TERMINAL 5: Vote approving leases looks toward ‘seaport of the future’

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

After almost five years of near-emptiness, Terminal 5 in West Seattle has container ships in its future again.

Seattle and Tacoma port commissioners, meeting as managing members of the Northwest Seaport Alliance, gave their approval today to an entwined package of leases that shuffle some other terminals as well as setting up T-5 for a $300+ million modernization project starting soon. Memos and overviews are all linked from the agenda – here’s the main one used by a series of presenters before the vote:

The vote wasn’t unanimous – two Tacoma reps expressed a variety of concerns – but it was emphatic.

Just before the vote, which followed a 3-hour briefing/discussion in the Sea-Tac Airport Conference Center, Seattle commissioner Peter Steinbrueck declared that it was no less than a question of “Are we a seaport of the future or a seapart of the past?” He said the plan is evidence “we’re thinking of the future … efforts to produce one of the best seaports on the West Coast” and proclaimed it “grand” as well as “overdue.”

He and others said they were impressed by an overview suggesting the modernization will play a role in creating/sustaining more than 6,000 jobs.

Seattle’s Courtney Gregoire declared those jobs “the heart of our middle-class economy … moving goods.” She recalled visiting many other ports around the country years ago and finding them to be one-way ports, where “boxes are coming in full and leaving empty … that’s not the case here.”

Before we go further, a recap: While the intent to modernize T-5 and make it “big ship ready” had been years in the making, the project wasn’t going to get the green light until there was a tenant. It was finally announced back in February that one had been secured, a joint venture of Stevedoring Services of America Terminals (SSAT) and Terminal International Limited (TIL Group), who already do business with the NWSA. Lease negotiations were expected to be complete in time for a vote last month, but weren’t, so while the commissioners voted in March to send the modernization project out to bid, the lease wasn’t ready for a vote until the special meeting today.

That drew some concern early on from Tacoma’s Don Meyer, who expressed concern that the vote was being taken so soon after they all received a tall stack of documents. He said the public should have had an opportunity to read them before the commissioners committed to decades-long lease terms. (Before the discussion and votes, the public-comment opportunity had no takers.)

Others said while they appreciated the suggestion that more transparency is better, this topic has been amply discussed. They agreed to revisit his concern before the vote – and more than two hours later, he withdrew his motion to delay. Ultimately, though, he was one of the “no” votes. The other was Tacoma’s John McCarthy, who said he supported Phase 1 but not leaping ahead to funding all phases of the project. He likened it to wanting a 5-bedroom house when your job would only support a 3-bedroom house mortgage, just because the 2 extra bedrooms were more affordable now than they’d be in the future.

Many of the concerns voiced across the course of the hearing had to do with points of the plan being more aspirational than anything else.

In some respects, port staff argued, they had to be: “Ultra-large container ships are not coming- they are here today.”

But then there was the long-discussed matter of shore power. It’ll be available, but not mandatory. Meyer pressed on that point: “It doesn’t make sense” to spend money to install it and then “hope” it’s used – “either we require it or we don’t.”

Steinbrueck suggested that could be incentivized – the city could offer lower rates “as a matter of policy and practice …give our shippers a good rate on electric power.”

Staffers said they have worked with SSA to figure out where to install the capability – one vessel at north berth, one at south, with three plug locations – “to make it very easy for the vessels that are shore-power-compliant to be able to use it.” (They don’t have shore power capability right now at T-5.)

Seattle commissioner Fred Felleman said his overriding goal is t “make this oneof the greenest terminals on the West Coast.”

Another long-held community concern that got some discussion time was noise management. Starting with the impending interim Matson move to T-5, backup alarms will be quieter when there’s not a lot of ambient noise “so they’re not necessarily” making extra noise. Steinbrueck voiced concern about community noise complaints and noted that City Councilmember Lisa Herbold had forwarded that concern too. Discussion ensued. NWSA staff noted that the city has strict rules. Steinbrueck noted the challenges of “maintaining a thriving industrial base” so close to a residential area.

In summary, Tacoma’s Clare Petrich was one who saw this as a fulfillment of the destiny seen when the NWSA was created -“an acknowledgment we are one region … operating (together) with one point of view for the future.”

WHAT’S NEXT: Matson – which, it was noted, is investing in new vessels – will be moving soon temporarily to T-5. Among today’s actions was a granting of “step-in rights” so that it wouldn’t lose its Seattle spot if something went awry with the other lease. Matson will operate under a permit that was issued more than 20 years ago “and it will not be subject to the 2019 requirements.” The port explained that it’s expecting some of the equipment currently in use at T-30 to be brought over to T-5 for Matson’s interim use. This will basically be one ship call a week at T-5. A summary of the rest of the timeline is in the NWSA’s post-vote news release.

20 Replies to "TERMINAL 5: Vote approving leases looks toward 'seaport of the future'"

  • fj99 April 3, 2019 (7:15 am)

    Even more train noise for West Seattle? Trucks lined up for miles?

    • Luke April 3, 2019 (10:40 am)

      ….and jobs. 

  • jim April 3, 2019 (7:30 am)

    >>>backup alarms will be quieter when there’s not a lot of ambient noise “so they’re not necessarily” making extra noise. <<<   Huh??Ambient sensing back up alarms boost their volume 5-10dB over the noise coming out of the equipment they’re mounted on, not on any surrounding activity.  Weak mufflers and poor engine insulation are the factors.  If the equipment is loud the alarm is loud.  The equipment would have to be VERY quiet to have the alarm affected only by nearby activity.  Electric, not the diesel engines that are planned.  

  • anonyme April 3, 2019 (7:33 am)

    A marine Death Valley.  Good job, humans.  You’re next on the extinction list.

    • A April 3, 2019 (1:43 pm)

      Maybe you could sue the port on behalf of the jelly fish and other little critters who have no voice in this matter

  • 34th Ave SW April 3, 2019 (7:40 am)

    Good news.  We have looked out our front windows at Pier 5 for over 30 years and always enjoyed the international hustle and bustle.  The last few years we have had only an empty space to look at.  

  • Around the bend April 3, 2019 (8:01 am)

    Probably less noise then the previous operation and here is why:Mitigation for lighting,backup alarms, and shore power. Newer equipment is quieter than old equipment.Containers will be stacked, not “wheeled” and will be utilizing rail more so then APL did. So, less will be on trucks, which, incidentally, will be arriving via West Marginal and the lower. A quiet zone will be implemented for the entrance, which means less train noise than before (ie mandatory sounding of horns)For now, Matson represents a tiny fraction of what was there when APL was in operation. Yes, there will be impacts. That is part of living in a city. Go to a real city and you can see how noisy it is 24-7 without being near any port facility.

    • Jim April 4, 2019 (12:28 pm)

      ATB :   Good points, but you left off a big one.  The mega ships that they are remodeling T5 to handle are twice the size of the previous visitors.  They put out significantly more noise and diesel exhaust when they run their generators at the pier.  That is why it’s so important that they plug them into shore power.  So far, the Port of Seattle will not commit to even plugging in all the ships that are capable of using shore power.  Unforgivable.

      • KM April 4, 2019 (3:02 pm)

        Dual Port LA/LB requires 70% shore power, and up to 80% in 2020. That’s a CA state mandate. Maybe it’s time to push this issue higher up the chain if the Port is going to offer it and then leave it at that. It’s currently a joke.

        • Jim April 4, 2019 (7:03 pm)

          Couldn’t agree more, KM.  Our State needs to get involved.  Reducing carbon emissions is important.  And Shore Power creates green jobs as well as improving health.

  • KM April 3, 2019 (8:33 am)

    The “seaport of the future” only offers shore power, doesn’t require it. Absolutely unacceptable. 

  • Peter April 3, 2019 (10:15 am)

    Step one: Choose to live next to a busy seaport.Step two: Complain endlessly about living next to a busy seaport.

    • jeff April 3, 2019 (1:04 pm)

      Step 1: Read about people’s genuine concerns on a community blog. Step 2: Complain endlessly about people’s genuine concerns on a community blog.

      • wscommuter April 3, 2019 (3:32 pm)

        No … Peter is right.  Unless someone lived near T5 before it was ever built, I have no sympathy with complaints about it now.  If you choose to live near a port facility, this is what comes with it.  Because the alternative is the loss of jobs – really good jobs for working people.  

        • DavidR April 3, 2019 (6:44 pm)

          I agree with Jeff. Expressing concerns about increasing noise, traffic or anything else associated with a major change to the community is valid. We need to respect the opinions of our fellow residents. To disrespect them by saying they are complaining about T5, just because it has been around for 100 years and they have not, is just silly. Current residents and taxpayers are entitled to their opinion on noise, quality of life, community feel, etc. Stop tearing down your neighbors Peter and have an adult conversation about the tradeoffs for local residents, rather than just telling people to be quiet.

  • wetone April 3, 2019 (6:29 pm)

    Think traffic is bad now, just wait till T-5 is up and running. Anyone that says it won’t be an issue is on city’s or ports cool-aid program. Born and raised at Alki  (50+yrs), I have seen many transitions in T-5 area and Harbor Island and how traffic has been and will be impacted. Drive on Harbor Island almost daily. When ships are in like today, traffic is a nightmare from 1st ave west across Harbor Is. Rail traffic will affect east/west traffic hugely when said and done. As far as the really good jobs,  that’s a fraction compared to 1000’s it affects everyday commuting in/out of area and I-5 corridor. Then add noise pollution from increased rail. Terrible place for a port with such traffic issues as we have here. But I expect nothing less in Seattle as the port is one of the most highly subsidized ports in the nation…. Seattle gov.  shows little concern for those that live and work here…..  

  • BS April 4, 2019 (11:22 am)

    Great news, good paying jobs and keeping the city diverse. 

  • Bronson April 8, 2019 (11:00 am)

    @WSB – is there any information as to when the railway crossing improvements are going to be made which were agreed to to mitigate noise? Will they be required to be completed before occupancy of Terminal 5? If afterwards, how long after occupancy? – Thank you!

    • WSB April 8, 2019 (11:20 am)

      Later this week I expect to pursue more “OK, what now and when?” info upon the bid opening which at last report was scheduled in just a few days, so stand by on that.

      • Bronson April 9, 2019 (7:20 am)


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