They call it the Northwest Seaport Alliance.
Citizens and other interested parties will have their first opportunity on Friday (May 8) to comment on a proposed partnership between the Port of Tacoma and the Port of Seattle.
Officials from both ports Thursday discussed details of the proposed agreement at a meeting with The News Tribune’s editorial board.
“It’s a situation we have to face,” said Don Johnson, president of the Tacoma Port Commission.
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“The shipping industry is going through a lot of changes,” he said.
Commissioners and staff from both ports have been discussing a possible alliance for several months. Proceedings at several previous meetings were confidential, but this week the commissioners released details of the draft agreement.
Among the details discussed Thursday:
• The ports will be authorized to create a port development authority, or PDA, to operate marine facilities jointly.
• The Northwest Seaport Alliance will oversee the management, operation and use of certain port facilities. The alliance will oversee such matters as joint marketing, planning, development and use, as well as “negotiating, setting and approving all terminal rates, charges, rules and regulations, and rates of return, and exploring all development and use options” relating to mutual facilities.
• The PDA will be effective on August 1 and will continue indefinitely.
• The ports are authorized to create the alliance and to implement its directives. Responsibility for all management, use and operation of the marine cargo business of the ports will be given to the alliance.
• The alliance, rather than the individual ports, will be responsible for working with federal, state and local governments and agencies, and with the private sector. The alliance also will oversee legislation, regulations and funding related to local, state and federal governments.
Maps of the ports distributed Thursday indicate that the Port of Seattle will be offering the alliance a total of 761 acres of terminals and piers, including terminals on Harbor Island as well as the West Waterway, East Waterway and Duwamish Waterway.
Port of Seattle facilities that serve cruise ships, and operations at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, are not included in the agreement.
The Port of Tacoma will commit 993 acres of the working waterfront, including Husky Terminal, Olympic Container Terminal, Pierce County Terminal, Washington United Terminal and West Sitcum Terminal, among other terminals and yards.
Both ports have identified other properties that will not be offered to the alliance. Each port will retain its own debts.
“The customer base sees us as a single entity,” said John Wolfe, current Port of Tacoma CEO and the proposed head of the alliance, so “We can approach the customer base as a single entity.”
Joint operations will also benefit the maritime workforce, he said. Speaking of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Locals 23 and 19, which service both ports.
“They have great influence over productivity issues,” he added.
“They are the big winners,” said Johnson.
“We’re going to try to keep politics out,” he said. “We need to move forward.”
“I think the biggest challenge is having two boards,” said Wolfe. “We’ll work through that.”
Nothing in the agreement removes the ability of the two publicly elected port commissions to govern, the officials said.
According to the draft of a transition plan released this week, the alliance is expected to begin independent operations Aug. 1 pending approval of Federal Martime Commission and the two ports’ commissions — at which time the ports will authorize the alliance to operate, manage and use the identified properties.
During a “thoughtful transition period,” the operation is expected to “support stronger accountability, clarity and efficiency” of operations, according to the draft plan.
After its August birth, the alliance will see a startup period that runs through December. The year 2016 will see a “transition period,” with most processes complete by the end of the year. Beginning in August, the alliance will do business under its new brand, with its individual logo, website and email domain.
Initially, an estimated 30 to 40 employees of the two homeports will be assigned to serve the Alliance. No layoffs are anticipated.
The estimated cost of the transition to either port has not been released.
The estimated benefits will be discussed as the partners bring the plan to the public.
During the transition, according to theplan, public affairs professionals at the alliance and at both ports “will work closely with one another to implement comprehensive outreach activities including public policy advocacy, community relations engagement and fostering stakeholder partnerships to ensure a unified Alliance voice with external audiences.”
The alliance will become the third-largest seaport in the U.S., supporting more than 48,000 jobs and generating, in 2013, some $4.3 billion in economic activity.
Competitive pressures are forcing the issue, including an expanding Panama Canal and a revitalized Suez Canal, as well as bigger container ships requiring capital expenditure for infrastructure improvements; plus a nation just to the north that is working to expand its own international port facilities.
Other public meetings will follow the gathering Friday in Federal Way.
More on the draft agreement at http://portoftacoma.com/seaport-alliance