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Port Of Seattle Plans Upgrade Of Terminal 5 To Accommodate Bigger Vessels

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David Lee
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The Benjamin Franklin, the largest cargo vessel to visit the United States, made a call at the Port of Seattle in February. The port plans to upgrade Terminal 5 to accommodate other large vessels.

Just a year ago, "kayaktivists" took to the water to protest Royal Dutch Shell’s enormous drilling rig at the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5. Of course, that rig is long gone and the port is now in the environmental review process for a plan to upgrade the facility.

The shipping industry has been shifting to bigger vessels, and the Port of Seattle said Terminal 5 in West Seattle needs to be improved to accommodate those ships, including, potentially, mega-ships that can carry almost twice as much cargo as the average container ship calling in Tacoma and Seattle today. The improvements will include deepening the berth where the ship will tie up, which will require some dredging.

Kurt Beckett is deputy chief executive of the Northwest Seaport Alliance, the cargo partnership between the ports of Seattle and Tacoma. He said the port will also need to strengthen the wharf.

"The pilings that hold the wharf up, those need to be deeper to support the bigger loads that go with the cranes that serve the larger ships," Beckett said. 

The Port of Seattle also wants to put in more electrical capacity at the site to potentially offer shore power so ships wouldn’t have to run their engines.

The comment period is open right now on the port’s draft environmental impact statement and public hearings will be held Tuesday and Thursday.

The West Seattle Transportation Coalition is one group paying close attention to the plan. Martin Westerman, a board member of the coalition, said the grassroots group doesn’t oppose the upgrade of Terminal 5, but wants to make sure that trucks serving the big ships don’t add to traffic headaches. 

"Our concern is traffic planning to make sure the flow of the cargo trucks is easy and provides minimum additional congestion during commute times," Westerman said. 

As for environmental concerns, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance said it wants to make sure the Terminal 5 plan includes a system for minimizing any runoff of polluted stormwater into Elliott Bay. In an emailed statement, Chris Wilke, the group's executive director, said polluted stormwater runoff is the biggest toxic pollution threat to Puget Sound.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.