The Grays Harbor Council of Governments: A brief history from 1960 to 2000


As the fifties drew to a close it became evident that many of the issues evolving in Grays Harbor were not isolated within the limits of a single city, district, or agency. Local leaders looked for a way to address these multi-jurisdictional issues in a neutral forum, beneficial to all participants. Subsequently, the Grays Harbor Regional Planning Commission (GHRPC) was founded in 1960. The Agency was formed under the Planning Enabling Act of 1959, as amended, Section 36.70 R.C.W. The initial agreement was signed on February 18, 1960, and the first formal meeting was held on March 24, 1960.

The Agency was, and still remains, based on a consortium of members representing the interests and needs of local governments, districts, and organizations within the boundaries of Grays Harbor County. The goal of their combined efforts is to protect and enhance the economy, environment, and quality of life in Grays Harbor.

In 2000 our members reassessed the function of the organization and the role it held in local government. It was agreed that a name change would more appropriately reflect the purpose of the organization. Therefore, in February of 2000, the name of the Agency was officially changed to the Grays Harbor Council of Governments.

The 1960s

During the first few years of this decade, the activities of the GHRPC were focused on its organizational development and on the major problems confronting the region at that time: siting issues relating to the freeway and the need for industrial water.

A wide variety of interest groups were brought together to resolve a host of issues related to the present highway alignment in East County. Those early years also began the long period of study to plot a freeway route through the urban area, subsequently resulting in the Highway 101 couplet.

The Overall Economic Development Program (OEDP) began in 1961 and initially focused on industrial water needs and navigational improvements to the harbor. Congruently, the Agency spearheaded numerous studies, funding and planning efforts which culminated in the construction of the Wynoochee Dam and the construction of the only deep-draft navigable channel on the Washington Coast.

Compliance with the OEDP provided the necessary eligibility for local governments to receive Economic Development Administration funding for infrastructure and projects. GHRPC served as the Overall Economic Development Committee, publishing an annual plan, until 1996 when this process became a function of the newly formed Economic Development District. Other planning projects during this time focused on the creation of model zoning and subdivision ordinances, a regional recreation plan which subsequently resulted in the development of Stewart Park in Aberdeen, the provision of comprehensive planning assistance for Aberdeen, Cosmopolis, and Westport, and the development of the County Commission Districts. GHRPC quickly established itself as a leading authority in the planning field as segments of the model subdivision ordinance were incorporated in State law.

While the early 1960s were spent serving local needs, the latter part of that decade saw the need to respond to Federal and State activities in planning by ensuring that local concerns were identified and responded to. As a result, GHRPC expanded from physical planning programs into human resources, comprehensive health, and law and justice planning.

The 1970s

The 1970’s saw the Agency’s earlier efforts bear fruit with the implementation of many plans and projects including: the funding of industrial roads in Hoquiam, the expansion of the Westport boat basin, the building of several large sewage treatment projects, improvements in housing, work on agricultural policies, and new zoning ordinances in Aberdeen and the County.

This period also saw GHRPC responding to and taking advantage of many Federal and State planning programs. The agency became a fully certified planning region for several Federal programs. That certification allowed GHRPC to apply for and channel funding from multiple programs into Grays Harbor communities.

In the early part of the decade GHRPC solidified its long-term role in local government through the establishment of two major long-term planning processes; Shorelines Management and Public Transit Development. The Agency helped ensure a significant role by local government in the administration of the Shorelines Management Act. Once the Act was passed, the GHRPC led the way for the area to become one of the first in the State to comply with its provisions. During this time the transit system was brought into being. With GHRPC leadership, the Grays Harbor Transit Authority was established and the first of many transit plans was completed.

While the Agency maintained comprehensive involvement in regional issues, two courses of events tended to dominate the latter part of the decade: the Satsop Project and the Estuary Management Program. The Agency’s involvement in the Satsop Project (a twin, nuclear generating facility) began during the project siting hearings where the GHRPC, while endorsing the project, advocated specific provisions in the siting agreement to protect the interest of local governments. The subsequent monitoring of the site’s planning processes resulted in $2.2 million in impact fees for east county communities and $1 million in impact fees for Aberdeen and Hoquiam.

Increased Federal and State involvement in regulating activities in estuary lands led to uncertainty and confusion about how the Grays Harbor estuary was to be managed. To resolve those issues, the agency brought together all appropriate entities to develop a common policy for the use, protection, and development of the estuary. This was the beginning of a massive planning project that spanned a twelve-year time period and brought federal and state regulatory agencies, local jurisdictions, citizens, and special interest groups together in a common forum. The goal of this group was to develop an estuary-wide management plan that satisfied state and federal regulations while balancing the needs of our environment with the needs of our growing communities. This process culminated in the development of a federally recognized document, The Grays Harbor Estuary Management Plan. The Plan has undergone two updates and is still in use today.

The 1980s

GHRPC responded to changing Federal roles with its emphasis on self-help and public-private partnerships. It lessened its dependence on grants, and actively participated in programs like GHO 80’s, a business and community stimulus package that focused on tourism as an economic development element, which led to the creation of the Economic Development Council. The Agency honed its skills, entered the computer age, became proficient as a research agency and was selected as a Federal Census Affiliate. Evaluation of juvenile programs, community-wide analytical surveys, growth impact analyses, economic base research, and business feasibility studies were all products of the Agency’s new data and research capabilities. The GHRPC also began publishing Grays Harbor area economic indicators on a monthly basis.

The traditional role of technical assistance continued too. Comprehensive planning programs (revisions of earlier plans) were undertaken in Aberdeen, Westport, Elma, McCleary, Montesano, Oakville, Ocean Shores, and the County. The Grays Harbor County Bike Plan, the Grays Harbor County Parks and Recreation plan, the Grays Harbor Tourism Plan, the Rural Lands Study, and An Action Plan for Grays Harbor Fishery Enhancement were completed. Transportation issues continued as did shoreline matters, with the Estuary Plan still in progress.

Grant eligibility and grant writing were provided. During this time, GHRPC delivered a $2.5 million Community Development Block Grant to the City of Aberdeen enabling the continuation of the city’s Neighborhood Housing Assistance Program. The GHRPC fought for and won EDA Title IX, economic dislocation funds, bringing over $3 million in funding into our communities. Other efforts by the Agency resulted in funding to study and develop the Ocean Shoes Municipal Airport and several BPA conservation grants for the City of Aberdeen and Grays Harbor County.

Several new planning endeavors were undertaken, namely, fishery enhancement, waterfront rehabilitation, and energy conservation. Fishery enhancement efforts lead to the establishment of the Fisheries Enhancement Task Force. This group, now known as the Chehalis Basin Fisheries Task Force, is still active today. Waterfront rehabilitation efforts lead to the planning and development of Morrison Riverfront Park in Aberdeen. Energy conservation planning resulted in the establishment of model conservation standards though the development of the Electrical Energy Conservation Power Plan.

The GHRPC widened its scope of services by expanding traditional transportation planning roles to include aviation, navigation, and non-motorized potentials. The Agency became involved with aviation planning while assisting with lighting approach improvements, the first of many improvements to Bowerman Field. Work began on essential air service designation, solicitation of carriers interested in providing commuter service, and studies to relocate Bowerman Field to resolve estuary issues.

The Marine Transit Association was developed. This Association was tasked with the study and protection of a vitally important segment of our economy. As such, they effectively opposed and fought against user fees on navigation facilities. They maintained their influence on the Legislature to continue the maintenance dredging of our navigable channel by the Federal government. And, the Marine Transit Association began the first of many studies on the feasibility of a car ferry between the cities of Westport and Ocean Shores.

The 1990s

During the 1990’s the GHRPC solidified its role in the long-term health and economic well-being of the County by taking the lead in emerging planning issues. The Agency stepped to the forefront of environmental and economic development planning. Transportation planning became a cornerstone of the Agency with the development of Regional Transportation Planning Organization (RTPO) status. And the GHRPC again took an active part in the social development of our community through planning efforts for juvenile justice and substance abuse prevention programs.

In the early 90’s growth strategies legislation in the form of I-547, the Balanced Growth Initiative, swept through the state. As predecessor to the Growth Management Act, this legislation required a comprehensive planning effort for a variety of elements. The GHRPC formed a growth issues subcommittee to study and respond to the increasing demand of this unfunded mandate. In a precedent setting move, the GHRPC issued a policy directive stating that the measure placed an unnecessary burden on rural counties and further required that such mandates include the financial assistance to see them completed.

Environmental planning requirements grew forcefully throughout the era of the 90’s and the GHRPC stepped up to take the lead. Floodplain, shoreline management, critical areas, and estuary planning issues remained major areas of focus. During the mid-90’s strong prospects for off-shore oil drilling along the coast of Grays Harbor lead the Agency to partner with Pacific and Jefferson Counties to form the Coastal Counties Partnership. Managed through grant funds, the partnership focused on the protection of our coastline through public education and clearinghouse functions. The GHRPC again used regional policies to negate offshore oil lease sales and drilling. These planning efforts successfully led to the protection of the outer continental shelf and the development of the National Olympic Marine Sanctuary.

Transportation planning requirements grew rapidly during this decade. The GHRPC quickly became recognized as leader in the field and joined forces with Pacific, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum Counties to create a Regional Transportation Plan. By participating in this planning process, our communities became eligible for transportation granting programs. Emerging legislation allowed the group to solidify and form a Regional Transportation Planning Organization (RTPO) which acted as the vehicle to channel federal planning funds into our region. As the transportation planning process expanded, the Agency became the lead for the Surface Transportation Program (STP). This program placed federal dollars that were once only block granted at the state level directly into the hands of individual counties. Since the STP began in 1993, the GHRPC has programmed over $8 million in project direct funds into Grays Harbor County.

Other transportation planning efforts during the decade included the three state Coastal Highway study with Oregon and California; the Highway 101 Alternative Corridor study, a $160 million + project that routes pass through and industrial traffic around the central business core of Aberdeen and Hoquiam; the development of an overpass at the McCleary-SR 8 intersection; and several studies on the feasibility of a vehicle ferry between Ocean Shores and Westport.

While the Agency participated in several economic development planning opportunities for its members, one project took a dominant role through much of the 90’s, the conversion of the Satsop Nuclear Power Facility. Through a series of grants the GHRPC began several studies on the feasibility of converting the abandoned facility to public use as a technology/ development park. A local consortium, the Satsop Adaptive Development Committee, was formed to oversee the project. The Agency accomplished something that had never been done before in the history of nuclear power facilities, they succeeded in having the facility decommissioned and converted to public use. Along with gaining a 1,600 acre public facility complete with warehouses, roads, power, and sanitation facilities, the Committee negotiated a donation from the Bonneville Power Administration for $15 million in seed money to get the site up and running.

It was eventually determined that a separate entity would be needed to operate the facility. This led to the development and the establishment of the publicly owned Grays Harbor Public Development Authority. Today there are 20 businesses employing over 400 people located at the Satsop Development Park.

Social planning for the Agency peaked in the 90’s with projects like the Juvenile Justice Committee and Community Mobilization Against Substance Abuse (CMASA) in the early 90’s. In the mid to late 90’s the Law and Justice committee and the formation of the Grays Harbor Community Aid Network, a grass roots initiative that channeled federal health and welfare funds into the community, took the forefront. Although no longer under the GHRPC umbrella, both CMASA and the Community Aid Network are still active programs today.

The GHRPC also maintained a full array of member services through community development planning. A county-wide planning process was undertaken to coordinate water, sewer, and capital improvements. A county-wide industrial lands study was completed and the Agency partnered with the Economic Development Council to develop the industrial land inventory database. A park and recreation technical committee was formed and GHRPC members were provided with individual park plans that are still updated on an as needed basis.

Grant research and writing continued to be a basic service for members. During the 90’s the Agency applied for and was granted almost $20,000 to cover the cost of critical areas planning for its members. The GHRPC was successful in obtaining a Local Development Matching Fund (LDMF) grant to begin an economic development planning process in the City of Elma. Coordinated grant programs also sponsored the study and development of the Coastal Counties Ocean Use Guides. The Agency obtained a $1.75 million grant though Department of Ecology for the City of Aberdeen, in a move to help the City with its infiltration and inflow wastewater problems. This grant made it possible for the City to inspect, test, repair and replace mainline, manhole, and stub-sewer system components, as well as perform side-sewer inspection, testing, and repair. Enforcement activities aimed at halting illegal storm water drainage into the sanitary sewer system were put into effect.

2000 onward

As we transition into the 2000’s the Agency has undergone a comprehensive reorganization and is embarking on new potentials for improved service to our members and our communities. While the strongholds of the Agency remain in regional planning and transportation planning elements, we are addressing innovate new ways to meet the challenges of the future and improve the quality of life in our communities. Stay tuned for more history as it develops. . . .

Information excerpted from the document The First Quarter Century 1960 – 1985, 25 Years, Grays Harbor Regional Planning Commission, various annual reports, studies, and Agency minutes.