By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The news of shipping line Hanjin, a major Port of Seattle customer, filing for the equivalent of bankruptcy in its home country, South Korea, has sparked renewed discussion about the nine-digit-price-tag plan to modernize West Seattle’s Terminal 5.
Is the project really necessary, amid the turmoil in the shipping industry, with the port operating without T-5 for more than two years now? We put that question to the Northwest Seaport Alliance, the entity formed a year ago by the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma.
First, the latest on how Hanjin’s receivership filing on Wednesday is affecting the Port of Seattle:
Hanjin has one vessel scheduled each week at T-46, and has a majority stake in its operator, Total Terminals International. On Thursday, the T-46 website said that as of 2 pm Wednesday, it “will no longer perform Hanjin gate transactions (receiving/delivery) until further notice.” Today, that message changed to “Hanjin gate transactions – TTI is now open for import delivery, still not receiving empty units.”
The next Hanjin vessel due here is Hanjin Scarlet, originally scheduled for tomorrow morning, but as of this writing, it remains anchored off Prince Rupert – 572 nautical miles north of here – according to MarineTraffic.com; the port says it was sent directly to anchorage upon arrival on Tuesday night and they’re trying to figure out what to do next.
The trouble isn’t sudden, according to this report. But it raises questions, since T-46 got modernization money from the feds two years ago, two years after Hanjin extended its Port of Seattle lease until 2025.
Meanwhile, the port is currently in the environmental-review phase of its proposed modernization plan for West Seattle’s Terminal 5 – a process that it originally planned to bypass, by declaring the project environmentally non-significant, until nearby residents took issue. In October of last year, the port announced that conversations with potential tenants had led it to agree that a full environmental review was needed.
This week, our questions about the status of the project, and the port’s position on it, were answered by Tara Mattina, communications director for the Northwest Seaport Alliance, whose website notes that Hanjin also calls at two Tacoma terminals. She says Hanjin vessels called 58 times at T-46 last year and 35 times year-to-date in 2016.
Despite Hanjin’s trouble and other industry travails, Mattina says, the NWSA is sticking by its vision of T-5’s future: “The modernization of Terminal 5 remains a vital part of the alliance strategic business plan, and will ensure our gateway is strongly positioned for the future. Shipping industry challenges are fierce but U.S. manufacturers, consumers and exporters still have goods to move and the health of our economy relies upon these terminals. The alliance will rely on a sound financial plan for Terminal 5, and the larger, ongoing needs of the U.S. economy, including Washington exporters, will be a driver in making that possible.”
Some West Seattleites remain opposed to/concerned about the expansion/improvement project. Just this morning, East Admiral resident Marti Casey had e-mailed WSB, saying she hoped this situation would cast renewed light on the proposal: “In light of the recent news about the bankruptcy of Hanjin and the global slowdown in shipping it is difficult to comprehend how any expansion of Terminal 5 is a responsible use of taxpayer money. I hope that the recent news and the downward trends in global shipping will inspire all parties involved in this project to reconsider how funds could be better allocated to serve their constituents with necessary and environmentally responsible projects.”
Potential resolution of the environmental concerns raised are dependent upon who the eventual tenant is; Mattina tells WSB they are still in talks with potential tenants – no one signed yet. The port/NWSA has said, for example, that use of shore power will be tenant-dependent – that’s a critical issue for air-pollution concerns raised by nearby residents.
As for the ongoing environmental-review process, Mattina says the final environmental-impact statement is expected “this fall,” no date yet, as “additional analysis and response work continues on the various agency and citizen questions raised in the draft EIS comment period.” (Some of those questions were raised at two public hearings in June – our coverage of the first one is here, the second one here.) The project also continues going through the city permit process; another public-comment period concluded one week ago, and you can see the comment letters, along with other project documents/communications, by going here.
SIDE NOTE: The modernization project is expected to be a big topic when the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce‘s monthly lunch meeting focuses on the “State of the Port” next Thursday at port-owned Jack Block Park, with speakers including NWSA deputy CEO Kurt Beckett, who is a lead on the modernization project and spoke to the WS Transportation Coalition last May, and port commissioner John Creighton. (Registration and fee are required for the event – more info here.)