‘Positive and influential’: After 20 years, Jim Orvis stepping down from Edmonds Port Commission

Jim Orvis is retiring after two decades on the Edmonds Port Commission. (Photo by Nick Ng)

Edmonds Port Commissioner Jim Orvis will retire at the end of this year after serving the Port of Edmonds for 20 years. A former U.S. Navy captain during the Vietnam War, Orvis was elected in 2003 to fill one of the two at-large port commissioner positions. Since then, he has tackled the port’s finances, property acquisition and environmental cleanup. 

The port, which operates a marina and boatyard and manages commercial properties, is a special-purpose district established by voters in 1948. It is governed by a five-member board elected to four-year terms. The district boundaries encompass a portion of the City of Edmonds and all of the Town of Woodway. 

Orvis recalled one of the most challenging tasks during his tenure was the removal and replacement of 55 tons of contaminated soil at Harbor Square from 2004 to 2005. 

“The Harbor Square cleanup required several years of legal action to locate and secure funds from previous owners,” Orvis said. “The contamination from an asphalt plant, tank car cleaning operation and other hydrocarbon intensive activities conducted by a variety of companies, required historical research, court action, geotechnical testing and tons of earth removal to eliminate.”

Jim Orvis, far left, during a Nov. 27 port commission meeting. (Photo by Nick Ng)

He also said that many local residents used to use the site as a dump. The port removed pools of heavy oil, garbage, refrigerators and even a Volkswagen. “The original developer built over the contamination, further complicating the problem,” Orvis said. “Eventually, we also bought the buildings and restored them to serviceable condition.”

Another challenge that he and the port faced is the repair of the north side of the marina seawall and the reconstruction of the Portwalk that stretches from the Edmonds Public Fishing Pier in the north to Marina Beach Park. Orvis said that the seawall must be replaced in the next few years.

“The design, along with that of the walkway above it, is near completion,” he said. “Acquisition of permits and the funds to complete the project are now a major challenge.”

Orvis said that he felt “blessed” during his tenure with the port’s commission and staff, who were “civil and respectful.” “We have been an excellent team. It has been a joy to work with them,” he added.

Commissioners and staff said they will miss Orvis, adding that his work ethic and leadership skills affected the way they work.

During a Thursday night retirement reception, Port of Edmonds Executive Director Angela Harris passes the microphone to Jim Orvis. (Photo by Larry Vogel)

“Jim has left a positive and influential mark on the port industry,” said Port of Edmonds Executive Director Angela Harris. “Locally, his role has greatly contributed to the port’s strong economic success and environmental stewardship over the past two decades. Always dedicated to the betterment of his community, Jim never missed an opportunity to help build a better future for Edmonds.”

Harris nominated Orvis for the Washington Public Ports Association (WPPA) Outstanding Service to the Industry Award, which Orvis had received in early December.

District 2 Port Commissioner David Preston recalled that Orvis has an “intense attention to detail.” 

“He would simply whisper, ‘That’s a really dumb idea.’ Then he would be kind enough to explain his perspective, which was almost always right,” Preston said. “He did it in an amazing and caring way [that] I was never offended, just thankful. It was exciting after he contemplated things a few times and said that’s actually a really good idea. He was always the go-to guy because of his vast knowledge and life experiences that he had as a Navy captain and teaching ROTC at the University of Washington.”

During Thursday’s reception, Jim Orvis (center) receives his retirement memory book from, L-R, fellow Port Commissioners David Preston and Steve Johnston. During the event, Orvis praised the staff and his fellow commissioners. “It’s been a pleasure and an honor to work with you these past 20 years — you made my job easy.” (Photo by Larry Vogel)

Orvis retired from the Navy in 1997 after 31 years as a surface warfare officer. He had served in patrol boats, destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers and was an advisor during the Vietnam War. He was a commanding officer of two patrol boats, a guided missile frigate and a guided missile cruiser. 

He also served on multiple WPPA committees, including the environmental, marina and legislative committees, and he was a founding board member of the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County and participated in the Foundation for Edmonds School District and the Blue and Gold Foundation.

He said he hopes that  current and future commissioners will continue sound financial practices, ensuring income continues to support port operations and capital investment. 

“The marina must remain the center of focus,” he emphasized. “Not only is it the main source of income, it provides funds to keep up many of the amenities serving the non-boating public.”

After he finishes his term as port commission, Orvis plans to spend time with his family, including his wife and three children — with two of them living in Edmonds. 

“There comes a time when one should move aside and make room for younger people,” he said. “At 82, I’m approaching that time, so I am also retiring from volunteer organizations that I have been supporting since I left the Navy.”

Selena Killin ran unopposed to fill the at-large position Orvis is vacating with his retirement. She takes office in January.

— By Nick Ng


  1. Jim will leave an indelible legacy at the Port of Edmonds. A consummate sailor, he helped guide the Port through the rocks and shoals of opportunity and challenges at the Port for 20 years, always with a steady hand on the tiller. His knowledge of the Port, financial and legislative expertise, and quiet common sense will be greatly missed.

    Jim , enjoy the next phase of your life with your family and friends. It was an absolute pleasure working with you.
    And, as one old Navy guy to another, we wish you fair winds and following seas.

    We’ll see you around town.

    1. Edmonds has been privileged to have some great leadership over the years that have forged our community making it what it is today. Jim Orvis is one of those who has distinguished himself in theses efforts. We wish him the very best in his years to come; his legacy will live on. We also have to thank him for his exemplary military service. Freedom and democracy does not just happen, Thank you Jim!

  2. Jim,
    You were always interested in Edmonds, and it has been a great privilege knowing you and having you represent citizens in Edmonds. Congratulations on your 20 years of service.
    Jerry Janacek

  3. A wonderfully ‘quiet’ man of speech and thoughts dedicated to the Port ‘s management and well-being all these years. Having served with him on a past task force or two within Edmonds I can say without hesitation that his background and knowledge have contributed greatly to this City and its functions benefiting our citizenry. He will be missed…..

  4. The Orvis family have made a major impact on our community. Beyond all the great comments above I want to relate just one story that shows how Jim valued the public input on his thinking. During a Port Commission Retreat Jim was the presiding officer of the meeting. The commission was planning for the year and beyond and several citizens were in attendance. All commission meetings allow for the standard 3-minute comments, but Jim went above and beyond that limitation. For topics being discussed he looks around the room and if someone had something to add to the discussion it was allowed. He even used those comments to respond and help educate not only the public but his fellow commissioners. Jim used his leadership role to gather information and educate so good discussion and decision were based on the best and most complete information available. We can all learn from his work, and we are a better community because of it.

  5. Jim, it has been a delight to know you and to serve with you during most of your Port of Edmonds career. As a fellow Navy vet I had an automatic respect for you from the beginning. Now I am happy to welcome you to the retirement world. Just remember the axiom: Don’t retire from something, retire to something. God bless you in your new life, old friend.

  6. Few rival this wonderful man: Rational, effective, hard-working, respectful, ethical, intelligent. What a gift to our City that he was willing to dedicate 20 years to the Port’s work! Thank you Commissioner Orvis- you made a meaningful contribution and will be so missed.

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