Port of Tacoma, Puyallup Tribe, SSA Marine have new plan for Blair Waterway

Feb 14, 2008
For the first time, the three key players involved in developing the Blair-Hylebos Peninsula into a hub of maritime business are cooperating.

The Port of Tacoma, the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and SSA Marine have negotiated a deal that will help each party realize its dream to build shipping container terminals on the east side of the Blair Waterway on Tacoma’s Tideflats.

The agreement lays groundwork for the port, the tribe and SSA to coordinate infrastructure, finish widening the Blair Waterway and transfer property to make more efficient shipping terminals.

“There’s been times in recent and past history when this may not have been possible with all the players involved, but we’ve reached a new time where everyone can come away happy and know that we’ve broken new ground,” Chad Wright, CEO of Marine View Ventures, the economic development company owned by the Puyallup Tribe, said Wednesday.

The east side of the Blair Waterway may eventually house four container terminals, places where ships stop to load and unload their cargo.

 • The Port of Tacoma will build a new terminal for NYK Line.

 • The Puyallup Tribe/SSA Marine will work together on a terminal that includes the former site of the Emerald Queen Casino.

 • The port will relocate Totem Ocean Trailer Express to accommodate NYK.

Officials hope to have those three projects completed by 2012.

 • A future terminal could sit at the end of the waterway where the former Kaiser Aluminum plant used to be.

The port-tribe-SSA Marine memorandum of intent, which outlines the basic agreement, still needs the approval of the Port Commission, which is scheduled to vote today. The agreement allows for further discussion, and the details will be finalized in the coming months.

The parties have been negotiating since last summer.

Port commissioners and Wright both noted that each group had to overcome tension from past issues to make the negotiations productive and ultimately reach an agreement.

The tribe and the port had worked together in the past on projects including the relocation of the tribe’s gaming operations and the vacating of Alexander Avenue so the port could expand an existing terminal.

But the tribe caught the port by surprise last year when it announced it was partnering with SSA Marine to develop a shipping terminal. The port and tribe had in the past discussed working to develop the property together.

Also, SSA Marine had tried to lease property from the port in the past, but had been rebuffed by the port, which chose to deal directly with shipping lines.

“Once we realized (the tribe) had signed a partnership, then our best intentions were to say how can we make it work for all three of us,” said port commission President Dick Marzano.

Here are the details of the agreement.

 • For the tribe, the agreement means its container terminal, originally planned at 180 acres, will be even larger.

SSA Marine, the largest U.S.-owned terminal operator, will design and operate the tribal terminal.

Under the proposed deal, SSA will lease a wharf and 20 acres from the Port of Tacoma, giving the terminal room for four ship berths.

“It gives us more flexibility in servicing customers to meet their schedules as far as berthing,” said Bob Watters, vice president of SSA Marine. “It’s definitely a benefit to the shipping line customers.”

 • By leasing property to SSA, the port retains ownership of its land – the site of the former Weyerhaeuser chip facility – and generates revenue off of it. The port still plans to develop a fourth shipping terminal at the end of the waterway, on the old Kaiser property, and may end up at some point using the berth it’s leasing to SSA, said John Wolfe, the port’s deputy director.

 • The deal also increases the amount of property the tribe owns in the Tideflats. The tribe will buy 18 acres from the port. The properties fill in the footprint of the tribe’s terminal and provide more waterfront access. The tribe will also buy a port-owned marina on Marine View Drive, situated between other tribal property.

“There was a strong interest from (the tribe) in acquiring additional land for the long term,” Wolfe said.

The property transfers square up the boundaries of both port and tribal terminals.

“From the steamship lines’ perspective, we’re better off having straight lines,” said port Executive Director Tim Farrell. “It creates more efficiently laid-out terminals.”

 • The agreement allows the port to complete the widening of the Blair Waterway, so it can accommodate the world’s largest ships. The tribe won’t actually transfer property to the port, but it will sacrifice 12 acres that will ultimately end up under water as the channel is expanded.

 • Each group has also committed to cooperate on building the infrastructure needed to support all the shipping terminals. That will include roads, train tracks and rail yards.

The deal, port and tribe officials say, should keep each group from duplicating the other’s efforts such as in obtaining permits, and therefore provide more money to put back into the terminal investments.

“I like it enough to offset the stuff I don’t like,” said long-time port commissioner Ted Bottiger of the agreement. “It encourages SSA, the tribe and the port to provide more development on the Blair.”

Commissioner Connie Bacon called the agreement a milestone.

“The port and the tribe have been talking for years about how to maximize the use of the East Blair,” she said. “When SSA came into the picture, we realized that having a three-way partnership to make the most of it is the best that could happen.”

Wright said that for many in the tribe, the development of a tribal property into a shipping container terminal has been a long time coming – and the recent agreement is a significant step toward its construction.

The Puyallup Indian Land Claims Settlement Agreement approved in 1988 paved the way for the tribe to diversify its economic investments by getting into the maritime business. The $162 million settlement allowed for the removal of the Blair bridge and transferred Tideflats land to the tribe in exchange for the tribe letting go of ancestral claims to other land in the area.

“It better integrates the two new terminals,” Wright said. “Instead of working alongside each other with our own interests in mind, we can now work together with everyone’s interest in mind and feel good about that.”

Kelly Kearsley: 253-597-8573


Port of Tacoma Commission Meeting

What: Port of Tacoma Commission special meeting on Blair Waterway agreement between port, Puyallup Tribe of Indians and SSA Marine

When: 2 p.m. today

Where: Fabulich Center, Room 104, 3600 Port of Tacoma Road

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