Port of Tacoma

Northwest Seaport Alliance approves easements for Tideflats LNG plant

A Port of Tacoma crane is shown next to cargo containers on a ship docked in 2015.
A Port of Tacoma crane is shown next to cargo containers on a ship docked in 2015. AP

The Northwest Seaport Alliance, which is comprised of port commissioners from Tacoma and Seattle, approved two easements Tuesday for a proposed liquified natural gas filling station for ocean-going vessels.

Puget Sound Energy asked for two easements: one for a pipeline along a small strip of land leading from the 30-acre project across the peninsula to a proposed maritime dock on the Blair Waterway, and another for a loading platform on the Blair Waterway to fuel TOTE Maritime Alaska’s two ocean-going cargo vessels.

Commissioners on both ports said the project is a step toward cleaner air for the Puget Sound region, especially in Pierce County.

“This is a critical step forward,” said Port of Seattle commissioner Tom Albro. “LNG is a great transitional fuel.”

TOTE’s ships, and most others, use traditional bunker fuel, which is a thick, tar-like oil. But the company is switching two of its Alaska-bound vessels to cleaner-burning LNG. Those two ships — the MV Midnight Sun and the MV North Star — are scheduled for retrofits to LNG fuel this fall.

The decision was made at a joint meeting of the seaport alliance at the Port of Tacoma offices.

Mark Martinez, who represents 9,000 construction workers with the Pierce County Building Trades Council, said during public comment at the meeting: “It is vital for the port to continue pushing forward for projects of this caliber and size.”

If the commissioners did not, Martinez said, “You better start making plans to oversee a port that has nothing but condos and coffee shops that pay low wages and no benefits.”

The switch from bunker fuel to natural gas has a number of air quality benefits, said Dennis McLerran, region 10 administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

TOTE estimates the changeover will eliminate sulphur oxide emissions, reduce nitrogen oxide by 90 percent and reduce particulate matter by 91 percent. Using LNG instead of bunker fuel also will cut carbon emissions by more than a third.

Public comments at Port of Tacoma meetings in recent weeks included suggestions to switch from bunker fuel to electricity. However, McLerran said, “electricity is not going to be with us for a long, long time.”

Cruise lines are exploring a switch to LNG, he said. And a project like PSE’s filling station in Tacoma might give other operators the opportunity to switch their fuel sources as well.

Ann Locsin, a Northeast Tacoma resident, asked why the project needed to be so large and suggested that PSE would also send LNG overseas.

However, the agreement between the seaport alliance and PSE says export of LNG is not allowed, though the company can make regional deliveries via barge.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports