By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
As military equipment was unloaded at West Seattle’s Terminal 5 today, the long-underutilized dock’s future was discussed nearby.
One of the newest members of the Port of Seattle Commission, Ryan Calkins, was the guest speaker at the annual “State of the Port” lunch presented by the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce at port-owned Jack Block Park.
He was introduced by the Chamber’s board chair, Pete Spalding of Verity Credit Union (WSB sponsor), extolling the attributes of the park (whose namesake, the West Seattle-residing former port commissioner, was in attendance).
Calkins described himself as a small-business owner – saying that he used to own a business in Georgetown, sold it before running, but still has an interest in a business in Wallingford. He acknowledged that West Seattle is in the heart of both the benefits and impacts of the port. His wide-ranging speech, followed by Q&A, touched a variety of topics, including T-5.
Calkins began with the Sound Transit light rail planning process, describing the development of a line from West Seattle to downtown as “really exciting.” He said the port is looking at how the light-rail development will “affect other modes of transportation.” That took him to Terminal 5, “relatively quiet for the past couple years” – since its last major tenant left in 2014 – and the ongoing search for a new tenant. He restated that the port remains committed to modernizing T-5 and said that they hope to have a announcement about its future before the end of the year – something we’d heard from another port rep at a recent light-rail-related meeting.
Calkins then talked about T-5’s interim uses, currently handling a shipment of military equipment (announced last week) – “a few hundred pieces of primarily Army equipment coming from Texas” – under its interim lease with Foss. Here’s the view we had from the park’s upper viewpoint post-lunch.
The military cargo is destined for South Korea. Calkins added that the current hurricane-related efforts underscore that ports are vital lifelines, and port facilities here need to be able to handle relief as well as commerce.
He also touted environmental commitments such as shore power, electric cargo-handling, and the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy, aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050. And he addressed how Sea-Tac Airport plays into the local environment too. He said aviation is a big challenge, in figuring out how to get planes off the ground without fossil fuels – but Sea-Tac is trying to pioneer a requirement for 10 percent non-fossil fuels. “If we can do that at Sea-Tac, the impacts for the rest of the world – taking the best practices that we have adopted – are huge.” Agricultural waste – from feedstocks – is one source he said is being eyed. Clearing out “woody debris” from forests is another. “We’re proud to support the science and the market mechanisms to drive that change.” Replacing diesel-powered equipment at the airport is a goal too.
Calkins also noted that the port runs its own stormwater utility now. He says that factors into concerns such as the fate of the Southern Resident Killer Whales, with a history of port toxins contributing to their decline in health. “Currently we have about 78 miles of pipelines in our facilities.” And he noted the port’s recent removal of creosote pilings.
He pointed across the bay at a marine habitat area near the port’s Magnolia cruise terminal where the Port is funding a study planting kelp and eelgrass. “If we can get that project right,” they think it can help generate a “multiplier effect” with restoration elsewhere in Puget Sound.
Q&A ensued. Greg Whittaker of Alki Kayak Tours asked about the removal work under way now near T-5. Calkins said what he’s seeing is likely part of the Lockheed Superfund cleanup that began recently. (We photographed that post-lunch, too:)
Another question: Has the T-5 planning reached the point of requiring ships to plug into shore power if they are capable? Calkins didn’t answer clearly yes or no, saying that’s a chicken-or-egg thing and “we are often surprised when we learn that our shipping partners have already done it” and that “basically all the big ships coming in have to be shore-power-capable” because of California’s tough rules. He also noted that the giant cruise ship that started homeporting here this summer, Norwegian Bliss, turned out to be shore-power capable. Calkins said he is personally on board with our facilities having shore power and moving toward requiring it. Would he move toward requiring it? Calkins said yes, he would talk to his counterparts.
Next question: How much is Sea-Tac runway expansion expanding traffic? Calkins mentioned the scoping process under way (you can comment through September 28th) for the Sustainable Airport Master Plan, which looks at expanding capacity to 57 million passengers a year (currently it’s 50 million). A big challenge, he said, is getting people to and from the airport. That requires prioritizing transportation modes. “Right now, light rail represents 6 percent, BART in the Bay Area represents the middle teens” to its airports. They do know ‘we are at max capacity in terms of individual cars coming and going.” Coming to the airport can mean up to four trips – to and from, to and from. So cutting down on that means less emissions in the air. “For us right now, reducing congestion is absolutely essential.”
The port needs to provide incentives for coming to the airport in a way other than cars, he said emphatically. “We will be having another public meeting about this.”
Marty Westerman of the West Seattle Transportation Coalition wondered how often the biggest ships are expected once there’s a tenant for T-5, and how much traffic is expected to be handled by rail, and how much by truck. Calkins replied that the on-dock rail of T-5 “is part of why T-5 is such a jewel” on the West Coast. “We can build some of the longest trains … we’re able to push many more (containers) onto the rails” as opposed to onto truck trailers. But he also said they’re working to reduce the congestion that is caused by port traffic. He mentioned the smart-phone traffic-handling apps that are now available to trucks. Also, “we’re working on systems that use RFID” so that trucks “can kind of roll through” on arrival to a terminal. “It also means we can track what happens to those trucks once they’re on the terminal” – reduce the “dwell time” individual trucks spend there.
COMING UP: Chamber-involved events ahead include the West Side Job Fair next Tuesday, September 18th, in partnership with the West Seattle Junction Association (with sponsors including WSB), 10 am-1 pm at Great American Diner and Bar, and an October candidates’ forum in the 34th District State Senate race. October 11th’s Chamber lunch will be an update on how changes in federal tax policy will affect small businesses.
OTHER ANNOUNCEMENTS: November 3rd is this year’s date for the Southwest Seattle Historical Society gala, and ticket sales just opened – go to galatickets.org. … The WestSide Baby diaper drive at Holy Rosary’s WestFest festival this weekend was mentioned … So was voting for West Seattle Helpline in the HomeStreet Bank (WSB sponsor) grant competition.
Find out more about what the WS Chamber of Commerce is up to by going to wschamber.com.