David Rosen
Drivers headed into West Seattle for the last three weeks have seen Terminal 5, once bustling with activity, look completely empty. The cranes are set to be sold, and an upgrade to the Terminal is planned with financing and planning still in the works.

Why is Terminal 5 empty? Here's what you need to know

By Gwen Davis

Terminal 5 has been closed for about three weeks, and the terminal has remained empty. Cargo operations have been moved to Terminal 18. It is not uncommon for a pier to shut down for a period of time, and this happens occasionally at ports across the country.

Potential job loss of the employees who work at Terminal 5 is reportedly not expected to be large and neither are labor union disputes. Last Thurs. Union Hall hosted a “Stop Work Meeting” for ports to discuss the negotiations.

Next Tues., the Port Commission will be asked for approval to sell Terminal 5’s six cranes, which were purchased in the 1980s and are appraised at $3.75 million, according to the commission’s memo. The meeting will also debut a timeline for the modernization project.

It is still unclear where the port will acquire the one-quarter-billion dollars the project will cost. According to officials, the money will be accrued as the multi-year project takes place.

Background:
This past June, the Port Commission authorized $4.7 million to be spent on planning, designing and reviewing the Terminal 5 modernization project, which includes crane rails, fender system, structural rehabilitation, power supply and berth deepening. Actual construction will start in about two years.
Modernization of the approximately 50-year-old terminal is necessary due to ships getting built bigger and competitors’ efforts to upgrade their infrastructure to accommodate the more advanced technology. The ports need to upgrade facilities to accommodate vessels that are double the size of the vessels that were originally intended for the ports decades ago. The out-of-date cranes and berths are particularly problematic.

Seattle and Tacoma ports must both invest millions to be competitive with the mega-ships and mega-alliances, taller cranes, stronger wharves and inland infrastructure.

In addition, the Panama Canal expansion is to be completed in 2015 to 2016 which will also provide steeper competition for west coast ports, which will now be in greater battle for business with east coast ports.
According to the Journal of Commerce, the ports of Seattle and Tacoma provide unique advantages to shipping lines, including deep water, enough container-handling space and intermodal rail infrastructure.
Seattle’s two largest terminals, Terminal 5 of 172 acres, operated by APL’s Eagal Marine Services and Terminal 18 of 196 acres, operated by SSA Marine are both underutilized to the point where consolidation of both of the terminals made sense.

Seattle also has two smaller terminals, Terminal 30, operated by SSA, and Terminal 46, operated by Total Terminals International.

(With recent interests to create an additional sports arena in that area, executives say the port activities generate many well-paying jobs for the city, more jobs than an arena would, to the disappointment of arena supporters.)

Tacoma has already begun the modernization process by upgrading infrastructure of Terminal 3 at the Husky Terminal to support post-Panamax cranes. When that project is completed, the port will take on Terminal 4, where similar improvements are needed.

Tuesday’s Port Commission meeting will take place at the Port headquarters (2711 Alaskan Way) at 12 p.m. It will additionally address the authorization of $1.5 million to cover half the cost of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study on deepening its waterways to accommodate larger vessels.

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