Bigger ships but not bigger volume? Port of Seattle talks Terminal 5 at West Seattle Transportation Coalition

(UPDATED Tuesday night with added comment from Port of Seattle)

(Port of Seattle graphic with modernization-plan toplines, from 2014 slide deck)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Exactly one year to the day after the last cargo-ship call at Terminal 5, two Port of Seattle managers faced the West Seattle Transportation Coalition to answer questions about T-5’s future.

Among the more than 30 people in attendance were residents of East Admiral, neighbors of T-5, concerned about port-related issues with which they’ve long dealt.

One major question of the night: Why the port felt it does not need a new environmental-impact review for the upcoming modernization project. A related city comment period was coming to a close as the meeting was held, but it didn’t involve a full-fledged review.

Port managers contend one isn’t needed because T-5 won’t be handling more volume. That’s a contention the residents are challenging with an online petition, and a stack of formal comments (see their letters by going here and choosing the “documents” tab).

The port reps’ appearance at last Thursday’s WSTC meeting began with basic backstory for the quarter-billion-dollar project:

“The market continues to grow, but we’ve lost market share,” said Bari Bookout, the port’s director of seaport commercial strategy. Yet the port “wants to continue being an engine of economic vitality.” So, with ships getting bigger, “those ships will go to the ports that will handle them.” And that’s why they are pursuing modernization, “basically an upgrade of the dock and dock structure … and deepening the berth” from 50 to 55 feet. “The shipping lines are getting rid of their small ships,” she added.

She also folded in the explanation of why Seattle and Tacoma are forming an alliance – leaving behind a past of trying to “steal” business from each other, in what she said became “a race to the bottom.” The two ports’ commissions will finalize creation of the Northwest Seaport Alliance on August 4th, “a competitive gateway … keeping the jobs here.”

Terminal 5 has the potential of being “a very efficient container terminal,” with its rail connections and “gorgeous” acreage. But, Bookout said, they need a tenant. (Here’s the “request for information” the port circulated this past spring, starting the search.) The original T-5 had an Environmental Impact Statement for about 650,000 containers a year, dating back 20 years. It only reached that volume in the mid-2000s and has more often been below it. They don’t expect higher volumes in T-5’s future and in fact think it could take 10 years to get there.

Asked about other terminals, Bookout said Terminal 46 is at 90 percent capacity for containers (about 305,000). Terminal 25, which is not maxed out, is not deep enough – 45 feet, compared to 55 feet needed for the big ships.

Asked if the port could make changes related to transportation impacts, she mentioned what it’s already done – including building the East Marginal Way Grade Separation.

WSTC co-chair Amanda Kay Helmick wondered if the port has been talking with the city about the promised West Seattle Bridge Corridor Task Force study. Bookout said, “We will definitely engage in that discussion.” (Side note: Though the city said in January that the task force would be formed and working by now, we haven’t seen or heard any evidence of that yet.)

WSTC board member Michael Taylor-Judd wondered about the port’s plans for handling potential maximum container traffic at T-5 given the changing nature of traffic in the area and the increased potential for conflicts. “We’re holistically working with everyone to try to make a better system,” Bookout said.

Joining her a bit belatedly – in part, it was noted, because of traffic – George Blomberg, the port’s senior environmental-program manager, answered questions including one about train-horn noise. He said it’s a problem around the city. He noted that the overpasses remove some of the conflicts at intersections, but trains are still required to sound their horns, not just at the 5-way intersection at West Marginal/Spokane/etc., and at curb cuts all along the way. Bookout said they had facilitated discussions between BNSF and residents concerned about noise.

One of the residents said T-5 modernization would be a great opportunity to implement a “quiet zone.”

Bookout said local cargo will always be here, but “the Canadian railroads have priced expressively” and have new and expanding ports, so they are “going after cargo that used to be our bread and butter.” Terminal 46, 30, and 18 don’t have on-dock rail,” while T-5 does, and would help keep the port competitive.

Another question: “If it’s a rail issue, what’s kept the port from investing in (more of) it?”

Bookout said there’s no room at the other terminals, which is why they did it at T-5. She also mentioned infrastructure being put in so that ships can plug into shore power, as cruise ships do. While that infrastructure is part of the modernization process, “the shipping lines hate shore power,” she said, because it’s a costly upgrade for them. “They’re struggling right now in California, which has mandated it,” she said.

You’re putting a $250 million bet (the expected cost of T-5 modernization) down? observed WSTC board member Tom Linde.

We’re not spending that until we have a tenant, Bookout replied. We’re laying the groundwork. And, soliciting a tenant means they’ll get more information about how that tenant would want to operate the terminal.

Other questions included: is the port involved in off-site traffic improvements? Such as the infamous aforementioned 5-way intersection?

“The signals need to be improved,” said Blomberg. It was pointed out that SDOT is working on the intersection overall. Back to the subject of moving the containers, while more rail use means fewer trucks, Blomberg explained, it means loading at night, and the train might move out early in the morning.

Environmental review would be required if an operator of the terminal presents a plan calling for a change in capacity, Bookout said.

Taylor-Judd noted that the “we’re changing, but nothing’s really changing” contention also was being heard from Washington State Ferries, so even if it’s a similar volume, there might be more traffic impact.

“Even with big ships there, you’re still going to have an even flow of traffic from the terminal,” Bookout insisted. “There might be two big ships with 10,000 containers, or three small ships with 10,000 containers.” Also, a big ship wouldn’t necessarily offload everything here.

Terminal 5’s attributes continued to be described glowingly – 220 trucks can queue there, for example, said Blomberg.

Norman Sigler, a Port Commission Position 5 candidate in attendance, asked about the timeline and also, if the volume’s not going up, “what’s the payback for the investment?”

Bookout acknowledged that last time they invested in T-5, the planning wasn’t visionary enough – they didn’t envision ships getting this big. Optimally, T-5 would be back in operation by mid-2018, but “that is very market-dependent,” she added.

WSTC’s Deb Barker asked, “Is that tenant out there, or will you have to steal it from someplace else? And (what about) using T-5 for other transportation purposes in and out of West Seattle – passenger ferry, transit center?”

Bookout said, “We are optimistic that there is a tenant out there because it’s a (good) opportunity.” For the rest of the acreage, “we are actively generating other revenue-generating uses.” She noted that the controversial Foss/Shell lease “is an attempt to generate revenue while the terminal is vacant.” If you have a proposal, Blomberg said, bring it on.

Another question from an attendee: When the dredging happens to deepen T-5, where will the dirt go? Bookout said, part of it is contaminated sediment that can only be disposed of a certain way. Blomberg said barge-mounted cranes would be used, transferring the sediment into drainage-controlled containers on a barge, then put on a train and taken to Eastern Washington. Clean dredge sediment might be used in Elliott Bay.

A resident said that if they acknowledge mistakes were made 21 years ago, why aren’t they doing an EIS now to look at all the issues? “For transparency, for community involvement, for everyone to feel good about this project … why not bite the bullet on a $250 million project and do an EIS?”

“Did you read the (environmental) checklist (that the port is working with)?” asked Blomberg.

Yes, many times, she said. But they’re still waiting for some replies on earlier comments. “We want to help you … listen to our comments, we live in this community, as do you. … We need you to listen to us, (respond to) our comments … don’t skip (our concerns) … in a $250 million, $300 million investment … This is not for us, this is for our kids.”

Blomberg said he couldn’t say why the residents hadn’t received responses to their comments.

Helmick tried to mediate by saying there were pre-existing issues.

“The previous operator went 10 years without a noise complaint,” said Blomberg at that point, and the neighbors loudly challenged that. “When did you first call me?” he asked one attendee. “2010,” replied the attendee. “See, that’s 10 years,” he replied (preceding that call).

Not long after that, the port discussion ended, at least for this meeting on this night, aside from one later point in WSTC discussion, that additional studies seem merited because the external factors have changed since the 1990s review, even if the container totals weren’t expected to increase.

Also at the WSTC meeting:

‘FAUNTLEROY BOULEVARD’ TRAFFIC: WSTC board member Ray Krueger told the group he had gone to Fauntleroy/Avalon 5:55-8:20 am to observe, and went back to watch the inbound traffic, 4:10-5:40 pm. What he saw, he said, seemed to portend poorly for the Fauntleroy Boulevard project (which would be funded in the Move Seattle” levy that goes to voters in November). He hadn’t crunched the volume numbers, though, but he believes that it doesn’t jibe with what SDOT had reported about its study of the area. Co-chair Helmick suggested a public-disclosure request to get the city’s traffic study.

DOWNTOWN WATERFRONT FUTURE: Board member Linde went to a briefing. It didn’t address anything between West Seattle and the stadiums, he said, just stadiums-to-Belltown. He said the EIS separates what’s happening with the tunnel and what’s happening on the surface. Board member Deb Barker pointed out that many components of what’s happening in the area are being considered apart from each other. If you’re coming in via bus or personal vehicle and getting off before the tunnel, Barker said, you’ll be deciding around Atlantic that you’re going to take the Dearborn exit, which takes you off 99, a straight shot onto Alaskan Way, via an offramp. You’ll be able to travel on Alaskan Way; buses will go up Columbia to 3rd, there will be C-Line stops on Alaskan Way.

The transit plan into downtown seems to work pretty well, board member Taylor-Judd suggested, but what happens to other modes is not clear. Cars will just “disperse” to other streets south of Columbia, it was noted. The inadequacies of the transit system to handle everyone came up.

HOUSING AFFORDABILITY REPORT: Though it wasn’t a formal agenda item, the discussion wound its way around to the recently unveiled advisory-committee report and mayoral “action plan.” Board member Chris Bast said that if the city is making a decision about moving people from cars to transit, then we need to get all the enthusiasm into transit; with 120,000 more people expected to move to the area in the next 20 years, they can either live in suburbs and clog up the roads, or they can have transit-oriented deveoopment in the city and lots of transit. “How do people get from West Seattle to downtown” needs to be a focus as the local component, said Helmick. One more point made before discussion concluded: A suggestion that the HALA report seems to be putting everything in terms of absorbing growth on the city of Seattle, when it’s a regional problem,

WSTC BOARD MEMBER JOINING CITY TRANSIT ADVISORY BOARD: Marci Carpenter has been nominated to the city’s new Transit Advisory Board> – “I’m going to be pushing for more transit,” she vowed. Her appointment for a three-year term will go before the City Council Transportation Committee at its meeting this morning (July 28th), 9:30 am.

The West Seattle Transportation Coalition meets on fourth Thursdays at Neighborhood House’s High Point Center.

ADDED TUESDAY NIGHT: After we published this, Port of Seattle spokesperson Peter McGraw e-mailed us with an additional comment on something the Port reps mentioned at the meeting:

We began planning and permitting for the dock and berth improvements based on our best assumptions of what operations may look like at T-5, which fit the existing environmental review. As we move forward in the process of selecting a new tenant, we will obtain more information about how that tenant intends to operate the terminal and what volumes they would like to plan for. If this volume exceeds the existing environmental review, the Port will conduct the appropriate reviews and permitting for that level of usage.

We asked if any potential tenants had yet responded to the “request for information” we noted above; he said that’s “confidential.”

19 Replies to "Bigger ships but not bigger volume? Port of Seattle talks Terminal 5 at West Seattle Transportation Coalition"

  • Jim July 28, 2015 (8:47 am)

    Tracy – By printing it, you have given legs to George Blomberg’s cheap shot that T5 went the first ten years without a noise complaint. (factually wrong,BTW) He implies that noise is not a problem there. The reason Blomberg has no record of complaints is because the Port shut down their noise complaint hotline soon after T5 expanded in 1998. People didn’t know who to call.
    One example: The Pigeon Point residents have been blasted by those train horns since the beginning and have complained to anyone who would return their calls. Even held meetings with a City Councilman to try to solve the problem. No luck or cooperation from the Port. Even though the Port promised to silence the horns in their 1994 EIS.

    As for 2010, that is when the Terminal operator changed their equipment in violation of the Port’s Master Use Permit for Terminal 5. Those were serious complaints that ended up in the legal offices of DPD vs the Port. Their has been no assurance that those problems will not be there when T5 reopens.

    The Port is not a “good neighbor” to have living next to us. They will not let the needs of the residents get in the way of their business.

  • Jim July 28, 2015 (8:58 am)

    Click on the blue link >>>here’s the “request for information” <<>>Under the previous Port tenants, the Terminal 5 Facility at times operated at or near
    capacity of approximately 600,000 TEU’s considered in the 1994 Environmental Impact
    Statement (“EIS”) without noise complaints from the neighbors.<<<

    Then go to this link and see DPD's Notice of violation:
    C:\Users\J\Desktop\DPD Permit and Complaint Status – Detail_aspx.mht

    Compare those two and you'll see what kind of an organization we're dealing with in the Port of Seattle.

  • Jim July 28, 2015 (10:10 am)

    Due to technical issues at DPD, many of the public comments are not appearing at that link.

    http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/toolsresources/Map/detail/default.htm?lat=47.57917435&lon=-122.36660247&addr=2701,,,26TH,AVE,SW

  • Mike above the port July 28, 2015 (11:10 am)

    Jim, I look down at the port, something I considered when I invested in my home, didn’t you? Its not all about “You”, people work down there. Products a shipped out and bought in from all over the world. Those Horns you hear are a signal, a very important message. Maybe its time you moved.

  • Jim July 28, 2015 (11:51 am)

    Mike – You’re missing the point and taking the tired “jobs” approach. No jobs would be affected. This is about the Port of Seattle considering the ways to mitigate the impact to the community. It’s well within their ability and budget. They just don’t want to bother with it.

    And another tired argument is “who was here first.” Are you saying they can do whatever they want down there whenever they want? I’m the oldest house on my block. Can I do whatever the hell I feel like and tell my neighbors to move? Of course not.

  • Neighbor July 28, 2015 (12:02 pm)

    Mike-I live above the port too and I support the concerns Jim has. I have lived here over 15 yrs and the last 5 were unbelievably noisy and disruptive. We have a right to be able to sleep at night. There has been NO attempt from the port to mitigate any of the noise, instead the attitude has consistently been to blame the homeowners for having the nerve to live here.
    We have very real concerns. Everything from 200 diesel trucks spewing pollution, trains at night keeping us awake, the ever increasing din of industrial noise, to the vibrations the new ships will bring.
    The port has been an awful neighbor and there has never been any recourse available.

  • Grace July 28, 2015 (1:56 pm)

    I also live “above the port” and bought my home in 2005, with full knowledge of the noise and light the port puts off (T5). That being said, it seems to me that the night noise has increased in the last few years. It is nice to see that it may not be just in my head! My kids are a little older now, but as babies, we were up at night a lot and the noise never seemed excessive.

    On the issue of complaints about noise, I doubt that any of my neighbors feel it would do any good to complain, and I myself did not even realize there was a forum for complaints. I realize that I may be ignorant about avenues to launch a complaint, but I suspect most of my neighbors feel the same way. That may be more of the reason why there have not been complaints. It also seems like it would not matter anyways.

    I am curious why ALL the lights are still on at T5 currently? That has got to cost a phenomenal amount of money. If there is no activity down there, why all the lights? I realize security issues are at play…but ALL the lights? That seems ridiculous to me.

  • Frodo on the Hill July 28, 2015 (6:19 pm)

    From speaking with the folks that are fighting the Port, it seems as if they all realize the Port will eventually get their way. However, I find it admirable that a proud few are really trying to make life better for us all. Yes the Port was there before all of us, but we should be able to find a way to all co-exist peacefully.

    The Port acknowledged their previous expansion was flawed and want to correct it. Why not just take a little effort this time around to meet with the neighbors to make sure they build a Port that everyone can be happy with? An EIS seems obvious.

  • Jill July 28, 2015 (10:55 pm)

    Sorry Mike,
    If I were given the two options:
    A) Protect the future job prospects of Longshoreman or
    B) Protect the health of my children and protect my property value

    I don’t know about you but I’d pick B.

    I don’t think the labor groups were worried about our problems when they deliberately slowed down work and clogged the West Seattle bridge in January.

  • Margaret July 29, 2015 (7:44 am)

    I live just east of Terminal 5 but my house is oriented such that I am more likely to hear the sound of aluminum being crushed in the dead of night or the sound of traffic on the WS bridge. However, the noise of the Port, when it was in operation, did make an impact. Noise is not the only pollution to worry about, though, and being located where we are in the swathe of land known as North Admiral, we are all exposed to the emissions that emanate from Terminal 5 and from any expansion project. Moreover, as was noted above, toxic sediment will be dredged up and shipped out for proper disposal. The potential impact on Elliott Bay waters needs to be assessed. And there will be additional traffic and thus pollution from the construction vehicles during the construction phase. I am lucky to work from home, where I will get to watch the traffic standstills created. Others are not so lucky. Isn’t it only right to consider the needs and rights of neighbors and fellow members of our community? Raising concerns about these fundamental matters is no threat to jobs; indeed, if our air and water are toxic and people sit in traffic because they can’t get to their jobs, what good are jobs?

  • anonyme July 29, 2015 (8:31 am)

    Margaret, Jim, excellent points.

    I also don’t believe for a second the claim that “bigger ships won’t bring more volume”. If not, why make these massive changes? Inviting these ships is inviting environmental disaster, IMO.

  • Concerned Citizen July 29, 2015 (9:11 am)

    I attended the meeting at the WSTC with an open mind and hope that the Port would tell us something positive. Instead I left the meeting with even more distrust of the Port than ever. The two Port reps seem like really nice folks. I even felt bad for them at times, but they were making comments that were contradicting and it was all too easy to poke holes in their points. For ex hen they stated the Port was “making preparations for shore power to help reduce C02 emissions.” Then I asked the question, where is the public document that shows this, and she responded by saying “shipping companies don’t like doing this.” Another comment made by the other rep stated, “the Port has not received any noise complaints over the last 10 years.” That comment caused half the room to explode.
    They tried to regurgitate the party line, but most people in the audience could see through it. What I also learned from the meeting is there are pockets of residence all over W.Seattle from Alki to Pigeon Point. If we want something done, we need to unite.

  • patricia davis July 29, 2015 (9:50 am)

    It is proposed that there will be 1 – 2 YEARS of pile driving down there. YEARS. There are issues around creosote and abestos. T-5 is formally recognized as being on land that can TURN TO LIQUID (liquify) during an earthquake. what happens to gas lines? 10,000 gallons of gasoline proposed to be there ? electrical substation. Could be an giant explosion and release of toxic gases. We need an Environmental Impact Statement. I urge you to go to the website collecting signatures at this time. One simple ‘click’ and you can help West Seattle protect themselves and better understand the environmental risks. please go to http://www.terminal5group.com and make one click to support getting an Environmental Impact Statement. Our quality quality, noise levels, and a potential explosion need to be brought to the surface. Please do that now. Thank you.

  • patricia davis July 29, 2015 (9:52 am)

    typing error: should read Please go to http://www.terminal5group.com and make one slick to support getting an Environmental Impact Statement. Our AIR quality, noise levels……. thank you for taking one minute of your time to help

  • patricia davis July 29, 2015 (9:53 am)

    well I can tell I haven’t had my coffee yet today:) should read on CLICK

  • Jw July 29, 2015 (11:14 am)

    I believe the biggest problem is that it doesn’t address any capacity issues outside of T5. We will still be relying on semi trucks to move Cargo the 7 blocks to the rail yard. Yes, they have rail, but look at the bridge it uses… How long until we need to replace that. I’ll bet most people don’t even know that one is still in use. The port commission needs to take a much more comprehensive approach to the port as a whole if it’s going to survive. Other, newer ports will always be more efficient since they don’t rely on surface streets to move cargo from ships to rail. Since we’re subsidizing the port anyway, I’d just assume save the 300m and leave t5 as it is.

  • Margaret July 29, 2015 (12:15 pm)

    I have signed the petition asking for an EIS and shared it on social media. The more signatures from West Seattleites and others in the Elliott Bay region, the more likely we are to be heard. It only takes a minute to sign and share.

    http://www.terminal5group.org

  • Jim July 29, 2015 (1:29 pm)

    Mr. McGraw’s additional comment is a bit disingenuous. Of course there will eventually be more volume. They’re spending all that money to attract two of those gigantic ships at once.

    What he is really saying is if the “planned” “annual” volume doesn’t trigger an environmental review, none will be done. But the volume will be episodic. When the giant ships pull in there will be trucks everywhere, trains running around the clock, and ship engines idling at the dock (no shore power)spewing out air pollution.

    Then in the future when the tenant starts bringing in the business and the volume exceeds the 1994 limits, they will be forced to take a backward look at what can be done? But by then it’ll be too late to make any significant infrastructure changes to the Terminal for mitigation.

    They have done very extensive research and planning for how to upgrade Terminal 5 for giant ships. See anything in there for reducing the impact to West Seattle neighbors?

  • Frank July 29, 2015 (5:15 pm)

    I don’t know why they don’t use that property for more apartments, a dispensary, pain management/methadone clinic and a couple more bars it’s seems all are acceptable and favored by residents of west seattle. Nobody has given suggestions as to how the property should be used. Personally I’m more concerned with increase of crime, panhandling, unrepaired roadways, overgrown trees encroaching upon the streets we drive on. Getting the feeling after 35 years we are starting to be either forgotten or neglected here.

Sorry, comment time is over.