Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

Port of Everett

Celebrating a Century of Trade


July 1, 2018

A 2016 aerial view of the Port of Everett Seaport, the regions premier breakbulk port and third largest container port in Washington state. Photo courtesy of Port of Everett.

The year 2018 marks the Port of Everett's centennial year – a century of trade. From its early days to now, the Port of Everett Seaport has continued to evolve and grow from a thriving mill town port, heavily focused on timber products, to a niche breakbulk port with the infrastructure and skillset necessary to handle a diverse cargo mix.

Today, the Port of Everett Seaport specializes in handling conventional and overdimensional cargoes for the aerospace, military, energy, construction, manufacturing, agriculture and forest products industries. With this lineup, the Port of Everett supports 35,000 regional jobs and is the second largest export customs district in Washington State and ranks in the top five among all west coast ports representing nearly $30 billion in exports. To this day, Everett's strategic location, just 25 miles north of Seattle, offers a natural deep-water Harbor, direct rail access, excellent heavy haul routes and established trade routes to the Pacific Rim, Western Canada, the Midwest, the Northwest region and beyond.

The Port's first 100 years presented many challenges along the way – from varying economic times to major shifts in cargo. But the years also presented many opportunities, some of which define the Port's existence today. As the Port prepares for its next 100 years, it is kicking off its largest infrastructure project in Port history to create longer berths and stronger docks in anticipation of the next generation of cargo and ships.

The First 100 Years: Riding the Tide

Seaworthy metaphors are plentiful, but none suits the century-long dynamic at the Port of Everett Seaport better than "changing tides." Indeed, the tides of trade are always changing. Over the years Everett's seaport has become nimble – quickly adapting, shifting focus, capitalizing on its strengths and investing in growth and opportunity with every ebb and flow.

The Port's philosophy to "ride the tide" has been put to the test many times over in the Port's first 100 years; a lesson learned almost immediately after its formation on July 13, 1918. At that time, World War I had raged for four years and shipbuilding on the Everett waterfront was at its height. Opportunity to earn a piece of the shipbuilding pie was foremost in the Port's plan; however, almost immediately after its creation, the Armistice of November 1918 put an end to the war. Plans to ramp up shipbuilding were immediately halted and the brand-new Port of Everett had to make its first shift in focus.

Though WWI had dominated the conversation, shipbuilding wasn't the only impetus behind the Port's formation. "Everett needs the necessary official machinery that will enable it to improve its Harbor and provide proper facilities for the industrial and commercial growth that should come to it," stated a local newspaper editorial before the nearly unanimous special public vote.

Timber Exports Boom

With the war over, the Port looked to capitalize on an industry already booming – timber. A 1923 earthquake in a country far across the Pacific Ocean got the fledgling Port's business rolling. That year, the Great Kanto earthquake, with an estimated Richter magnitude of 7.9 struck Japan's Tokyo-Yokohama metro area causing major devastation. Japan needed to rebuild and Everett's lumber mills were happy to oblige, kick-starting the Port's timber export business that is still alive and well today.

Pitching in During WWII

By 1937, the Great Depression had taken its toll. Only one mill remained on the waterfront. World War II quickly filled the gap in demand and the Port's shipbuilding dreams were afloat once again. The War Powers Act was called upon, and the US Navy took occupancy on 62-acres of the Port's prime shipping facilities to support shipbuilding as war efforts boomed. The Shipyard was gone by 1950 and the land was returned to Port control. While some hoped ship repair would be the next focus at the Port, following the end of the war, it wasn't to be.

With the US economy on an upswing, there was a growing sense of optimism post-WWII. The Port of Everett felt this too. Throughout the 1950s, the Port focused on regaining control of its facilities and accumulating new ones. The Port collected several longtime waterfront properties including Pier 1, Pier 2 (now gone) and Pier 3. The Port was positioned for future changes to come.

Boeing Comes to Town

Quite possibly the most influential change in the Port's 100-year history occurred in the 1960s. The region's wood-products industry began to wane with the closure of the last standing lumber mill on the waterfront. As an area leader in local timber exports, this was a major hit to the Port. Fortunately, the blow of the timber decline was softened when The Boeing Company came to town that same decade. A new cargo opportunity emerged, and it was a game-changer for the Port of Everett and the region.

This decade was revolutionary, as Everett transitioned from the City of Smokestacks to Jet City, which was a huge boost for the Port.

Boeing selected Everett as the location to build its new 747 jumbo jet and secured the Port of Everett as a key mover of aerospace cargo for decades to come. The Everett assembly plant opened in 1967, and by the 1970s, Boeing was Everett's largest employer. At this point, the future of the Port's shipping success was greatly tied to the aerospace industry. A new dome shaped structure at the seaport became a daily visible reminder of this change. The storage dome was built to house alumina, a prime ingredient of aluminum, which in turn was a key component in making airplanes.

Investing in Infrastructure and Opportunity

To best respond to the shift in cargo, the Port spent the 1970s making significant investments in its shipping infrastructure. A new Pier 3, an expanded Hewitt Terminal and a new Norton Terminal were constructed. Improvements continued into the early 1980s as seaport operations continued to expand. The Port made an extension to Norton Terminal (later sold to the US Navy) and added a refrigerated warehouse at Hewitt Terminal to accommodate a new market for the Port – fruit. The first shipments in the facility were imports and exports of apples. The iconic Washington state apples were exported from eastern Washington, and New Zealand apples were imported. Other shipments of fruit, such as pears, also passed through the facility before landing on store shelves.

The 1980s also brought a familiar cargo back to the forefront, hitting new heights. The decade was a heyday for northwest logging and Everett's longshore membership swelled to keep up with the pace. The Port purchased the 69-acre former Weyerhaeuser Mill A site and converted it into a log-export facility to support this business. To date, this is the largest chunk of seaport land that now represents the Port's South Terminal.

Providing Strategic Support to our Military

By the mid-1980s, the military returned to town. Remembering the value of Everett's strategic location and deep-water Harbor, the US Navy selected Everett to become one of 10 carrier ports in the nation. The Port sold 110 acres of critical waterfront land to the military arm in 1987, including the original footprint that had been taken over during WWII for the Navy's shipbuilding operation. The sale generated nearly $40 million for the Port to infuse into infrastructure, and provided the military a strategic homeport. In 1999, the Port constructed Pacific Terminal to replace Norton Terminal that was sold as part of the property deal.

The Port of Everett remains a strategic partner to our military forces today. Its facilities are being considered for a commercial strategic seaport designation and is currently identi­fied as the region's recovery port in the event of a man-made or natural disaster. The Port's niche seaport operations remain attractive for all types of military cargo.

Weathering the Storm

Rainy days weren't too far ahead, and the Port would once again weather a storm. The turn of the century brought fear and the Great Recession. The devastating terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 decreased air travel and took a toll on the Port's largest aerospace customer. The Port pushed on, making improvements to its Pacific Terminal by adding two container cranes to its dock in 2005 and signing three shipping lines, including Westwood Shipping Lines, for direct liner service from Japan to Everett carrying weekly aerospace shipments. Boeing's announcement that it would build what was later named the 787 Dreamliner in Everett brought new life to the industry.

Between 2005 – 2008, the Port invested nearly $50 million to construct and bring Mount Baker Terminal on line – a 'facility of statewide significance' to more efficiently transport aerospace parts. The satellite shipping facility, which opened for service in May 2008, allows the Port to streamline this critical logistics chain and reduce BNSF Railway shutdowns when oversized aerospace parts are transported from the Port's shipping terminals to the nearby manufacturing plant. Today, the Port of Everett's facilities accommodate all of the oversized parts for the 747, 767 (military and commercial), 777, K-C46 Tanker, and most recently, the 777X.

New cargoes also emerged during this time. The former Alumina Dome converted to store a new bulk product for the Port – cement. Lehigh Hanson, a subsidiary of Heidelberg Cement signed a 20-year lease for the dome to support is Pacific Northwest distribution. The new cargo was rocked for a short time by the construction downturn during the Great Recession, but has since rebounded and continues its operations today.

Finding our Niche

The 2000s brought with it the rise in breakbulk cargoes. Everett found this niche cargo market to be one of its strengths, and quickly became Puget Sound's premier breakbulk port, handling all types of high and heavy cargoes for the aerospace, military, energy, construction, manufacturing, and agriculture industries. Among these cargoes are electrical transformers, heavy equipment such as tractors and combines, military cargoes from naval vessels to Blackhawk helicopters, and wind energy components including one of the Port's largest pieces to come across its docks, a 185-foot windmill blade – the largest of its kind to ever be transported in North America.

In recent years the Port has also taken on new bulk cargo opportunities in support of the Port's key industries from ceramic proppant for the oil and gas industry to soybeans and soy bean meal for our agriculture customers. The Port has also continued to beef up its support of our military and in spring 2018, helped prepare and load nearly 300 pieces of army equipment to support joint training missions for our US allied armed forces.

Preparing for the next 100 years

Fast forward to today. The Port of Everett Seaport remains a critical facility to our local, regional and national economies. To once again keep up with change in industry – the chartering of larger vessels and transportation of heavier cargoes – the Port has kicked off its efforts to overhaul and modernize its Seaport facilities to create longer berths, stronger docks and increase rail capacity.

Between 2015 and 2018, the Port invested more than $50 million toward this effort adding a new ro/ro dock that can handle some of the world's largest ro/ro vessels, constructing a heavy lift pad, adding a new 150-ton capacity mobile Harbor crane and adding three, 45-ton reachstackers to its fleet, and increasing its on-dock rail capacity from 9,500 lineal feet to 12,500 lineal feet.

The Port's largest effort yet began in May 2018. The Port broke ground on its $36 million South Terminal Modernization project (Phase II) – the largest project in the Port's 100-year history, and the largest maritime construction project on the west coast today.

The South Terminal facility is a key piece of Everett's overall modernization effort. The dock was originally built to support Weyerhaeuser Company's Mill A, before the Port purchased the site and converted it into a log export facility in the 1980s. It is the Port's largest terminal by land footprint and holds the Port's largest growth opportunity to support current and new customers.

This project sets out to strengthen the remaining 560-feet of the 700-foot dock structure to handle 1,000 psf (140-feet was strengthened as part of Phase I in 2015), and makes electrical upgrades at the wharf. Upon completion in late-2019, the dock will be ready to accommodate two 100-foot gauge rail-mounted container cranes and provide vaults for shore power allowing ships to cold-iron while in port. The Port is now marketing the dock for new cargoes and will be operational by December 2019.

Exporting loads of lumber at the Port of Everett, circa 1925. This was the main driver of Everett's economy at the time. Photo courtesy of Everett Public Library, photographer J.A. Juleen.

Furthermore, as part of its continued commitment to supporting our military forces, the Port is working diligently to acquire a portion of the former Kimberly-Clark mill site adjacent to its docks to facilitate a Shipyard operation. As the US Navy works to work to ramp up from a 280-vessel fleet to a 355-vessel fleet, additional Shipyard capacity continues to be a growing demand and the Port is dedicated to meeting that demand.

Looking forward, the future is bright for the Port of Everett. If the age old saying is true, that history repeats itself, Everett is looking forward to having successful port operations well into the next 100 years.

Lisa Lefeber is the Acting CEO/Executive Director for the Port of Everett and has previously served as the Port's Chief of Policy and Communications, a position she has held for more than 11 years.


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