Port of Tacoma

Tacoma, Seattle ports agree on final Northwest Seaport Alliance details

Port of Tacoma Washington United Terminals
Port of Tacoma Washington United Terminals Staff photographer file, 2014

They said it’s a marriage, they said it’s a voyage, and now it’s official.

Elected commissioners of the ports of Tacoma and Seattle met jointly Tuesday morning to approve all aspects of the Northwest Seaport Alliance.

The alliance — not a merger, commissioners insist — has been ripening for nearly two years, first in private meetings and later in a series of public gatherings and town hall forums.

Final resolutions, bylaws and agreements long under consideration by staff members and officials were all passed unanimously in a pair of board meetings Tuesday. The first meeting established the NSA.

The second saw commissioners acting together to approve alliance business including the adoption of a charter, the passage of license agreements and the hiring of top alliance staff members.

“This is a big day for both of our ports,” Tacoma Commission co-chairman Don Johnson said. “We have had differences of opinion, but we both have the same objective.”

The agreement is “more of a marriage, a partnership between two entities,” Seattle Commission co-chairwoman Stephanie Bowman said. “We are taking this action for the region. We are now family.”

The alliance will see properties from both ports put into a common pool, with the aim being to create a unified marketing strategy and a combined operation that can compete for international business against forces including Canadian ports, California ports, the expanded Panama Canal and trade through the Suez Canal.

Within the approved charter and licensing agreements, each port will provide property and infrastructure to the alliance.

The Port of Tacoma will offer 16 properties totaling 993 acres, including Husky Terminal, Olympic Container Terminal, Pierce County Terminal, Washington United Terminal and West Sitcum Terminal.

The Port of Seattle will provide 13 properties totaling 760 acres, including Terminals 5, 18, 46 and 97. The properties are covered by the approved licensing agreements. Both ports will retain ownership of the land and infrastructure.

Both ports will also provide staff to the alliance, with Port of Tacoma CEO John Wolfe selected to serve as the alliance chief executive while continuing to act, for a term of five years, in his Tacoma position.

Along with the land and employees, both ports will contribute working capital. A reporter on Tuesday morning noted to officials that the final document under consideration placed the contribution for each port at “$25,500 million.”

After consultation with port legal staff, an amendment was offered, and approved, changing the official figure to $25 million.

A handful of citizens offered public comment concerning the alliance meeting, all but one voicing either thanks or congratulations for the efforts of the boards and port staffs. The lone naysayer, calling himself Goodspaceguy, said, “I think I’m the lone voice in opposition to this merger.”

He was immediately corrected by a commissioner who stated that the alliance was not a merger but a marriage, and Goodspaceguy replied, “I wish you well in this marriage I oppose.”

Susan Suess, senior vice president at the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County, offered thanks and congratulations for an “epic response to fierce competition. The move is bold and historic,” she said.

Former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, recognized in the audience of several dozen people, was asked if he had any comment, and he rose to state, simply, “Congratulations.”

Members of the boards recognized the importance of the agreement.

“We are launching something that is critical to our future,” Seattle Port Commissioner Courtney Gregoire said. The effort, she said, represents “a 21st century example of doing it right.”

“We are just birthing a baby today,” Port of Tacoma Commissioner Connie Bacon said. “We have a lot of work to do, a lot of decisions to make.”

“This baby’s going to come out running,” Port of Tacoma Commissioner Dick Marzano said.

“We have made a tremendously bold choice,” Port of Tacoma Commissioner Clare Petrich said. “It has required persistence and it has required the ability to keep that larger vision.”

“We’re about ready to embark on a voyage,” Port of Seattle Commissioner Tom Albro said.

“It’s a historic day,” said Gael Tarleton, a member of the state House representing the 36th District.

“It was not something we could have done five years ago,” she said, noting that priorities and parameters change.

“Ports are ridiculously numb if they don’t pay attention,” she said.

“Now the real work begins,” said Seattle Commissioner Bowman.

Said CEO Wolfe: “I always had confidence that the prize was larger than the challenge.”

C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535