The ports of Tacoma and Seattle got a boost this week from the federal government concerning a $3 million study on deepening Blair and Sitcum waterways in Tacoma.
The Senate authorized the study to look at deepening the waterways to 57 feet from about 51 feet to accommodate more of the shipping industry’s megaships. The ships appeal to the industry because they allow for fewer ports of call and reduced staffing per container.
The House passed the legislation in September and it now heads to the president.
The study will look at environmental impacts of the potential deepening along with engineering and cost-benefit analysis.
The Senate also authorized construction for Seattle’s East and West waterways deepening project, with more than $29 million in federal funding. That would match the more than $31 million provided by the Northwest Seaport Alliance. The federal funds would need to be secured in the 2019 fiscal year budget.
Deepening what the alliance calls the “South Harbor” has become a higher-profile initiative for Tacoma’s port to stay competitive in accepting megaships.
A similar study for Seattle’s port recommended deepening to 57 feet.
In August, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the alliance agreed to split Tacoma’s $3 million study cost over three years. Federal funding was included in the government’s 2018 fiscal year work plan.
“We are pleased Congress has passed Water Resources Development Act on schedule, as this bill authorizes the design and construction to deepen waterways in Seattle Harbor and will help expedite a similar project in Tacoma Harbor,” said Port of Seattle Commission President Courtney Gregoire in a statement sent Wednesday to The News Tribune.
“These projects will make NWSA’s harbors the deepest container gateway in the nation.”
A representative of the Puyallup Tribe offered caution concerning the latest authorization.
In a statement to The News Tribune, Tribal Council Chairman Bill Sterud noted that while the tribe does not oppose maritime trade, work on the subarea planning process for the Tideflats has just begun and must include government-to-government consultation before any massive dredging for Commencement Bay.
The subarea process is a city planning initiative to coordinate development, environmental review, and capital investments for that area.
“The Puyallup Tribe has produced 2.5 million chum, 1 million Chinook and 50,000 steelhead annually,” Sterud said. “Our fish are already exposed to high levels of contaminants within the Commencement Bay estuary. Improving survival rates of Puyallup River and all Puget Sound origin salmon is key to the recovery of these iconic Northwest species. ...
“Dredging the contaminated sediment could harm this habitat, our treated-protected resources and homelands.”