(T-5, empty since summer 2014, in center of 2015 photo by Peter West Carey)
We went to tonight’s Terminal 5 Improvements Project Draft Environmental Impact Statement public hearing in Georgetown mostly to find out the format so you know what to expect at the one in West Seattle on Thursday night.
So you can plan, here’s the format:
5-6 pm, open house
6 pm, presentation, including project background and information on the environmental-review process
6:30 pm, opportunity for attendees to ask “clarifying questions”
6:45 pm until 8 pm (depending on how many speakers), public hearing
8-8:30 pm, open house
Spanish and Vietnamese interpreters were available.
After a welcome by Port Commissioner Fred Felleman, an overview of the “project purpose” was offered, showing that while the current T-5 (which has been closed to cargo for two years now) is set for 136′ maximum ship width, the largest ships out there now go to 193′, and that’s why they need to make it “big-ship ready.”
The project is sponsored by the Port of Seattle and the Northwest Seaport Alliance – its partnership with Tacoma – but Seattle is the lead agency and responsible for the environmental review, which it originally wasn’t going to do – then, after considerable citizen urging, it changed its mind, saying it had discovered that the project was likely to be big enough to mandate one anyway.
As you’ll see in the DEIS, three alternatives are reviewed:
They are “no action,” and what might be termed medium and major changes. The last one, Alternative 3, has drawn the most scrutiny because it would include “upland improvements” closer to nearby residential areas, including more train track, “densification” of container stacking requiring rail-mounted cranes, and up to 12 cranes in all (T-5 was running previously with six).
The port expects “no significant air-quality impacts” in terms of operation, but some short-term effects during constructions. If shore power is used by the ships that call, greenhouse-gas emissions could be less than 10,000 tons a year, considered “not significant” under state rules. Other “potential mitigation” for emissions would include newer, cleaner trucks, an electricity supply that’s mostly from non-fossil-fuel sources, and a truck-traffic management system that would spread arrivals through the day, meaning less of what’s seen sometimes now, long lines of trucks outside gates, idling as they wait.
Construction noise effects wouldn’t be major, the port contends, but operational noise could have challenges including safety alarms and more train horns, unless alternate systems are explored. Using shore power – something nearby residents are campaigning heavily for – would reduce noise, too.
Transportation effects would include a delay at the 5-way intersection, and an increase in trains – up to 24 trains per week if Alternative 3 was chosen – here’s two slides we photographed and tweeted:
1st of 2 slides on transportation impact/mitigation of T-5 modernization pic.twitter.com/qTOgJ1cImL
— West Seattle Blog (@westseattleblog) June 8, 2016
And #2 pic.twitter.com/3QgSOJDfgp
— West Seattle Blog (@westseattleblog) June 8, 2016
After the presentation came a chance for “clarifying questions.” One of those inquired if the port has studied traffic effects on the eastbound upper West Seattle Bridge. The port’s contention was that “almost no trucks take the upper-level bridge.” (Resident Patricia Davis, a leader of the petition drive that sought the environmental review, took issue with that.)
City Councilmember Lisa Herbold brought up the shore-power issue and asked if the port has a percentage of anticipated use that it’s using to “model” some of its projections. Paul Meyer, the Port employee who was point person on the report, said, “By 2040, we figure up to 70 percent.”
Resident Jim Wojciechowski asked why the port hadn’t analyzed low-frequency noise associated with vessels; Meyer said that’s a “great comment” that should be made as part of the process. (So later, he did.)
Then, the official comment period (orally, anyway – the open-house section also offered chances for written commenting). Four people spoke, including Davis and Wojciechowski . If representing an organization, you get four minutes; individuals get three.
Davis, urging people to visit terminal5group.com, stressed, “Air pollution is important because it is a killer. … What concerns me so far in the draft EIS is that there’s too much terminology that is a shell game. … I as a community member would like to know that shore power is a real thing. … Terminal 5 is right below high-density residential zoning. Terminal 18 isn’t … Terminal 46 (isn’t) … (and both have) rail. … Can we be competitive? Sure. But can we also protect our environment?” She wants to see round-the-clock air monitoring.
Next, James Rasmussen from the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition said he wants to be sure the cleanups already done and in progress in the river region and port are taken into account. He also advocated forcefully for Georgetown and South Park, raising issues including the train noise, for which mitigation was only mentioned in West Seattle, while the trains, he pointed out, run down East Marginal Way, especially in very early-morning hours. And: “The most important thing not considered in EIS is impact on the community with diesel particulates – you’re running more trucks through these neighborhoods. … You’re increasing truck traffic *by a huge amount* through these neighborhoods, and that will be affecting these neighborhoods immensely … Asthma rates are through the roof in these communities. I want the Port to be successful, but not at the cost of the communities of Georgetown and South Park.”
Then Wojciechowski, who said he didn’t intend to speak until Thursday “but got drawn into making a comment.” Re: the low-frequency analysis, he says it was brought up but … they’ll be impacted. They’ll be coming after you if no shore power. Volume 1 of the DEIS had “weak language, no commitment to shore power, just saying ‘if they choose to’ … You tell them they have to.” He also had advice for fellow commenters – don’t just speak, also WRITE your comment.
Deputy CEO Beckett offered a couple points in defense, saying that this process doesn’t allow for “final full commitments” to things like shore power. And he said the port already is part of an area in which “low sulfur diesel fuel” is required, and contended that the port was on the “cutting edge” for that.
WHAT’S NEXT: Will the port consider extending the comment period, given that there was just four weeks for review of a 1,000-plus-page document? It’s “considering” that, is the only commitment that was made. First, they’re urging people to comment ASAP, via e-mail at SEPA.firstname.lastname@example.org, and at Thursday’s hearing (5-8 pm at the Alki Masonic Center in The Junction, 40th/Edmunds) for starters. All comments will be responded to and will be part of the final EIS, “tentatively set for late summer,” which would be followed by “permits and authorizations” for the quarter-billion-dollar project.