Politics & Government

Port of Tacoma fire station could open in 2018, in agreement with PSE

A fire station on the Tacoma Tideflats that’s been shuttered for nearly a decade could see new life in 2018, per an agreement between the city of Tacoma, the Port of Tacoma and Puget Sound Energy.

The Tacoma City Council will vote on the agreement at its Tuesday meeting.

The regional energy giant is moving ahead on a planned liquid natural gas plant on a 28-acre site north of the intersection of East 11th Street and Taylor Way at the port.

Slated to open in 2018, it will provide natural gas to oceangoing ships while they’re in Puget Sound. Otherwise the ships would use dirtier bunker fuel.

Part of the agreement also requires the city to rebuild Taylor Way to heavy-haul road standards between state Route 509 and 11th Street. The new road surface would be durable enough to withstand the heavy tractor trailer traffic the port sees on a daily basis, said Tacoma Public Works Director Kurtis Kingsolver.

PSE will pay $5.5 million toward those endeavors, according to the agreement.

Meanwhile, the city will dedicate the new tax revenues it gains from the PSE plant toward staffing the fire station. Costs to run the station are estimated at $750,000 to $1.5 million in the first year of operation, Meineke said.

Fire Station 15 was located on the Hylebos Peninsula on East 11th Street, but was moved in 2006 to a converted house in the McKinley area to serve a growing number of emergency calls in the south and east sides of Tacoma.

Right now there is no fire station on the Tideflats. Another station closed in 2013 amid a budget crunch and is not expected to return.

The city will reopen the 11th Street building with a new name and staff it around the clock with three firefighters — enough for one engine company, department spokesman Joe Meineke said.

Of the $5.5 million contributed by PSE, about $470,000 will be used to renovate the station before firefighters move in. Meineke said it’s too early to tell if the city will hire more firefighters or deploy current staff to the new station.

Historically, emergency response times to sites near the proposed plant are around 13 minutes, according to a report released last month. That report, an environmental impact statement, is required for construction to move forward.

Congestion and poor road surfaces contribute to poor response times. Emergency traffic is required to travel at lower speeds in the area.

Puget Sound Energy has estimated the new gas facility will cost $275 million and create 150 union construction jobs over three years of construction. Once open, the plant is expected to employ 18 workers.

PSE has proclaimed that it will be the state’s first liquid natural gas “filling station."

It was one of two natural gas plants signed by the port last year. Northwest Innovation Works will lease the site of the former Kaiser Aluminum smelter to build a $1.8 billion natural gas-to-methanol plant.

The recent wave of development on port property helped drive the new agreement, said port spokeswoman Tara Mattina.

“We knew we had these two projects in the pipeline,” she said. “It was time to look a little more comprehensively to improve the flow of traffic and emergency response in the Tideflats area.”