Story, photos, video by Tracy Record and Patrick Sand
West Seattle Blog co-publishers
“It’s not every day we get to break ground on a half-billion-dollar project!”
So enthused Port of Seattle Commission president Stephanie Bowman during today’s ceremonial groundbreaking event for the megaproject that will modernize West Seattle’s Terminal 5.
No ground was broken during the event, which featured a half-hour of speeches under a tent on the dock followed by participants signing one of the concrete piles that will soon be driven as part of the project to make T-5 “big ship ready.”
Here’s video of everything that preceded the signing:
The Seattle/Tacoma partnership Northwest Seaport Alliance is the entity under whose auspices the T-5 project is happening, so NWSA CEO John Wolfe emceed the by-invitation event.
It happened 5 months after the long-planned modernization project was announced as a done deal, with SSA agreeing to lease at least part of the terminal once it’s ready to go.
Both Wolfe and SSA Marine president Edward DeNike recalled the challenging negotiations that led to the deal.
DeNike also noted SSA’s leap of faith in agreeing to invest hundreds of millions of dollars: “It’s scary; you see this big terminal (and wonder) how are we going to fill it?” But business is booming, he asserted, revealing that Terminal 18 on Harbor Island had a “record gate day” just yesterday (Tuesday), handling more than 4,000 trucks in 8 hours “with no delays.”
DeNike also said SSA is ordering “the largest cranes on the West Coast” for T-5, even larger than the 165-footers that recently arrived in Tacoma; these, he said, will be 175 feet, “10 feet higher just in case.” All the dock equipment will be new, he added, declaring that T-5 “will be the showplace of the Northwest.”
Clare Petrich, Port of Tacoma Commission president, observed that the partnership with Seattle “always knew that Terminal 5 was our golden opportunity,” when they mulled how to face factors such as “unprecedented competition” from other ports as well as the widening of the Panama Canal facilitating the upsizing of container ships.
Also represented at the celebration, the longshore workers who will be loading and unloading those ships. ILWU Local 19 president Rich Austin said he worked at T-5 – whose last major cargo tenant left in 2014 – when he bought his first house and became a father. Now his 20-year-old son is a longshore worker too (Everett Local 242).
Austin said that while it’s exciting to hear that T-5’s equipment will be all new, it’s most exciting to know that the equipment will be human-powered, not automated, pointing out that those workers all contribute to their communities in many ways. He promised they’ll work to ensure that T-5 is “best in class.”
Also speaking, City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, chair of the council committee that includes economic development in its portfolio:
She said it’s important for the city’s job base to not rely too heavily on one sector (such as tech), and mentioned the long-running importance of a strong maritime industry here. She also thanked the port officials for working with her to address constituent concerns about the project’s impacts. She also touted its environmental advances, as did Seattle Port Commissioner Fred Felleman in a conversation with us afterward. While shore power is not mandated, he pointed out that the percentage of shore-power-capable ships among the vessels expected to use the new terminal is already up to 65+% and that’s likely to grow. He also said legislation allowing Seattle City Light to negotiate rates will help encourage more use. Speaking of legislation, State Sen. Joe Nguyen was also there:
(The umbrellas were distributed by NWSA pre-ceremony, when the rain refused to stop for the occasion.) The senator told us he’s already working on a plethora of issues for next session, but that’s another story. The T-5 event concluded with coffee and cake, and mingling:
WHAT’S NEXT: NWSA’s Anne Porter says that within a few weeks, they hope to start some dock demolition. The major work, including pile-driving, can’t begin until the window for allowing in-water work opens in mid-August. The first phase of the project is expected to conclude in 2021, and that’s when international shipping will resume at T-5. Until then, domestic shipper Matson remains the interim tenant.