The Port of Tacoma has begun design work in earnest on two new rail lead tracks, each more than a mile long, that could be a prelude to new development on key unused Tacoma Tideflats land east of the Blair Waterway.
The tracks could provide rail service to the former Kaiser Aluminum smelter as well as a potential container terminal site owned by the Puyallup tribe.
The port has been shopping the Kaiser site, which it acquired after the smelter shut down, as a potential site for a bulk commodities terminal. Among those potential commodities could be crude oil transported from North Dakota by rail.
The oil boom in the upper Great Plains has oil companies looking for outlets for their production from the Bakken formation. That formation is being tapped by hydraulic fracturing oil-bearing rock deep underground. Without pipelines to refineries on the Gulf Coast, oil companies are relying on 100-car trains to transport oil to refineries in the Puget Sound area for conversion to gasoline and other fuels and potentially for export. The Kaiser site also could be used for other bulk commodities or for vehicle imports or container storage.
Unconfirmed reports suggest the port may be close to finding a customer to lease the Kaiser site.
The schedule for the rail design and construction calls for the $16.1 million project to be designed and built by May 2014.
The Tacoma port commission originally had authorized $600,000 for designing the tracks, but that work was halted when the port found that the Puyallup tribe wanted a say in how the tracks were aligned and when new opportunities for the Kaiser property emerged.
Port of Tacoma commissioners earlier this month authorized the expenditure of $2.16 million for further design work on the project.
The construction of the rail leads is representative of the port’s new approach to developing its unused lands and enhancing the capacity of existing terminals.
In the past, the port waited until it had signed a big customer and then launched a huge project to build new facilities to service that customer. The port, for instance, before the recession, had signed a contract with NYK Lines to create a huge new container terminal on the Blair Waterway. The cost of that project was well over $1 billion.
When the recession hit, NYK found its business dropping, and the port realized it would likely finish the terminal by 2012 because of the complexity of the project.
Both sides backed away from the terminal project, but NYK and three other shipping lines nonetheless came to Tacoma in mid-summer this year, utilizing unused capacity at Washington United Terminals instead of building a new terminal at great expense.
Now the port is installing basic infrastructure and modernizing existing terminals at a much smaller cost in advance of its need rather than creating a huge new terminal hurriedly after a customer is signed.John Gillie: 253-597-8663 firstname.lastname@example.org