By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Four big signs of that progress drew a lot of attention last month – the new T-5 cranes that arrived from China. Their arrival sparked some discussion among WSB commenters about whether the dock modernization project is bad news for Puget Sound’s endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales.
No, says Fred Felleman, a Seattle port commissioner whose background, before taking office in 2016, was in environmental advocacy. (Checking WSB archives, the first time we mentioned him was when he spoke to the Port Commission in 2015, voicing opposition to the use of T-5 for staging Shell‘s Arctic oil-exploration fleet. That was one of the interim uses T-5 has seen since it went out of regular cargo service in 2014.)
Felleman spoke with WSB to address some of the concerns – such as vessel noise, which has a demonstrable effect on the SRKWs, and ship strikes, a threat to many whale species. “Just because we’re building another terminal doesn’t mean more ships.” That’s not just a reference to the fact that T-5 will serve larger ships – meaning fewer ships to move the same amount of cargo – Felleman points out that the new dock (T-5’s north berth will open early next year, its south berth later) will also take pressure off currently overburdened docks, like Terminal 18 on the east side of Harbor Island. (That also means less need for ships to anchor while waiting to dock – lately more have had to spend time at designated anchorages such as the spots off Manchester, visible looking west from West Seattle’s western shore.)
What will make a major difference, Felleman says, is the Quiet Sound initiative, modeled after the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s ECHO Program in Canada. This will be a request for vessels to voluntarily slow down when orcas are in the area. Felleman says the Canadian program has had 80 percent compliance and he’s confident the one here will too.
He says Quiet Sound goes beyond requests for ships to slow, but also involves major collaboration, both with vessel operators such as Washington State Ferries – responsible for a major share of ship noise in Puget Sound – and with entities that can help improve the sighting network, so the word gets out to everyone on the water when the whales are in the area.
Felleman also touts the noise and emission reductions that will come from T-5 ships being able to use shore power while they’re here. While the port did not decide to require it, he feels confident that most shore-power-capable shippers “will do it because it saves a buck.” For any who might not see savings, Felleman said, the port is “looking at covering the difference … we can make it so it’s never a cost disadvantage to plug in.” That dovetails, he explained, with the port’s Clean Air Strategy.
WSB readers brought up another concern: The dredging that’s planned to deepen the water by T-5 another five feet. The Center for Biological Diversity ” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>filed a lawsuit earlier this year against two federal entities, including the Army Corps of Engineers, which it accuses of failing to adequately study how the endangered orcas might be affected by more, larger, louder vessels, and by disturbing contaminated sediment. Felleman again takes issue with the premise that T-5’s reopening will bring in more ships. He also believes it’s “premature at best” to assume that the dredging will increase pollution.
Ultimately, he says, the port is trying to be “responsible (and) environment-friendly as we can be.”
The Quiet Sound noise-reduction initiative emerged from a recommendation by Gov. Jay Inslee‘s Southern Resident Orca Task Force, points out a West Seattleite who served on that task force, Donna Sandstrom, executive director of The Whale Trail. “We appreciate and recognize the benefits of the terminal expansions for their positive impacts on jobs and the economy. However, potential negative impacts on endangered southern residents and their prey must be mitigated and closely monitored,” she said. “That’s why we strongly support the Quiet Sound program, which will help reduce these risks.” She notes that it was inspired by the 22nd recommendation in the task force’s final report two years ago.
Sandstrom also says you can help the orcas and other marine mammals: “If you see a whale, report the sighting to Whale Report via app or website. That’s the fastest and most reliable way to let large-vessel operators know that whales are in the area, and gives them a chance to slow down or take other evasive measures. Whale Report sightings are shared real-time with large vessel operators (e.g., container ships, tankers, and ferries) and WDFW Enforcement, but not with the general public. The app is produced by Ocean Wise, and can be downloaded for free on iTunes or Google Play. The more sightings that are shared with Whale Report, the safer the whales will be.” She isn’t discouraging people from sharing sightings with local information sources (like WSB) – her advice is intended, she says, a supplement to “existing information flows.”
WHAT’S NEXT: The next NWSA managing members’ meeting, including the aforementioned T-5 briefing, is scheduled for 9 am Wednesday (July 7th). The agenda includes information on attending/commenting. Felleman says you’ll be hearing more soon about Quiet Sound.