“While Detroit lacks the glory of its auto industry boom days, it has transformed into something different — a comeback city that’s seizing its second chance. “
That is the closing sentence in a recent New York Daily News article. It could also describe Port Angeles and Clallam County one day.
The Great Recession of 2008 hit Detroit particularly hard, with the city losing 25% of its residents, resulting in the population close to what the city had in 1910. In 2014, 80,000 buildings were reported as abandoned, and city had the highest arson rate in the world. In 2013, Detroit became the largest American city to enter into bankruptcy. The once great symbol of the American automotive industry had been reduced to shambles.
With the financial troubles and shuttered buildings came opportunities, and waves of entrepreneurs, start-ups, urban farmers, artists and other’s with vision and energy moved to Detroit. Now they speak of Detroit as the “comeback city”.
Proposals come and go
For years now, residents of Port Angeles and Clallam County have been told of projects and proposals that were to bring great benefit to the area. One was a decommissioned aircraft carrier that was to be parked at the former Rayonier mill site that was to be a major tourist attraction. The Kalakala, featured on a downtown Port Angeles mural, was to be refurbished and moored in the harbor to draw tourists. Another was the proposal to build dry docks to manufacture the cement pontoons needed for the Washington Department of Transportation’s Hood Canal Bridge replacement project.
The City has spent millions on improvement projects along the down town waterfront, and seeks to spend more saying these projects will stimulate economic activity and tourism. Directly adjacent to these million dollar aesthetic improvement projects, which include two new artificial beaches, are log yards and oil tanker repair facilities operated by the Port of Port Angeles.
Despite all the proposals that have come and gone, and the millions spent by the city, Port of Port Angeles and County, the region still struggles for both economic prosperity and identity. As is seen on the waterfront in downtown Port Angeles, there are clearly conflicting uses directly adjacent to each other, and clearly affecting the success and viability of each other. Few tourists will consider sunbathing on the new beaches, with an operating log yard and oil tankers being repaired only a few hundred feet up wind. Few visitors will be drawn to stroll along the newly constructed waterfront “promenade” with the dominating views of tankers in the harbor, adjacent log yards and smokestacks spewing smoke. Downtown buildings shake and shudder as large log trucks drive through the streets, making normal conversations on the sidewalks virtually impossible.
Although it might appear that all this is being done without any comprehensive planning, the City, Port and County do have planning documents. As required, these governmental groups hold public hearings every number of years to solicit resident’s views on what the future should look like. But if this is the case, why are these obviously conflicting land uses being created? Why are visitor serving and tourist oriented recreational uses being constructed directly adjacent to heavy industrial operations? Why are noise generating businesses being allowed to be operated directly adjacent to residential buildings? Where is the planning?
Choices have to be made
With years of experience to show the obvious, it is clear that trying to promote heavy industry and trying to promote visitor-serving enterprises in the same spaces doesn’t work. Choices have to be made.
Currently, the Coho ferry brings about 400,000 people to downtown Port Angeles, every year. Another 3 million, it is estimated, come to the area to visit the Olympic National Park. Despite these large numbers of visitors every year, the numerous empty storefronts, and often empty sidewalks reveal that these people do not find Port Angeles providing what they are looking for. Simultaneously, manufacturing businesses in the area cannot find employees to fill positions. Neither economic focus is experiencing success.
Is it possible to find a common vision? Is it possible for us to find ways to work together? Is it possible to look ahead, and plan for a community that is successful?
Once, Port Angeles, like many other towns in the Pacific Northwest, was dominated by lumber mills and related industries. Like so many of those other towns, Port Angeles finds those industries do not provide the economic opportunities, successes and stability they once did.
Like Detroit, is it possible for Port Angeles and the surrounding communities to create a new vision of their future, and to enjoy a new beginning? As we enter another election cycle, with candidates telling us what they will do if elected, is it possible to have the future direction of our communities be part of the campaigns? Do these candidates offer the community visions, ideas and solutions that will move the community forward? With the regional climate predicted to be warmer and drier, are there new opportunities for locally appropriate businesses? A new economy?
( Next time: ” Choices and Options”.)