Angela Harris, Executive Director of the Port of Edmonds, stands at the port’s marina on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Edmonds, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Angela Harris, Executive Director of the Port of Edmonds, stands at the port’s marina on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Edmonds, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Leadership, love for the Port of Edmonds got exec the job

Shoring up an aging seawall is the first order of business for Angela Harris, the first woman to lead the Edmonds port.

EDMONDS — Here’s what Angela Harris, the new executive director at the Port of Edmonds, is facing: Timber piles with core rot. Fractured concrete. Anchor plates crushing piles. Significant rust.

The port’s seawall, which acts as a buffer against waves, flooding and erosion, is rusting and rotting. Engineers say it won’t last more than five years.

“Basically, it holds the ground up,” Harris said.

“If the seawall fails, you’re going to see all this slide in and down and close all this off,” she said, gesturing toward the waterfront and its marina, portwalk and dozens of businesses.

The latest estimate is $28.5 million to reconstruct the 56-year-old seawall and aging boardwalk that stretches from the Edmonds fishing pier to Marina Beach Park. The port is targeting a 2027 completion date.

For Harris, who took the helm eight months ago, it’s the first order of business.

“We’re trying to get funding through the state and federal sources,” Harris said. “That’s a major focus.”

Harris is the first woman to lead the Port of Edmonds.

Before stepping into the captain’s chair, Harris served as a port commissioner for five years.

“I wanted to get involved in my community instead of just watching,” she said of her 2017 decision to run for port commissioner, district 1.

At the time, she was only the third woman to serve on the elected commission. The late Mary Lou Block and Marianne Burkhart preceded her. Today, two women, Janelle Cass, district 1, and Selena Killin, at large, sit on the five-member commission, which meets twice a month.

As a commissioner, Harris helped cement the port’s environmental plan, including kicking off a program to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals.

Now, as executive director in charge of day-to-day operations, she and a staff of 29 oversee the Edmonds Marina and the Harbor Square Business Complex, and tend to the waterfront’s environmental and economic health.

When former Executive Director Bob McChesney announced last spring he was retiring after 14 years, the commission was flooded with dozens of applications.

After several interviews and two public hearings, the commission voted unanimously to offer Harris the post.

“Angela’s love for the Port of Edmonds and dedication to its success was very evident when she was serving as a commissioner,” Steve Johnston, port commissioner, wrote in an email to The Daily Herald.

“It was her vision, exemplary communication skills, and proven leadership record that made her a standout in a pool of outstanding applicants. Angela has the impressive ability to build and maintain strong working relationships with everyone around her,” Johnston wrote.

Harris spent 18 years at Microsoft, leading teams of workers and coordinating marketing and sales programs. For the last 12 years, she’s mentored young women in developing countries through the nonprofit Global Give Back Circle.

Both Snohomish County ports, Edmonds and Everett, are now led by women.

In 2019, Lisa Lefeber became the first woman to take the top leadership post at the Port of Everett, securing the commission’s unanimous approval.

“She is eager to jump in and make things happen, and I admire that,” Lefeber said of Harris.

The two execs often confer.

“Lisa has been great, answering my questions as I’ve been on-boarding,” Harris said.

Nearly a third of the state’s 75 port districts are led by women, acting as executive directors, CEOs or port managers, according to the Washington Public Ports Association.

Harris, who grew up in Vancouver, Washington, fondly remembers fishing and boating with her father and grandfather.

Whether it’s paddle boarding or kayaking, she enjoys being out on the water.

The water “is where my peace is,” Harris said.

‘Very much a recreational port’

In Washington, 75 ports are located in 33 of the state’s 39 counties. Their primary purpose is economic development — port districts can build and operate airports, marine terminals, marinas, railroads and industrial parks, and, in some cases, promote tourism. Not all of them are located on waterways. Many airports and railways are port districts, according to the Washington Public Ports Association.

The Port of Everett and the Port of Edmonds share a similar past as centers of heavy industry.

“During the first half of the 20th century, the Edmonds waterfront consisted mainly of boathouses and mills producing lumber and shingles, according to “A Brief History of the Port of Edmonds.”

“Up to ten shingle mills operated along the waterfront from the 1890’s until 1951. By the end of this period the area had deteriorated into something of a local eyesore,” the report said.

“In May 1947 representatives of business and industrial firms along the waterfront formed the Edmonds Port Association. The association wanted the city to provide better street access to the waterfront,” the report said.

The Edmonds port district was created in 1948 by popular vote to “preserve the waterfront and retain local control.”

“Shaped like a triangle, the port area is bounded on the south by the King-Snohomish county line, on the east by 92nd Street, and on the west by Puget Sound. The point where the extension of 92nd and the shoreline meet is the district’s northernmost point,” according to the port.

Here’s where the two ports differ. The Port of Edmonds encompasses about 65 acres. By comparison, the Port of Everett includes some 3,000 acres of waterfront property, including the 125-acre cargo terminal, the port of call for container ships from around the world.

“We are different from Everett. We don’t have a cargo terminal,” Harris said. “We’re very much a marina, a recreational port.”

The Edmonds Marina has some 660 slips with room for another 220 boats in dry storage. With 2,300 slips, the Port of Everett is the largest public marina on the West coast.

Last year, the Port of Edmonds’ operating budget was $9.2 million; the Port of Everett’s, $67 million.

Property owners within the Edmonds port district pay about 7 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation versus Everett’s 19 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

And, unlike the Port of Everett, Edmonds has no plans to expand. The Port of Everett’s bid to enlarge its boundaries to include most of Snohomish County will be decided this year by the county’s voters.

The Edmonds waterfront, beachfront parks, seasonal events and 944-foot L-shaped fishing pier — partially located on port property, but owned by the state and managed by the city — draw thousands of visitors each year. Fishing charters and Puget Sound Express’ whale watching excursions “bring another 20,000 people here,” Harris said.

The boardwalk is a constant parade of people and people with their dogs, from corgis to German Shepherds.

“We love it so much, we want to be here every day,” said Terry and Marcy Nordeen, an Edmonds couple out for a stroll on a sunny January day with their dog Ipo.

The waterfront is Natalie Radford’s go-to spot. “People are so friendly,” the Shoreline resident said. “When I walk my daughter’s dog in the morning, I always run into people I know. It’s a real family down here. I love that it’s clean and neat,” Radford added.

That wasn’t always the case.

Like Everett, decades of heavy industrial use and pollution took a toll on the Edmonds waterfront.

By the 1970s, the wildlife count at some beaches “was low enough to be almost non-existent,” according to the city of Edmonds.

It took a kindergarten teacher to change that.

In 1976, a group of citizens, led by Edmonds teacher France Murphy, formed the Brackett’s Landing Task Force. The grass roots group rallied community support to save the waterfront from destruction and lobbied to make Brackett’s Landing a marine sanctuary, which would protect the area’s “delicate natural resource and allow wildlife to repopulate,” according to the city of Edmonds.

Four years later, in 1980, the Edmonds City Council voted to declare Brackett’s Landing, a marine sanctuary.

‘Wow! I work here’

“I still put the key in the door every morning and think, ‘Wow! I work here,’” Harris said of her new job.

Harris and the port’s employees — 29 full-time and two part-time — are moving to the port’s new 12,000-square-foot headquarters on the east side of Admiral Way. The new facility, which includes rooftop solar panels, EV charging stations and other green building features, will be move-in ready in a few weeks.

The old administration office, built in the 1960s, will be torn down and replaced with a public plaza, Harris said.

Harris is helping revise the port’s strategic plan, which hasn’t been updated since 2014. Seaside, minor repairs to the marina’s breakwater are also ongoing. “Those repairs will buy us 7 to 10 years before major work is needed in 10 to 15 years,” Harris said.

But reconstructing the seawall and resurfacing the boardwalk are the most pressing items of a three-phase project.

A stronger seawall will protect the port’s infrastructure, marshlands and salmon habitat against flooding and rising sea levels. Replacing the boardwalk’s old wooden planks with concrete and glass blocks will allow sunlight to reach the sealife that flourishes under the boardwalk. New EV boat charging stations and expanded marine walkways and electrical upgrades are also part of the multi-phase project.

The port expects to contribute about $14 million to the three-phase, $40 million project, which includes building the new headquarters, seawall and boardwalk repair, public plaza construction and marina upgrade.

Repair estimates for the seawall and boardwalk initially totaled $18 million; the latest estimates top $28 million, Harris said.

“The board has done a great job of financial management planning for things like this,” Harris said. “But the costs have increased incredibly dramatically.”

Still, it’s a hefty price tag.

The port expects to collect $13.3 million in revenue this year. “Paying for a $28 million project is pretty tough,” Harris said.

Applying for state and federal grants is a big piece of Harris’ job, but so is meeting with local community and environmental groups to explain the project, which reconstructs a 950-foot portion of the 1968 seawall.

Offering residents a heads-up on what from the project to expect is a priority, Harris said. “We’re ramping that up this year,” she said.

Like any big project, it’s bound to disrupt activities at and around the port, she said.

We will keep the walkway and docks open — we’ll try to minimize the disruption — but in the middle of it, you’re going to know it’s going on,” Harris said.

The port recently applied for a Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant. The waterfront’s proximity to the ferry and railroad could bump up the port’s chances of receiving the Department of Transporation grant.

“I’m very excited to be out sharing about the project. We have a great team and a great plan,” said Harris, whose office overlooks the marina and boardwalk. “I’ve seen thousands of people walking the waterfront. Walkers and boaters will enjoy what we’re doing. This will benefit everyone.”

Even on vacation, Harris doesn’t stray far from the water.

This spring, Harris plans an Alaskan cruise to mark her disabled son’s 31st birthday. “We thought we were going to lose him last year,” she said. “This is a way to celebrate.”

Janice Podsada: 425-339-3097;; Twitter: @JanicePods.

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