A majority of Port of Tacoma and Port of Seattle commissioners on Friday said they support the proposed Northwest Seaport Alliance, which would join the two ports together in an effort primarily aimed at attracting, retaining and servicing shippers both domestic and international.
Fewer than three dozen people attended the joint meeting, held on neutral ground at Federal Way City Hall.
Most previous meetings on the subject were declared confidential, and this was the first — though not the last — opportunity for the public to comment.
The meeting began with comments by several commissioners who related their view concerning the experience of working together.
“We spent a lot of time getting to know each other,” Port of Seattle Commissioner Tom Albro said. “If we understand the challenge, we too can change. It’s a tremendous thing we’ve been able to accomplish.”
Said fellow Seattle Commissioner Bill Bryant: “We continue to work through difficult issues. Changing government to meet our needs is what we’re about today.”
Albro said he had become an “energetic partner” after being an early “begrudging collaborator.”
“Certainly,” he said, “this will be a challenge.”
Said Port of Tacoma Commissioner Connie Bacon: “It took a huge trust among all 10 of us.
“There was not tension, there was not rancor, there was none of that (during negotiations),” she said. “Give us a break. Listen to this.”
Said fellow Tacoma Commissioner Don Meyer: “I look forward to this public process. I think it’s long overdue. I do have serious concerns.”
Said Port of Seattle Commissioner Stephanie Bowman: “I’m just so proud of the work all 10 of us have done putting parochial issues aside.”
John Wolfe, the Port of Tacoma CEO and the nominee to head the Alliance once it is legally formed, called the proposed partnership “truly a broad step forward. This industry that we live in is changing. We embrace that change.”
In his presentation to the gathering, Wolfe continued by outlining some of the goals and details contained in the alliance strategic business plan, explaining how the NSA will provide infrastructure improvements that will accommodate container vessels larger than those currently able to trade in Puget Sound.
“It’s a huge challenge,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Meyer veered from congratulatory support by responding, “I think the consequence to us is more significant than the consequence to the Port of Seattle. I have a major concern here. It isn’t a done deal in my book.”
He said the alliance would be a revolution for the Port of Tacoma.
“For Seattle, it’s evolution,” he said.
Said Port of Tacoma Commissioner Don Johnson: “We’re all in the same ship whether we like it or not.”
Kurt Beckett, the deputy CEO at the Port of Seattle, offered details from the draft agreement that will guide the alliance.
He explained that the new entity would have no taxing authority and no authority to condemn property. He said that after 20 years, either partner could declare the dissolution of the alliance, and he further explained that the draft agreement works to be compliant with any bonding so that it “creates no confusion and does no harm.”
He further explained that grain terminals in Tacoma and Seattle would be managed by the homeports and not alliance officials.
The ports, he said, are not donating their facilities to the alliance, but rather licensing those facilities.
“Assets remain with the homeport,” he said.
Meyer commented that the agreement seemed “close” to being a merger.
“This is not a merger,” Johnson responded.
Bacon then told Meyer, “We will vote and it is your option to vote.”
Ted Fick, newly installed as Port of Seattle CEO, said the alliance agreement “is really a game-changer. This is the buzz throughout the maritime industry. This is a scenario where two-plus-two equals five.”
Positive public comments came from Steve Sewell, who works with the state Office of Economic Development and Competitiveness, who read a letter of congratulations from Gov. Jay Inslee.
The lone comment from an unofficial source came from a man who identified himself as “Goodspaceguy” and who said that competition is good, that he is opposed to the alliance and that the draft agreement “sounds very complicated to me.”
Following the meeting, commissioners Meyer and Bacon continued their discussion.
Bacon later said she was surprised by any hint of controversy.
“My impression was that we would tell the public what it is, not to rediscuss it,” she said. “When we hear from the public, we may well go back.”
A South Sound meeting for stakeholders will be held May 20 at 9 a.m. at the Pacific Grill Events Center, 1530 Pacific Ave., Tacoma. A South Sound public town hall meeting will be held May 21 at 7 p.m. at the Clover Park Technical College Rotunda Building 3 at 4500 Steilacoom Blvd., Lakewood.