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Hilary Franz

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz speaks at the Port of Ilwaco Monday afternoon while promoting the Department of Natural Resources' plans to build a derelict vessel demolition and recycling facility at the port.

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A state effort to boost rural economies will create a $1 million boat deconstruction and recycling facility at the Port of Ilwaco and a $1 million research project to help save Willapa Bay’s oyster industry from burrowing shrimp, State Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz announced Monday.

In an interview at The Daily News, Franz said that state government has neglected rural communities.

“Every citizen in Washington is equal,” said Franz, who was elected in 2016 to lead the state Department of Natural Resources, which manages millions of acres of timberland and tidelands across the state.

Franz started a two-day tour of the region Monday, visiting both Ilwaco and Kalama, where her agency is establishing a “Learning Laboratory” that will train students in forest management. On Tuesday, Franz will visit Willapa Bay and Raymond, the site of a planned hardwoods mill.

Franz, a Democrat who practiced environmental law, received only 41 percent of the votes in Cowlitz County during the 2016 election and 45 percent of the vote in Pacific County. She won only seven of Washington’s 39 counties, and most of her support came from major urban centers. Challenger Steve McLaughlin, a Republican, dominated rural counties and came within fewer than 200,000 votes of winning the election.

Her tour was meant to highlight her Rural Communities Partnership Initiative, in which the DNR solicited 80 economic development ideas submitted by rural counties across the state. Her tour here was to announce the first four projects.

“Communities know best what they need, but often lack the resources for economic initiative. If you have a good idea, let me know, because my agency is investing in good ideas,” she said in a prepared statement.

Ilwaco derelict vessel facility

According to Franz, Washington has spent “millions” cleaning up derelict vessels in state waters. A DNR press release says there are more than 150 such vessels in Washington awaiting removal and which threaten water quality and wildlife if they sink of or leak.

The proposed Ilwaco facility will create 15 direct and indirect jobs, Franz said. It will be spearheaded by the port, which will lease the space to a private company. The company will then take the waste material and recycle it. For example, Franz said wood from old boats is in high demand.

“It’s taking a problem that we spend an enormous amount of money on ... and (turning it) into an economic driver,” Franz said of the recycling facility.

The new building will be fully contained with a state-of-the-art stormwater system to prevent oil, fuel or any other contaminants from getting into waterways. The facility will be completely enclosed and be able to handle boats up to about 45 feet in length.

In a DNR press release, Port Manager Guy Glenn said the new facility should help boat owners who aren’t able to destroy their vessels.

“By having this facility, we’ll be able to provide a proactive alternative,” he said in the press release.

Burrowing shrimp research

The state Department of Ecology is yet to decide whether to allow oyster farmers to use the controversial pesticide imidacloprid on burrowing shrimp.

Nevertheless, Franz said, the research project is a proactive attempt to solve the problem, which has plagued oyster growers for decades. The shrimp churn up mud at the bottom of coastal estuaries, causing oysters to sink into the muck and suffocate. Willapa Bay produces a quarter of the nation oysters. Statewide, the shrimp threaten 1,840 workers, DNR estimates.

“There’s no silver bullet here,” Franz said in the press release. “It’s a mucky situation we’re wading in. We’ve got to explore all options and find a solution. There are too many livelihoods at risk and communities on the brink.”

In addition to funding research, the project will explore whether the DNR should lease out 250 acres of unused tidelands in Pacific County (and more in Grays Harbor County), that are not infested with the shrimp. It’s not a lot of area by comparison to the thousands of acres of oyster growing taking place in the state’s coastal estuaries. But it could help tide some oyster growers over, she said.

According to an agency press release, $65,000 of the funding for the research project comes from DNR, while the Legislature added $950,000 and the state Department of Agriculture contributed $50,000.

Although the researchers haven’t found any solutions yet, DNR representatives suggested that one idea might be introducing more natural predators, such as green sturgeon and sea-run cutthroat trout.

Early Monday morning, Franz and DNR staff also visited Kalama Middle-High School, promoting the agency’s new partnership with the school in creating a forest management program. Participating students will get to manage the 32-acre forest adjacent to the school and will receive opportunities to job shadow with DNR staff.

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