Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

Talk Talk

 


On page 6 this month (Pacific Maritime Magazine, April 2015) is the story of Japan’s Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL) and its plans to build six 20,150-TEU container ships to operate between Asia and Europe via the Suez canal.

These mega-ships will be more than 1,300 feet long by almost 200 feet wide. To put this into perspective, the six vessels will each be large enough to accommodate three professional football fields, end to end, leaving room for fans, the press box, restrooms and beer vendors.

The Seattle Seahawks could beat the 49ers on the aft field, move to midships and beat the Packers and then head to the bow field, where they could get another crack at the Patriots. Unfortunately, we couldn’t welcome these floating football fields to Seattle, because we don’t yet have the infrastructure to support them.

Many of the large West Coast ports are upgrading to serve these ships, but what would we do if one of these ships were to call at Seattle?

We would talk about it.

The Seattle Process is a term stemming from the political procedure in Seattle and King County. The term refers to the agonizingly slow process of dialog, deliberation, participation, and municipal introspection before making any decision, and the time it takes to enact any policy.

An example of this is the recent decision by Shell to use Seattle as its homeport for Arctic operations, and Foss Maritime’s lease of 50 acres of vacant land at Seattle’s Terminal 5 to provide support to the oil company’s operations. The Seattle Process immediately kicked into high gear, with environmentalists opposing the deal on principle, while Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and the City Councilmembers all lobbied for attention from the local media. The issue will drag on for months and may cost a fortune in legal fees before finally being resolved.

This same Seattle Process, which has been described as “seeking consensus through exhaustion,” pushed the City to commit to digging a highway tunnel under downtown Seattle after 8 years of deliberation, and against the wishes of the voters.

The tunnel, a solution without a problem, is being dug to re-route Washington State Route 99 by a machine named “Bertha” that hasn’t moved in more than a year (see this space, March 2014). The tunnel promises to reduce current capacity by more than 30 percent and cost billions of dollars.

Late last month a truck with a container full of fish rolled over and sparked a traffic nightmare, halting traffic for miles along the current Highway 99 for 9 hours. The accident happened in the southbound lanes about 2:30 p.m., but the highway wasn’t reopened until after 11 p.m. Ironically, the accident happened right next to a gantry crane capable of lifting 4 million pounds, which had been brought in to rescue the stalled Bertha from her 1,000-foot tunnel. The Seattle Department of Transportation, famous for bad decisions and incompetence, ignored the onsite equipment and opted instead to wait for tow trucks to make their way to the accident site through 4 miles of stalled traffic. How will the city react when the same thing happens 180 feet below the surface?

The leadership in Seattle, at all levels, would do well to take a course in representative democracy. The Mayor, City Council and Port Commission were elected to establish policy, make their respective departments run efficiently and accomplish the goals of their charter.

The same can be said for ports up and down the West Coast that bow to pressure from the same special-interest groups. From scuttled coal terminals to abandoned LNG projects, city and county councilmembers along the West Coast have been ignoring the needs of their constituents in order to appease a tiresome vocal minority. In exchange for being left alone, these elected representatives deny their constituents badly needed family-wage jobs, and ensure that the real progress will happen elsewhere.

 
 

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