“We’re not all running around here with weasels,” the mayor of Hoquiam, Jack Durney, insists. His tone is genial, but he admits to a level of frustration as today the Google alerts for “Hoquiam” pile up from national sources, most containing an explanation of the distinction between a marten and a weasel.
(“A marten is a member of the weasel family,” helpfully concludes the ur-AP story on the assault by a man also carrying a dead marten.)
What Durney wishes national media would ask him about is Governor Gregoire awarding Hoquiam a Smart Communities Award for the third year in a row. Hoquiam’s downtown revitalization campaign won under the “Development Project to Implement a Plan” category. Radio station KBKW reports:
The ongoing project has focused on public improvements to downtown including new ADA accessible sidewalks, street trees, decorative lamp posts and a new riverfront walkway. Hoquiam has seen a burst in new business activity and business improvements through the opening of Tully’s, Levee Feed and Pet Supply, Books on 7th, Pure Clothing, and the 8th Street Ale House to name a few.
Hoquiam has also won a Tree City USA designation for the third straight year–it’s among 77 cities in Washington in that respect, but is the only city from the Olympic Peninsula– and has planted some 300 trees along arterials. The story of how Hoquiam has “evolved from the dominance of the timber industry” has yet to get the attention of even Seattle media, Durney claims.
Instead, when the news vans from KIRO and KOMO arrive, they’re generally there to cover a paper mill’s closure in troubled economic times, demanding a quote from the local “hapless mayor.”
The paper mill, emphasizes Durney, was producing recycled paper. Down 101 from Hoquiam, Cosmopolis has just reopened an old Weyerhauser pulp mill, which is shipping its product to China out of the Port of Tacoma for now, but soon from the Port of Grays Harbor.
A deep-water shipping port, it’s dredged to keep the navigation channel open to deeper draft vessels (with 40-foot-deep berths). That capacity, in conjunction with “significant rail development,” says Durney, is why the Port is shipping thousands of Chryslers overseas, and why Toyota is also “looking at us.” The Port’s news release describes the growth rate:
To put this in perspective, five years ago a total of 19 vessels called at Grays Harbor, moving just over 276,000 metric tons of cargo. In 2010, 106 vessels transported more than 1.5 million metric tons of cargoes and 21,000 autos.
The Port of Grays Harbor now ships one-third of all the cars exported through West Coast ports. It handles more than one million metric tons of soybean meal and dried grains.
“It just pisses me off, frankly,” said Durney, of Hoquiam’s embattled image, pointing to the lack of national stories about Westport Yachts, located in Hoquiam.
The yachts go for between $10 million to $20 million–they range in size from 85 to 164 feet in length. But nothing about yachts for wealthy celebrities fits with narratives about backwoods enclaves, still struggling to put down logging axes. And now, there is the deep bemusement provoked by the David Lynch-ian Dead-Marten Man.
The irony, as Durney knows, is that you can work for years to shape a public image for your town, but it only takes one weasel to sear Hoquiam into the national consciousness. Still, despite what you may think, marten-related assaults don’t come along all that often. This is the first that Durney can think of. He invites you out for Hoquiam’s River Fest, on July 16, to see for yourself what Hoquiam has to offer.