Editor’s note: Kitsap News Group reporter Mike De Felice traveled to Washington, D.C. late last month to spend a week with U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer of the 6th Congressional District. This first of a two-part series examines Kilmer’s work on the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations – the panel that last year determined how $1.7 trillion of discretionary federal money was spent, including the portion allocated to Kitsap County for community projects.
Many believe the goings-on within the marbled halls of the U.S. Congress have little impact in Kitsap County. Plenty are convinced that nothing gets done due to partisan gridlock.
The reality is some actions on Capitol Hill benefit numerous cities and organizations across Kitsap.
A significant amount of federal funding has been directed to Kitsap, in part, by the efforts of U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer of Kitsap County’s 6th Congressional District. The revenue has provided funds to numerous undertakings – ranging from improving roadways to easing the homeless problem by providing low-income housing, to helping clean up Puget Sound, say many of those whose groups have been awarded funding.
If the Democratic congressman has his way, more funding will be on its way to the district.
Kilmer sits on the House Committee on Appropriations, considered one of the most important committees since its members, and those on the counterpart Senate committee, are responsible for how the U.S. spends taxpayer money. Kilmer is one of its 61 members and has served there for more than eight years. The benefit to the region of having Kilmer on the committee appears to be immense, at least from a financial standpoint.
“When it comes to funding the programs overseen by the federal government, the Appropriations Committee is ‘the room where it happens.’ It’s where the funding decisions get made,” Kilmer said. “Being on that committee puts me in a position to advocate for programs and projects that are priorities for our region. It’s a lot better to be in that room than standing outside the door yelling, ‘I hope someone listens to me.’”
In the last two years, Kilmer’s office reports steering more than $5.5 million in federal money to Kitsap. He secured an additional $57.9 million for other parts of his district, including Clallam, Mason, Jefferson, Grays Harbor and part of Pierce County.
This year Kilmer secured more than $2.6 million for Kitsap.
He arranged for $1 million for reconstruction of Port Orchard’s Bay Street, which links Highway 16 to the north side of the city and outlying areas of South Kitsap. The roadway experiences frequent flooding at higher tides during heavy rainfalls.
Kilmer also netted $1.6 million for affordable townhomes on the Suquamish Tribe’s Port Madison Indian Reservation. The project calls for approximately 20 affordable residences to be constructed on Suquamish Shores, an area recently returned to tribal hands.
In 2022, nearly $3 million of federal monies were designated for the county.
Bremerton’s effort to transform the long-neglected area next to the historic Roxy Theatre into an arts and entertainment mecca got $2.5 million from Congress. The improvement effort there honors the legendary Quincy Jones, a renowned Grammy-winning artist and former Bremerton resident.
Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler recently said, “Quincy Square will be a premiere gathering spot. It will be the cultural and entertainment center of Kitsap County. It will prompt economic growth and increase our civic pride.
“We appreciate the amount of work Derek put into the community at the ground level. That takes a lot of effort on his part to meet individuals and groups,” Wheeler said.
The educational group West Sound STEM Network was awarded $450,000 from the Appropriations committee. The money is financing the “Empowering the Peninsula” project aimed at increasing access by students, particularly those from underserved populations, to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programming, said Kareen Boarders, STEM network’s executive director.
“The project could not have happened without congressman Kilmer’s support in securing that federal funding,” Boarders said.
In this congressional session, Kilmer is fighting to fund three more projects in Kitsap: the Port Orchard marina, the Gorst freeway thoroughfare and low-income housing in Bremerton.
Kilmer’s biggest ask is $10 million for the Gorst resiliency project. Located about five miles out of Port Orchard, Gorst is the site of chronic traffic congestion. The funding would underwrite preliminary engineering and environmental impact statement work and a resiliency study of the corridor.
“This is about having the federal government put some skin in the game to fix the transportation challenges at Gorst,” Kilmer said. “Obviously, the way we all experience it is primarily sitting in traffic.”
The resiliency project is aimed at ensuring the Gorst corridor will remain open and provide access to the military shipyard in the event of a natural disaster, the lawmaker said. “The concern the Navy has voiced is [the roadway is] vulnerable. If there is an earthquake, it could potentially cut off the only means of entry into the only West Coast shipyard that can service a carrier.”
The Gorst funding is viewed as “a high priority,” he added.
The lawmaker also is pushing for $5 million to build a new breakwater at the Port Orchard Marina. The structure would protect moored boats and the city’s waterfront against waves and storm surges, said James Weaver, director of marine facilities at the Port of Bremerton.
The existing 50-year-old breakwater is well beyond its 25-year lifespan, he said. Getting an updated breakwater for the marina, which has over 450 boat slips, would be welcomed, Weaver added.
Kilmer also hopes to secure $3 million for additional low-income housing in Bremerton. The effort, headed by a consortium of nonprofit and social service organizations, would allow for the acquisition of Mills Crossing to serve approximately 150 residents of Kitsap who are seeking affordable housing, Kilmer said.
“The project would help acquire properties and preserve them as affordable housing for folks that might otherwise struggle to afford a roof over their heads,” Kilmer said.
Kilmer’s office this year received 80 applications from local governments and nonprofit entities seeking federal funding. Those requests need to be pared down to 15, the maximum number of community projects each member is allowed to put before the Appropriations committee.
To help determine which applications are most deserving, Kilmer has organized an independent community advisory panel to look over submissions. “We wanted to have a process that was based on merit. So, we have a panel of people vet these projects to say whether they are ready for prime time,” he said.
The panel consists of leaders from each of the six counties Kilmer represents: (Joe Morrison, executive director of the Kitsap Economic Development Alliance, represents Kitsap), a tribal representative, and the head of the minority business development agency.
The panel reviews each submission and scores it based on, among other things, community support, does it create economic opportunity, and if funded, is it ready to go, Kilmer said.
He added he is not aware of any other member of Congress who has set up a similar panel. He got the idea from his time on the “Fix Congress” committee, which he chaired for several years.
The panel’s examination of community projects seems to be paying off. Every project the Northwest congressman presented to Appropriations in the past two years has been awarded federal funding. Working with Appropriations seems to be a good fit for Kilmer.
“A lot of the issues my district faces are related to where the money goes. Funding for the shipyard and for the people who work there is determined by the Appropriations committee. So is funding for cleaning up Puget Sound and for salmon recovery. If you think about the things I want to work on, particularly related to jobs, so many jobs depend on the shipyard, on healthy salmon, and on the national park and national forest,” he said.
“I’m in a position where I can advocate for jobs for our region. As someone who came to Congress because I wanted to make sure we created more economic opportunity, I’m not sure there is a better place for me to be.”