. A 2010 Port report states that operations at the Port’s industrial properties directly impact 720 jobs with revenue of nearly $78 million, while operations at the Port’s marine terminals are a close second, impacting 636 jobs with revenue of more than $70 million. Taken together, these two operations account for 80 percent of total jobs and revenues generated by the Port.
Historically the Port leased much of its land to local businesses for handling and processing lumber cut on the Olympic Peninsula. By 1950 the Port owned approximately 70 acres of industrial land that it leased to businesses such as Peninsula Plywood Corporation, Goodyear Nelson Company (manufacturers of fir and cedar lumber), and Port Tie and Lumber Company. But in recent years the Port’s tenant base has expanded, and today the Port has more than 50 tenants offering a wide range of services such as topside repair, composite manufacturing, commercial diving, and restaurants. Moreover, the Port is presently partnering with both public and private entities to develop additional property and to identify other opportunities to create job growth in Clallam County.
Port of Port Angeles Today
The Port is taking an increasingly active role in environmental mitigation and restoration projects. This includes assisting in harbor cleanup by replacing old creosote pilings with concrete and steel supports at the Port’s marinas, as well as participating in salmon restoration projects associated with the construction of new Port facilities. The Port has also created "shore power" capabilities at Terminals 1 and 3. This allows ships to turn off their engines and plug into shore power while docked, thereby reducing ship emissions and fuel consumption.
Today the Port continues to play a vital role in Clallam County’s economy, both through partnerships with public and private entities and through investments in its own properties and facilities. In 2009 it reported total net assets of $53.5 million, with operating revenues of $5.2 million. It is governed by three commissioners elected to serve six-year terms.