The site of a former massive aluminum smelter could become a bulk goods terminal if the Port of Tacoma is successful with a new plan to attract iron ore and potash exports to the port.
Port Chief Executive Officer John Wolfe told The News Tribune editorial board Tuesday that the 96-acre site at the northeast end of the port’s Blair Waterway could become the destination for long unit trains carrying bulk commodities destined for export.
The bulk terminal is part of the port’s strategy to diversify its business beyond its traditional containerized goods import trade.
A port pier near the Kaiser acreage now is underutilized and could be converted to a facility for loading bulk commodities.
Asian countries have a big appetite for raw materials to feed their growing manufacturing and farming sectors. Potash, large deposits of which are found in Canada, New Mexico and Texas, is used as fertilizer and in manufacturing. Canadian exporters have proposed building an $800 million potash export terminal in Prince Rupert, B.C. to help handle the growing Asian demand.
Iron ore from Minnesota and Michigan could help feed blast furnaces in China.
The port acquired the former smelter in 2003 for $12.1 million. It demolished some 75 buildings on the site including a 500-foot-tall smokestack.
The smelter, built during World War II to supply aluminum to the aircraft industry, closed in June 2000 after a strike disrupted production and aluminum prices fell as power prices rose. The smelter used electricity to process the ore it received from overseas into aluminum ingots and wire.
Wolfe has said the port ruled out exporting coal from the bulk terminal. Western coal producers are looking for more export outlets for their coal. But attempts to build in coal export terminals along the Columbia River have been met with strong resistance from environmental groups that contend burning the coal in Chinese power plants will create more atmospheric pollution.
The creation of the bulk terminal is part of a new strategic plan at the port. That plan sets ambitious goals for increasing port business over the next decade.
Since the news earlier this year that the port had attracted new business from a consortium of three steamship lines called the Grand Alliance, Tacoma has been fielding more calls from prospective tenants, Wolfe said.
No customers have been signed up to use the proposed bulk terminal, but the interest is good, he said.
Another new business prospect is crude oil transported by train from new oil fields in North Dakota, said the port chief executive. That oil wouldn’t necessarily be exported, but rather loaded onto barges and tankers for distribution to refineries along the West Coast.
No major pipelines link North Dakota with the West Coast.
The port is investigating widening the Blair Waterway to more easily handle the larger ships calling at container and bulk terminals there, Wolfe said.
The waterway is barely wide enough now to handle average sized container ships without special provisions – extra tugboats and additional pilots – to ensure those ships can make the journey from Commencement Bay safely.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663 firstname.lastname@example.org