THE future of Seattle’s industrial lands and the working waterfront has been an almost-silent issue in the races for mayor, Seattle City Council and the Metropolitan King County Council. It shouldn’t be.
The Port of Seattle hosts three big maritime industries: cruise ships, the fishing fleet and the container trade. All provide revenue and jobs the region cannot afford to lose. None can be taken for granted.
The Pacific container trade is the most obviously threatened. Billions have been spent at rival ports in Vancouver and Prince Rupert, both in B.C., and in Atlantic ports in anticipation of widening of the Panama Canal, all threatening to take away Puget Sound business.
In addition, the region’s traffic congestion acts as molasses on the wheels of trade. That was the Port’s argument against a proposed Sodo arena, and its voice was largely ignored.
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Thank the National Basketball Association: The pressure to build an arena is off, for now. But send no valentines to the political leaders of Seattle and King County. And give no thanks, either, to politicians in Olympia who just dropped the ball on a tax-and-fee transportation package to build and maintain the state’s roads.
“We need to be talking about increasing mobility,” says Port Commissioner Bill Bryant. “We could lose these jobs to British Columbia.”
The Port attracted some of its cruise business from British Columbia. Candidates should be talking about how to make sure Seattle’s new central waterfront anchors that business here, and other policies that anchor the North Pacific fishing fleet here: developing the Terminal 90-91 uplands for seafood processing, for example.
The industrial areas of Sodo and Ballard-Interbay are the backup lands for maritime commerce. Their health depends on a zoning code that preserves their uses, but more than that. People in these industries need to be able to do things, and the city should be open to growth and change.
One example, suggested by Port Commissioner Tom Albro: vacating certain streets so that industry can have larger parcels.
The details of such a policy are not clear; that is what political conversations are about. But you can’t get to the answers if no one is asking the questions, or listening to the answers.