Port of Seattle
Container cargo on Seattle's waterfront
The races for
the Port of Seattle
Commission are likely to get more interesting – and more important to voters.
Hardly anybody knows who serves on the port commission, or even what they do. But everyone has an opinion about Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, our harbor, and land development around town. The port commission decides leases for the harbor, negotiates with airlines, and has a big say in transportation policy, taxes, and a number of land developments, all of which affect our economy.
The port is in the news, thanks to a conflux of issues and events:
• The decline in the Port of Seattle's share of West Coast container cargo, as reported
in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Is our harbor losing its mojo? Container traffic grew fast in recent years, making everybody a genius. But volumes declined in the past 12 months. A shipping association spokesman blamed inefficiency, saying other ports move boxes faster. Longshoremen replied that containers intended for our docks can't be lifted without first moving boxes intended for other ports, thus making the process slower.
Why does that matter? If Seattle is inefficient, cargo and jobs eventually go elsewhere.
• The recent arrival of a new CEO Tay Yoshitani, who succeeds longtimer Mic Dinsmore. Everybody is looking for signals of what he will do.
• Fierce discussion around port plans to develop 57 acres at Interbay, below Seattle's Magnolia neighborhood.
• Pressure on the port from environmentalists to do more to combat air pollution from harbor industries, especially idling trucks and ships.
• Greater interest in port races from Democratic party organizations, which are receptive to criticism of the port from environmentalists and from critics of the countywide tax levy. This year, the levy is $68 million. Supporters of the levy say it's essential to achieve public benefits that don't necessarily pencil out on a balance sheet.
Incumbents are facing aggressive challenges. Commissioner Bob Edwards faces Jack Block Jr., a city of Burien council member and son of a former commssioner; and Gael Tarleton, a special assistant at the University of Washington's Office of Global Affairs. Commissioner Alec Fisken is being challenged by Bill Bryant, a trade consultant.
The election could cause a shift in port policy, affecting the agency's posture on major issues: to name a few, replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and whether the port participates in the creation of a new recreational trail in eastern King County.
Years ago, nobody paid attention to port races. Now voters are noticing that the port is involved in a large number of issues much too complex to condense for a one-page voter's guide. So what comes next?