EDITORIAL | Port’s tentativeness to blame for intense fight

Like the requisite snow day when 2 inches fall, Seattle usually comes to a standstill when a march — peaceful or not — is scheduled. In this case, it wasn’t downtown but Port of Seattle business that was affected.

Upward of 400 people, according to some estimates, showed up in kayaks and other watercraft on May 18, surrounding Shell Oil’s Polar Pioneer floating drill rig and its support tug and stopping port traffic for several hours. Polar Pioneer is the first of several vessels coming into Seattle for supplies and servicing from Queen Anne-based Foss Maritime before heading up to Alaska for test drills.

The crowd of protestors has been growing with each of the three demonstrations since the Polar Pioneer’s arrival on May 14, culminating with the major May 18 protest at Terminal 5.

Seattleites are passionate about their beliefs — whether it be bikes, dog parks, affordable housing, wages, oil trains or, as shown very recently, zoo elephants. The Port of Seattle should have expected the protests before it announced its plans in January for Foss to lease the terminal for Shell’s home base. Mayor Ed Murray told The Seattle Times that he warned the port before the decision was made that he would mount a fight if the commissioners approved the lease.

Yet, the port hesitated when it received its “shoreline notice of violation” that it wasn’t complying with its lease by hosting Polar Pioneer at a cargo terminal, just days before its arrival. It even passed a resolution for Shell to stay offshore until the port could appeal the violation and resolve the legal dispute.

Foss and Shell defied the order to delay, citing a valid lease and contract, and the Polar Pioneer entered port.

The Port commissioners have been accused of rushing the decision to bring Shell to Seattle’s docks, with private negotiations with Foss and Shell and only one public hearing. The commissioners then met in private to discuss how they would handle the violation notice.

Regardless of the port’s indecision, Shell is looking at alternate ports, according to Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith, just in case Seattle’s “unwelcome mat” pushes the port to evict Shell’s vessels.

“The real damage that’s being done is to the credibility of the port,” said Paul Fuhs, executive director of the North Slope Port Authority in Alaska to The Seattle Times.

One individual on Twitter likened this effort of shutting down Shell Oil to the protests against the 1999 World Trade Organization conference in Seattle. So expect to see more strident protests when Shell’s second oil rig, Noble Discoverer, makes it way to Seattle for its supplies and servicing. And expect to see the port face heavy pressure now from both sides.