After a series of fiascos at the Port of Seattle, the management and finance expertise of its new executive director, Stephen Metruck, is very welcome. The region is counting on his success.

Share story

THE Port of Seattle put a finance expert in charge just in time.

Well, actually, it could have used Stephen Metruck several years ago when it began planning $3 billion worth of upgrades at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Metruck became executive director at the port on Feb. 1 after a 34-year-career in the Coast Guard. That included stints commanding the Puget Sound sector in Seattle and as the service’s chief financial officer in Washington, D.C.

Metruck’s budgeting expertise, lifelong commitment to public service and high-level management skills should benefit the port and the region it serves.

Job one for Metruck will be restoring public trust in port management.

He arrived amid port struggles to control costs and construction schedules for the airport’s new international terminal, which is at least five months late and $146 million over budget.

Now an $830 million project, it’s an inauspicious beginning to a slate of airport upgrades that together are one of the region’s largest infrastructure projects.

Sea-Tac capacity will still be maxed out in about 15 years so the region needs to step up planning on how to add additional airport capacity, most likely at Paine Field in Everett. If struggles continue at Sea-Tac it will be harder to build community support for major airport projects in the future.

Cost overruns at Sea-Tac follow several other fiascos in recent years and overshadow the port’s success in growing airport traffic and merging seaport operations with the Port of Tacoma.

A new vendor-selection approach at the airport booted local icon Ivar’s last year, not long after the state auditor found the port illegally gave $4.7 million worth of staff bonuses in a bobbled effort to revise its payroll system.

Former port chief Ted Fick, who came from the private sector, resigned in February 2017 after he was suspended amid the payroll debacle and allegations that he received improper gifts. Both Fick and his predecessor also raised questions of impropriety by taking side gigs on the boards of trucking and shipping companies.

Metruck told this editorial board that the opportunity to change the port’s internal culture and provide professional oversight is why he took the job.

Port commission President Courtney Gregoire concurred, saying “this is the opportunity and the moment and that’s why he was the right person.”

Let’s hope so because the stakes are high. The public is counting on his success leading the port and ensuring that it remains a strong engine of economic development for the region and the entire state of Washington.