Port of Seattle: Commissioner Races

Three port commissioner seats are up for grabs next month, and scandals aside, there are plenty of r
Three port commissioner seats are up for grabs

Category: seattlepi.com teaser headlines


Rocked by scandals in the last few years, the Port of Seattle may finally be taking a turn for the better. But with three commissioner seats up for grabs next month, will this agency--responsible for more than 100,000 jobs and generating millions of tax dollars--be able to chart a secure course into the future?

Friday, July 10, was a beautiful summer day in Seattle. Many people made their way through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport that morning for many different reasons. Some of them, no doubt, landed here—on one of the 564 incoming flights that day—to meet a cruise ship headed for Alaska. Let’s follow a hypothetical couple—we’ll call them Allen and Lisa Jackson—as they make their way from Sea-Tac to their ship.

First, they hail a cab to take them to the new cruise terminal in Interbay, completed earlier this year. En route along Highway 99, they spot a huge cargo ship—the APL New York—at Terminal 5 on Harbor Island as it prepares to depart for the Far East. As the Jacksons continue north through SoDo, they drive by the Burlington Northern rail yard, where huge orange cranes skitter sideways like giant crabs, unloading cargo containers from another vessel. As the Jacksons’ cab skirts downtown, the grain terminal at 15th Avenue West comes into view, where later that day tons of grain—as much as 2 million bushels—will be loaded onto the vessel Hamburg Max, destined for an Asian port.

Their taxi slows as it nears its destination—a pair of piers by the Magnolia Bridge. The road is clogged with trucks unloading supplies for the two cruise ships that float in the harbor like colossal belugas. If the warehouses that also occupy these piers had glass walls, the Jacksons would see many workers inside, their hair covered with plastic hats, processing frozen fish from Alaska, which will eventually find its way into supermarkets around the country.

Finally, the couple arrives and makes their way onto their ship, Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas; at about 4 p.m., it departs Elliott Bay with several smaller boats (heading to home docks at Fishermen’s Terminal and Shilshole Bay Marina) skirting its wake.

Everything the Jacksons have witnessed, on their scenic journey from airport to vessel, is the Port of Seattle in action.

Between the port and all of its tenants—the airlines, the cargo terminal operators, the seafood processors, the fishers—111,000 people are employed in jobs that paid a total of $3.8 billion in 2007, according to a study by Martin Associates (an economic consulting firm) commissioned by the port.

About 90,000 of those jobs are at Sea-Tac, with the balance at the seaport. All this activity produces close to $1 billion in state and local tax revenue, according to the study. One out of every three jobs in Washington state depends on trade, and the ports of Seattle and Tacoma are big traders, nationally ranking ninth and seventh, respectively, in the amount of containerized cargo they handle, according to the American Association of Port Authorities.

Ultimately responsible for this bustling business and revenue are five elected port commissioners who set port policy. Their part-time jobs pay a princely sum of $6,000 each per year. And if history is any guide, when voters make their choices in November—three port seats are up for grabs—these races will be largely ignored, overshadowed by higher-profile races.