Port of Seattle race could shape region’s economic engine

September 27, 2011

By Tom Corrigan

In November, voters in King County, including those in Issaquah, will be asked to choose from among four candidates hoping to serve as commissioners for the Port of Seattle.

The port includes both the seaport in downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac International Airport. According to the port’s annual report for 2010, the port collected $75.6 million in property taxes in 2009. The projection for 2010 was $73.5 million. Those collections come from all King County residents, including those in Issaquah.

“The port is an economic engine for the entire county, not just the city of Seattle,” said Charla Skaggs, corporate media officer for the port.

Both Skaggs and other port officials said thousands of jobs depend directly and indirectly on port operations.

According to what is billed by the port as an independent report released in 2009, the port was directly and indirectly responsible for 190,000 jobs in the Puget Sound region. Port facilities generated more than $17 billion in revenue for businesses who deal with the port or the port tenants who operate the maritime terminals. All in all, those employers and employees pay about $867 million in state and local taxes.

Finally, the 2009 report stated that more than 135,000 people are employed at regional businesses that have cargo moving through the Port of Seattle.

Skaggs talked about how plenty of Eastside companies depend on the port for importing or exporting goods and raw materials. She stated port operations create a wide variety of jobs from the longshoremen who load and unload cargo to cruise ship employees. According to Skaggs, an Issaquah resident retunes pianos on cruise ships that stop at the port.

Port operations themselves employ about 1,600 people, said Port Commission President Bill Bryant, one of two incumbent commission members up for election this year.

All in all, just from its maritime operations, Bryant said about 70,000 families depend on the port. Although his opponent in the upcoming election disagrees, Bryant said those jobs are well-paying, family-wage positions. He further argued the port is one of the top five or six job creators in King County, right up on the list with The Boeing Co. and Microsoft.

“I think the port is becoming an example of an agency that can create jobs,” Bryant said.

“There is no doubt the port is a critical economic engine for the region,” said Dean Willard, a Sammamish resident who is opposing Bryant for the latter’s spot on the port commission.

Willard specifically said the port does not do enough to create living-wage jobs, but also was highly critical of the port’s environmental record.

“I have observed decisions that are not transparent and not reflective of local values,” Willard said, adding those local values include environmentally sound operations.

Bryant sharply disagreed, arguing the port’s environmental record is another reason the institution is important to voters and residents in the Puget Sound area.

As one example of what he defends as the port’s environmental stewardship, Bryant pointed to what ultimately becomes of contaminated dredging materials the port removes from around its maritime facilities: He said the port legally could dump those materials into Elliott Bay. Instead, the port takes on the added expense of having the materials moved inland.

But Willard said an example of how the port has dropped the ball environmentally is its lack of attention to problems with the Duwamish River. He said the port undoubtedly has a shared responsibility for cleaning up the waterway.

For his part, Bryant agreed the port has some responsibility for the Duwamish, but said officials are living up to the responsibility. He said the port has supported a plan to restore the river’s habitat, another environmental step he said the organization was not required to take.

Another voluntary environmental move, according to Bryant, includes replacing outdated port trucks with newer, more efficient models. By 2015, he said all port trucks must meet certain EPA standards.

Willard said Bryant and other board members consistently “talk the talk, but fail to walk the walk.”

For example, he again argued the port’s efforts regarding the Duwamish are completely insufficient. Willard backed a protest held downtown Sept. 15 as the Port of Seattle was hosting the American Association of Port Authorities.

The group directly mounting the protest is known as Puget Sound Sage. Among other claims, the group charges seaport truck drivers often are forced to work 10- to 12-hour shifts while not receiving health benefits or sick time and earning about $28,500 a year.

The other port commission spot on the ballot this year currently belongs to Seattle resident Gael Tarleton. Neither she nor challenger Richard Pope, of Bellevue, responded to repeated requests for comment.

Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or tcorrigan@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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