By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
You have 12 more days to comment on the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Terminal 5 Improvements Project in West Seattle – unless the comment period is extended.
(Friday afternoon update: It has been.)
Both hearings for this stage of the process are now history, after tonight’s hearing, which was in West Seattle, at the Alki Masonic Center in The Junction. As we’d been told Tuesday in Georgetown (WSB coverage here), the format was exactly the same, though there were some divergences along the way.
Again tonight, Commissioner Fred Felleman opened, this time making a point to say “we don’t have a tenant yet” but promising they will “do it right” no matter what they wind up doing.
Paul Meyer, the port’s environmental manager, gave the presentation instead of deputy CEO Kurt Beckett, who was reported to have undergone “emergency dental surgery” earlier in the day, but did arrive around 6:15 pm. First, Commissioner Felleman said he wanted to be sure everyone understood that the Northwest Seaport Alliance jointly manages the Seattle and Tacoma container terminals, but not everything associated with both ports.
Meyer recapped details of the plan, including deepening the terminal to 56′, from its current 50′, and adding electrical capacity, as well as strengthening the wharf, and other changes. Three alternatives are explored in the draft EIS – “no action,” Alternative 2 with “wharf rehabilitation, berth deepening, and increased cargo handling,” and Alternative 3 with all of that plus “additional upland improvements” – which would be on the west side of T-5, closer to those who live nearby. Those improvements could mean up to 12 cranes would be used, double what T-5 had before, while #2 could require up to eight.
The environmental impacts would involve 13 elements, Meyer said, without listing them (he directed people to the DEIS to see all 13), but he did say air, noise, and traffic impacts had drawn the most community comments. Overall, he said, the project “would reduce worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases relative to existing conditions,” because larger vessels produce less, and because of use of lower-sulfur fuel within 200 miles of the coast. He also recapped the emission-reduction measures such as shore power and cleaner trucks as well as the potential noise effects, including ways that train noise, vessel noise, and safety-equipment noise could be reduced (“annoyance control measures”). They don’t envision a lot of construction impacts.
Traffic impacts could mean “three intersections along the Spokane Street Corridor would operate at Level F” but, Meyer contended, most of that would happen even without this project. Traffic mitigation could include closing the north side of the Spokane/Marginal/Chelan intersection to all vehicle traffic except “emergency vehicles and out of gauge cargo.” A signal-improvement project could help too.
What will determine whether they choose Alt 2 or 3? Meyer: It’ll be decided depending on the tenant.
What frequency of dredging would be required if Alt 3 was chosen? Meyer said they’ve done “three cleanups” in the past 10 years or so.
Can you explain the SEPA process a bit more? Meyer explained it as an “evaluation that leads the decisionmaker to make decisions on how something operates, what kind of mitigation is necessary, and a way to look at all different alternatives.”
Are the emissions projections based on full use of shore power? Meyer: The analysis compared levels that were increasing over time.
What does “annoyance noise” mean? Meyer said it relied on the World Health Organization definitions of “unregulated” noise – “an intrusive noise that affects people in the community” but isn’t regulated.
What would it take to pursue doing away with train horns? Meyer said that’s a decision to be made when the final environmental-impact statement comes out.
Who are your experts in big-ship planning? Moffatt Nichol.
The final operating decision is up to the tenant and not the port? Meyer said it’s ultimately a “business decision” and would likely come out in the land-use permit process.
How close is T-5 to high-density housing, and why is it being used as the go-to port, not T-18 or T-46? Meyer said “it’s considered a strategic port when you look at reliability, intermodal, the cost of improvements, the size, the shape, the length of the berth … and when you look at all the available opportunities, (this and one in Tacoma) rose to the top.” (The “how close is it to high-density housing” was not answered.)
As was asked the other night, “will the comment period be extended”? Meyer said 30 days was what was required, but the port could extend it and is considering doing that.
How many people involved in making the decision live in West Seattle? Meyer said “that wasn’t analyzed.” Felleman jumped in to say, “The Port is not a districted entity, we’re all elected countywide, and it’s partly because of things like this. … Ultimately, the buck stops with the electeds. … If you don’t like it, you can fire us.”
Why was Beacon Hill’s qir chosen for “ambient” baseline, instead of the more-polluted air of the Duwamish Valley area closer to T-5? Meyer called that a “good question” and said it was in tandem with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.
At 6:47 pm, the official public-comment period began, with, again, 3 minutes per individual, 4 per group.
Paul, who lives near Nucor, spoke first. “Concerns that I have had have only been heightened by this meeting … (shore power) is required in Long Beach (for example), because the cancer rates there are still the highest in California. We should all be concerned. … My neighborhood has a lot of young families and retirees like me, living under the illusion that we’re going to have a quality of life. I don’t see this helping me have a better quality of life. … I hope that you’re going to take a really good look at this and give it a fair shake in the public’s eye.”
Patricia Davis, who lives in Admiral and also spoke Tuesday night in Georgetown, brought up again that “air pollution causes heart disease … fine particulates can (get through closed windows, and into homes) … air pollution does matter, to us, to our health, to the environment, to the planet, it is not a small thing.” She alleged that the Port of Seattle “underachieves” in air quality compared to Tacoma. She said it’s important to “pay attention to what’s unregulated … the port has a tool we haven’t heard about, leases,” so she believes that pollution rules should be written into leases “with some bite in them for the ships, the tugs, to do business with the port.”
John Persak, a longshoreman who is vice president of ILWU Local 18, said he lives in a neighborhood affected by the port, “trucks in particular,” Georgetown. “We understand and appreciate the issues about emissions,” he said, looking at it from both sides. Backup alarms are “a sensitive issue,” he said, because of a death at T-5 a decade ago. He noted that Tuesday’s hearing included a question about what equipment would be used, and he hoped that the port would study potential for a variety of types of equipment “so we can be the cleanest … and maintain the workforce we have.” He invited people to talk with him and others in the longshore community about their concerns.
Deb Barker from the West Seattle Transportation Coalition called alternatives 2 and 3 “rocks thrown into the bowl that T-5 actually is.” She said it would be important to analyze traffic all the way to I-5, all the way down 99, all the way up the hill (west of T-5), and “I would strongly urge that final report to take the high road .. adopt the most rigorous standards known to the U.S., don’t talk about optional … just do it!”
Henry Lee with the East Admiral Neighborhood Group spoke about low-frequency vibration. He said that last Friday a “skull-numbing, pulsing sound” woke him up early in the morning, and kept him awake – with a smoke plume littering gardens with creosote – maybe “thinking no one was watching.” He said, “Imagine how bad it could be with ships four times as large, two of them at Terminal 5 … When I was in the military I used low-frequency sound to communicate over hundreds of miles of ocean … When the Seaport Alliance brought the Benjamin Franklin in (earlier this year) they had the opportunity to study (low-frequency sound) but it’s not mentioned in the draft EIS.” He said the study mentions most noise in the area comes from the West Seattle Bridge, but “if you are ever there in the middle of the night, the bridge is quiet, and you hear the humming, coming from the ships. What I’m asking is concrete mitigation … and I ask for retrofitting of the houses surrounding the port.”
Vince O’Halloran from the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific said, “this process is a good process. …” He talked about safety for workers, and stringent environmental standards that come “from meetings like this and participation from the public.” he said he’s hopeful that this will be a leading “environmentally progressive project.” He wants to see T-5 recognized as a “linchpin in the regional economy.”
Jim Wojciechowski, a nearby resident, said, “What we all need to keep in mind is where this started. This whole thing started back when the port, before Commissioner Felleman came on board, tried to get expedited permits without going through an environmental review … Thanks to Patricia Davis’s efforts, we got an EIS commitment, and we all got hopeful, but we read the DEIS when it came out, and it didn’t deliver what we were hoping for. Commissioner Felleman is going to watch out for us but we need to give him the written comments he needs. … At the scoping meeting, we asked for shore power, because of the low-frequency noise, that’s been there for years …” but the DEIS did not, in his view, accurately assess ship noise and how shore power would address it. “I know they dumped 1,000 pages on you, you have two weeks, look for the holes, put it in writing … they keep quoting noise ordinances. Low-frequency noise doesn’t come close to those limits. You need to push to analyze it from a different standard.”
Mark Jacobs from the WSTC board, a traffic engineer, said the transportation section of the report was written by a credible expert. “We need improved transportation, the port needs improved transportation,” he said, from a personal standpoint. As a WSTC board member, he said, he talked about truck traffic headed from as far away as the Kent Valley. He said the transportation-impact analysis was “too limited” and should have looked beyond what it did look at, examining for example interconnected signals. The report should have looked at “traffic concurrency records.” He was the first to mention the truck traffic that backed up onto the bridge today (covered here in WSB). He mentioned the five-way intersection’s signal, saying it “needs to be fixed.”
Marty Casey, saying she’s been in West Seattle since 2000, says she doesn’t want to have to leave because of the train noise: “This is one of the most notable things I think we need to address for our quality of life.” She wondered why the Port is looking at developing Terminal 5 “right under a high-density residential area.” She mentioned someone in West Seattle who is awakened by horns three times as much as eight years ago. And regarding mitigation measures, she said, “How can we trust you when West Seattle residents have been begging for relief on the train noise for years and years, when nothing was done? … We support the port. We want to have a world-class city, but this is not leading us to a world-class city.”
Max Vekich, West Seattle resident and longshore worker, said, “Terminal 5 was a model dock. It was the model of the Shorelines Management Act. People dotted i’s and crossed t’s to make sure it was done environmentally right. .. Those are great-paying jobs. …” He said he lives in High Point, with a “nice blend of people” including truck drivers. “So as we move forward, we should embrace a lot of what the community is saying,” which he said is what his union is complaining about too, including diesel particulate. But: “Why are you giving the cruise ships a pass? There is more plugging in than there was, but I work on those ships, and half of them are still not plugging in … We can do this thing smart, we can have quiet trains, we can have plugged-in vessels, we can have all that, we should have all that, because it’s vital to this community and vital to the jobs.”
Chris Willkie from Puget SoundKeeper Alliance said the group will be submitting written comments too and is still anayzing the “high volume of material associated with this draft EIS.” He said, “The revitalization of Terminal 5 is an opportunity … to be a leader in sustainability. …” (They support) a 5-minute limit for idling trucks and (other things) but they also think that shore power should be required, “an opportunity to lead the way for West Coast ports.” He said the plan doesn’t say much about stormwater, which includes a lot of pollutants. “The port needs to address this – the stormwater permit the port will be operating under doesn’t require them to address this issue – the port should address this issue.” He also mentioned some things that should be addressed such as containers storing “uncured animal hides.” He also mentioned concerns about the dredging, with test results in the area showing dioxin. “The monitoring standards don’t actually get down to the levels of PCBs” but he feels they should.
Thomas Noyes, an Admiral resident, asked for an extension to the comment period. He also commented on some of the points made rail, including something that says “quiet zones” are “too costly” without citing the cost – he wants to see further analysis of the possibility of “quiet zones.” He said the report includes some possible conflicts between estimated train volume.
Tom Hubbard said he had concerns that hadn’t been addressed yet, such as Longfellow Creek, the mouth of which is “control(led) by the port,” which he says should be looked at. Also, he mentioned traffic analysis, in terms of truck volume – 1 or even 2 trucks per minute? That would cause more of a delay at the 5-way intersection, he said, and he added that the West Seattle Bridge/I-5 intersection, “where all of us see the traffic backing up,” should be examined, especially in terms of the trucks coming up onto the eastbound bridge from lower Spokane Street. And he wondered if something could be done to improve the situation for salmon in the Green/Duwamish River “because they all swim past Terminal 5.”
Patricia Davis spoke again, saying she’s distressed that 98116 was not in all the analysis. “The thought of upland rail … we can’t even stand what we have, it’s (been) better with Terminal 5 closed, but we still have Nucor …” She echoed the earlier comments that the West Seattle Bridge is suggested as more of a noise generator, but it’s not a problem at night. “One of the things we’ve asked for is a reliable data source …” She said North Admiral is never mentioned but should be. “Why don’t we have data for us? .. Air pollution is hot, water is cold, and it goes up the hill to us.” She mentioned that the neighborhood still has terminal5group.com up as a petition.
No one else had anything to say, so the three Port reps had the chance to make closing remarks. Beckett reiterated that they are considering the request for more time to comment and will have an answer by “early next week” at the latest. Felleman said he’d “spent much more time on (the community) side of the table than (the official) side of the table.” He also said that if cruise ships don’t plug in they have to burn low-sulfur fuel. “Perseverance pays off, and you have folks listening.”
That’s what this process is supposed to be about – the port, listening – but it won’t matter if you don’t say something. The public hearings for this stage of the process are over, but comments can be sent until at least June 21st – we’ll find out within a few days if the deadline will be extended. You can comment through the “online open house.”
What’s next beyond commenting? The final environmental-impact statement is expected in “late summer,” and work, the port said, could start as soon as a year from now. But first – they need a tenant for the terminal.