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Commentaries and editorials

Containing the Seeds of Success

by Dick Ford, Special to The Times
Seattle Times, November 5, 2005

The ports of Seattle and Tacoma are on the right track. Both are doing a terrific job of addressing and handling the dramatic container-industry growth.

For 2005, both ports are expected to handle double-digit growth. They are able to do this based on the sound business practice of forecasting short- and long-term container capacity demands and pursuing timely and cost-efficient expansion programs. These efforts have served Western Washington well in generating jobs and revenues to businesses and citizens throughout the Northwest.

Both ports incur the same basic capital costs for container-terminal development when it comes to construction of berths, container yards, lighting, electrical infrastructure and dredging. These are similar regional construction costs.

The only major capital-cost difference is the lower cost of land enjoyed by the Port of Tacoma.

Both ports are basically mirroring one another in productivity as the operators transition into higher-density operations.

The Port of Tacoma will handle 2.2 million TEUs [equivalent containers] in 2005, through its 525 acres, a density of 4,190 TEUs per acre per year.

Similarly, the Port of Seattle will handle 2 million TEUs in 2005, through, its 494 acres, a density of 4,048 TEUs per acre per year.

The Port of Seattle, like the Port of Tacoma, designed its lease structures to cover the costs of its development in 14-to-30 years, as well as cover the cost of overhead associated with the development project and a rate of return on the investment. The overall return target is 7.5 percent on the total project cost.

It isn't accurate to look at market-share loss among West Coast ports, as it's comparing Western Washington's buying clout to that of Southern California. Western Washington will never compete in gross numbers or dollars with Southern California. The success of Seattle and Tacoma ports should be based on investing dollars wisely to create sufficient terminal infrastructure to handle the container-volume growth of existing trading partners, as well as capture redirected cargo due to Southern California congestion.

The Port of Seattle and the Port of Tacoma have made very significant investments in container terminals. They have allowed us in the Northwest to continue to compete with Southern California, to maintain good family-wage jobs on a working waterfront, and to repay the investment in a reasonable time.

There is a cost to taxpayers, but one that is repaid over and over again in economic activity, tax revenue generated, environmental cleanup and restoration and waterfront employment.

Dick Ford is a retired Port of Seattle director living in Seattle.
Containing the Seeds of Success
Seattle Times, November 5, 2005

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