The Northwest Seaport Alliance, a marine cargo operating partnership of the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, needs to conduct an additional environmental review required by the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) so as to move forward with its plans to modernizing Terminal 5 and making it “big ship ready”, capable of meeting growing marine cargo industry needs.
The decision stems from additional information received from potential partners interested in the terminal.
As a result, the NWSA will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to ensure that the upgrades will meet industry needs as a key strategic marine cargo terminal in the Pacific Northwest, while engaging with stakeholders to identify potential project-related impacts and ways to manage them.
Terminal 5 could only handle ships with a capacity of 6,000 20-foot-equivalent units (TEU) when container operations were suspended in July 2014 to allow for the strategic investments necessary to handle two 18,000-TEU ships simultaneously.
“Upgrading Terminal 5 to handle larger vessels is critical to creating new maritime and industrial jobs for the region,” said Stephanie Bowman, co-president of the Port of Seattle, a partner in the alliance with the Port of Tacoma. “As part of our commitment to the community, we will carefully study the environmental impacts of the terminal improvements.”
The planned dock improvements will accommodate heavier cranes and provide deeper drafts to handle the larger ships cascading into the trans-Pacific trade. Design and permitting began last year.
The search for a new tenant began about the same time with the issuance of a Request for Information (RFI). Both the RFI and SEPA notice issued for dock construction indicated that further environmental review would be conducted if the proposed use changed significantly or volumes were expected to exceed the 650,000 TEUs in the existing EIS.
RFI responses from potential tenants indicate that a long-term lease commitment would require the ability to handle more than 1 million TEUs, higher volumes than previously permitted.
“The information the NWSA is still gathering about how a new tenant might operate Terminal 5 will further inform the environmental review, but we have determined the proposal now warrants an EIS SEPA review,” a joint statement reads.
“An EIS will give the ports and the neighborhoods surrounding it an opportunity to ensure that T5 is designed to be both a competitive deep-water terminal and a good neighbor,” Longtime West Seattle resident and environmental attorney Peter Goldman said.