Seattle, Tacoma ports take first step toward alliance
Seattle and Tacoma port officials have six months to agree on how to run the two seaports cooperatively.
Seattle Times business writer
The Ports of Seattle and Tacoma Tuesday gave the public its first opportunity to comment on combining marine-cargo operations to form a Seaport Alliance.
And after meeting in private for months, so far the ports have been met with support.
Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Locals 52 and 19 attended Tuesday’s joint port meeting where the two commissions unanimously voted to submit an agreement between the ports to the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) — the first step in creating the Seaport Alliance, which was first announced last week.
Union leaders spoke in support of an alliance, saying it is the best way for the region to become more competitive with West Coast ports and to get more cargo shipping through the area.
But Local 52 President Christ Romischer urge the commissioners to include strong language to protect the current footprint of existing cargo terminals.
“We don’t believe the Port of Seattle Commission is looking to change existing cargo terminals,” Romischer said at the meeting. “But we are concerned that in the future, if there is not strong language to protect terminals, such as Terminal 46 or Terminal 5, from developers trying to change them into condos or arenas, we may have an issue in the future.”
The meeting comes nine months after the ports petitioned the Federal Maritime Commission for approval to work cooperatively to improve their competitiveness, as they face steep global competition from the Ports of Los Angeles and Prince Rupert as well as the widening of the Panama Canal.
The alliance would unify the ports’ management of marine-cargo facilities and the commissions plan to ask the FMC for final approval March 31, after six months of working out the details, such as how to split the profits and the costs.
The commissions will hold six public meetings on the Seaport Alliance: Oct. 22 and Nov. 6 in Tacoma and Oct. 28 and Nov. 25 in Seattle.
Arthur West, an Olympia resident and open-government advocate, attended Tuesday’s meeting to object to the ports conducting their sessions in private. While he said he supports the attempt to be more competitive and bring more jobs to the region, he believes the two ports did not follow the law in holding their private meetings.
“Thank you very much, finally, for this opportunity to speak, and I hope in the future, as we go forward, the citizens will be able to find out more details,” said West, who is pursuing the legality of the secret meetings in court.
A common theme voiced among commissioners since the ports announced the Seaport Alliance is the need for the state to fund a transportation package as well as complete Highways 167 and 509, and upgrade railways.
“I call on the state. Let’s be bold, let’s make a difference,” Commissioner Tom Albro said during the meeting.
Commission co-President Stephanie Bowman agreed. She said now that the two ports are forming an alliance, it is the state’s turn.
“The paradigm shift that happens with the seaport alliance is that before, the Legislature said to us — ‘You two need to stop competing — until you get your act together, we are not going to do this,’” she said in an interview.
“Well, you know what, we have our act together, and the impetus is now on the Legislature to do it.”