Port planning to shift cruise ships to T-91

The Port of Seattle is considering a plan to shift cruise-ship operations from their current home at Terminal 30 to Terminal 91 at the south end of Interbay.

But only six people showed up to speak at an Oct. 19 public hearing about the project's Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which indicates there should be a minimal impact.

Project manager Michael McLaughlin said that the proposed move was sparked by increasing container traffic at the Port. "About a year ago, one of our container customers came to us looking to expand," he said.

The Port spent roughly $16 million to convert T-30 a few years ago to handle cruise ships, but the idea was that if container business came back, the Port would look for an alternate location for the cruise ships, McLaughlin explained.

The Port considered moving the cruise ships to Terminal 10, but access and cleanup issues led to the conclusion that it didn't meet the project's needs, said David McCraney, an environmental program manager for the Port.

And that left T-91, which is underutilized, said Port spokesman Mick Shultz. The move to T-91 would not expand cruise-ship capacity, he said, which this year saw 197 cruises scheduled out of Seattle. In fact, that number is expected to decline to 189 next year, he said.

Fishing vessels currently berth at T-91 for repairs and retrofitting, but the fishing boats are in Port during almost exactly opposite seasons, Shultz said. "There's some overlap," he said, "but they can be shifted to Terminal 90." Fishing ship owners seem to be OK with the idea, Shultz added. "We've been in touch with those folks and talked to them about it."

The Port is still working on cost estimates for the move, but it should be in the $90 million to $120 million range, Shultz said. That will pay for a two-story cruise ship terminal, a minimal amount of dredging by T-91 and a parking lot that will hold 800 vehicles.

There will also be utility upgrades and the installation of shore power for the cruise vessels, McLaughlin said. In addition, acceptable levels of traffic will be maintained in the area, he said.

Marni Heffron from Heffron Transportation Inc. said there would be "a negligible impact" from traffic associated with cruise operations. Passengers show up and leave the docks in the middle of the day, thus avoiding the morning and afternoon peak traffic hours, she said. "It kind of fills a void in the middle [of the day]," she said of traffic volumes on the 15th and Elliott avenues corridor.

Shultz said he had heard of no objections to the plan from either Magnolia or Queen Anne residents. 'Some are very enthusiastic about it in Magnolia," he added.

But Teri Shore from the environmental group the Blue Water Network testified that she was concerned that the Draft EIS didn't adequately address the impacts of cruise traffic on air and water quality in the Puget Sound.

Rob Hatfield-a law student from the University of Washington's environmental-law clinic who is working for the Blue Water Network-agreed. There are two flaws in the Draft EIS, he said.

It focuses on construction impacts, for instance, and completely ignores the long-term environmental impact of cruise ships on the Puget Sound.

Furthermore, Hatfield added, the Draft EIS doesn't acknowledge that the number cruises taking place has grown almost exponentially. He also said the Memo of Understanding (MOU) dealing with discharges of waste sludge at sea are voluntary and unenforceable.

That was something Fred Felleman from the Orca Conservancy picked up on as well. He complained that the MOU is not only unenforceable, it's not subject to public review.

Heather Trim from People for the Puget Sound said she was appalled that cruise ships dump sludge in the ocean at all. "Sludge is not OK," she said.

But Trim said she was also worried about the effect of cruise ships on salmon around T-90. "At Terminal 91, we would like to see significant [salmon] habitat put in there," she said.

Paul Pemberton, a longshoreman, said he was worried about electrical hookups being provided for the cruise ships, and he also urged the Port to include "superior environmental protection" for both T-91 and T-30.

Representing the Seattle Marine Business Coalition, Magnolia resident Lise Kenworthy said that a number of marine businesses have noticed their scoping comments weren't included in the Draft EIS. But she also had some specific areas she wanted to focus on in her testimony.

"The first is security," Kenworthy said of something that's important to businesses near T-90 and 91 but isn't addressed in the Draft EIS. She also faulted the document for not paying enough attention to traffic issues.

"Finally, there's a public safety issue," said Kenworthy, who worries about accidents when people are walking around in work places where semi trucks drive.

The comment period for the Draft EIS, which is on the Port's Web site, ends Nov. 2, and the Final Environmental Impact Statement should be ready in December, McCraney from environmental services at the Port said. And the Port Commissioners will make a decision about the proposal early next year, he said.[[In-content Ad]]