West Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s ‘State of the Port’ lunch: Workers wanted!

September 16, 2019 9:09 pm
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 |   Port of Seattle | West Seattle news

(WSB photo)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Our area has an Aviation High School – so why not a Maritime High School?

Seattle Port Commissioner Fred Felleman talked up the value of jobs in the maritime industry, and the need to educate people about that, as part of his speech to the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce last Thursday. It was the Chamber’s annual “State of the Port” lunch meeting, outdoors at port-owned Jack Block Park.

We recorded his humor-peppered remarks, which in part reflected on his first four-year term on the commission, coming to a close as he runs for a second. (See the video here.)

He noted the park’s proximity to West Seattle’s Terminal 5, and recalled the controversy in which it was mired while he was running four years ago, as T-5 hosted vessels intended for Shell‘s Arctic oil drilling.

Now, that’s long past, and T-5’s quarter-billion-dollar modernization project is under way.

(WSB photo)

Felleman noted his experience as a whale scientist and environmental activist, and declared that the cruise operations out of Seattle have set a standard for environmentalism. He’s now the second-most-senior member on the commission. He also talked about the commission changing the title of the Port’s top staffer from CEO to executive director. Steve Metruck now holds that job; Felleman lauded Metruck for integrity and commitment to transparency.

He then hit Sea-Tac Airport highlights, observing that the airport was “built for 30 million people” but now is handling 50 million. He mentioned working to partly enclose the light-rail station. And he joked that a new exhibit should be called “Pardon My Dust” since there’s so much work going on – more than $3 billion worth, 1 million square feet added, 20 new shops and restaurants added throughout the airport. “Looks like the 1970s at the airport are more or less over.” The additions include a new 2-story Salty’s (WSB sponsor), he added.

But the Port needs to figure out how to accommodate another 1 million people each year, so the Sustainable Airport Master Plan is in progress. Felleman warned that will be a “long process and complicated but we are bursting at our seams so we have to do something fast,” including “a new terminal with 19 gates.”

Back to maritime:

Terminal 5’s modernization is part of a realignment of the waterfront – with T-5 and T-18 as the “big ship terminals” and other moves including an added cruise terminal planned for T-46 downtown, with bidding already under way. But he promised the Port would not “homogenize the area … we want to make sure it doesn’t all look like Disneyland … making sure this is our city as well as a welcoming place for visitors.”

Then he veered into evangelizing for getting more people interested in maritime work, saying a better job needs to be done to sell the value of those jobs, which pay well and don’t necessarily require a college education. Internships are a good step, he noted. Felleman also said some seagoing work has a technological coolness factor – he marveled at the complexity of ship’s bridges, which are far beyond the olden-days picture of a captain at a wooden wheel. He also said he’d like to see a website highlighting maritime-employment opportunities.

He also mentioned the Port has a new building in the works at Fishermen’s Terminal, featuring a “light-industrial innovation center.”

Now, as for the challenges: They include “stuff we have no control over,” like trade wars. Sustainability/environment-wise, he said, the Port is putting together “an electrification plan for the entire waterfront” – while not all ships can plug in, the inddustry is moving that way. Also listed as a challenge by the commissioner, seeing how the forthcoming West Seattle to Ballard Sound Transit light-rail extension will affect the Port – “Harbor Island and Ballard are both of concern.”

In Q & A, questions included the timetable for the “quiet zone” – less train-horn noise – that’s part of the T-5 project. Felleman said that’s not under the Port’s control as it’s “officially … a federal and railroad project” but that it’s supposed to be in place when T-5 opens to international cargo in early 2021.

Another question: With so much traffic congestion, what about a north/south ferry line to/from Seattle?

Felleman said he always thought T-48 would be “perfect” for a ferry dock, but nobody has a project on the table right now. However, he pointed out that the state has just applied to become part of the Marine Highway System, and that the Port of Tacoma has done a study about north/south ferrying.

Finally, he was asked, what about more solar-power use at Port facilities, since it has so much acreage?

Felleman said the Port uses it in some small installations, and he keeps pushing for more, but in particular there’s “lots of airport resistance.”

The West Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s monthly lunch meetings and other events are listed here.

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