NWSA said modernization of the 182-acre Terminal 5 “will enable the facility to handle the largest marine cargo vessels now being deployed in the Asia-Pacific trade route, providing a critical link for Washington state exports to Asian markets, both for agricultural products such as hay, apples and potatoes, as well containerized cargo for customers such as Paccar (the truck manufacturer) and Starbucks.
NWSA said Terminal 5 in Seattle is considered a premier container cargo on the West Coast due to its naturally deep berths, large footprint and availability of an on-dock rail yard, which allows containers to be directly loaded from the ship onto rail lines.
The Intermodal Association of North America said last week that among seven major intermodal corridors it details, the Midwest-Northwest corridor had the sharpest growth in the fourth quarter of 2018 when compared to the same period in 2017. “There was almost a 25 percent increase in international loads based on a sharp increase in container imports through Northwest ports.”
Katie Whittier, a spokeswoman for NWSA, said, “We saw intermodal volumes surge in June and December, in anticipation of each major tariff increase. We also saw discretionary cargo diverted from LA/LB and Vancouver to NWSA harbors due to heavy congestion those ports were already experiencing due to high import volumes.”
In November, the managing members of NWSA authorized Wolfe to prepare a lease, bidding documents and a request for construction funds for the necessary upgrades.
Last June Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite signed a Chief of Engineers Report for what is known as the Seattle Harbor Navigation Improvement Project, a plan to deepen the channels leading to the container terminals in the Port of Seattle to 57 feet.
After the Northwest Seaport Alliance was created in 2015, Wolfe said a goal was to create at least four terminals, two in Seattle and two in Tacoma that would be able to handle two 14,000- to 18,000-TEU ships simultaneously. Last year NWSA approved spending $170 million to improve the Husky Terminal in Tacoma on the Blair Waterway so it could accommodate up to two 18,000-TEU ships.
NWSA said that in addition to basic infrastructure improvements, Seattle and Tacoma port commissioners have directed staff to bring forward environmental investments to enhance water and air quality for the community, including updating stormwater treatment and installing “shorepower” infrastructure, which allows a vessel to plug in to electricity while at berth, substantially reducing air emissions.
The plan also includes technology improvements to manage truck flow around the terminal and a railroad “quiet zone” to reduce noise impacts for the surrounding community.
• Matson’s Hawaii service would move from Terminal 30 in Seattle to the south berth of Terminal 5 this spring of 2019.
• International marine cargo would be reassigned to Terminal 18 and Terminal 5, beginning with the current customer at Terminal 46, TTI, moving to Terminal 18. TTI is jointly owned MSC's TIL subsidiary, and Hyundai Merchant Marine.
Terminal 5 was last in use as a container facility in 2014 by APL. More recently Foss Maritime has had a lease there for various non-containerized maritime use.
NWSA added that the Port of Seattle commission also is studying using approximately 29 acres of the 86-acre Terminal 46 to accommodate a cruise berth to meet the demand for the Alaskan cruise industry, “which is a growing business in Seattle.”
Following Tuesday’s public briefing, final action by the port commissioners is expected at a special public meeting Feb. 26 at SeaTac Airport.
At Tuesday’s meeting, some commissioners expressed concerns that the project was being done in phases and that SSA and TIL might be able to lease only half of the facility.
“Being smart, just in case, we didn’t want to commit to phase two yet. But it is our intention, we’re going to take that whole terminal and fill it up and everyone’s going to be happy.”
He agreed that it made sense for only one operator to be at the facility.
“There are other ways that another leaseholder could be there. For example, one of our major carriers may want their own berths, but we would be the operator. We do that in other areas,” he explained.
SSA is headquartered in Seattle and is the largest stevedoring company on the West Coast, he said, providing about 25 percent of the manhours worked by West Coast longshoremen.
DeNike said more than half the containers imported through West Coast ports are intermodal containers that go to inland locations and that there is opportunity for ports in the Northwest to handle more of that cargo because “California is full, there is going to be no new terminals built in California.”
He emphasized the role of labor in attracting cargo.
“We have to work together to convince labor to do the job we need them to do. If we can do that, this port, this area will be the least expensive. And if it’s the least expensive, that means our costs to our customers are going to be lower. And I can tell you in the future that’s what all these steamship carriers care about. They’re fighting to survive.”