The Kimberly-Clark pulp and paper mill in Everett, as it was being demolished in 2013.

Everett port commissioners OK bid for waterfront mill site

EVERETT — The Port of Everett’s board of commissioners Tuesday voted unanimously to pursue acquisition of the former waterfront mill site owned by Kimberly-Clark Co.

The decision grants the port staff the authority to pursue a purchase and sale agreement with the company.

The company’s asking price for the property is $38 million, Kimberly-Clark spokesman Bob Brand said. Any final agreement would have to take into account site conditions, cleanup costs and other considerations.

“That’s all going to be subject to the negotiations,” Lefeber said.

The port and the Dallas-based company have been negotiating informally since 2012.

The approved measure allows the port to acquire the property by eminent domain, if necessary. The waterfront site lies between the port’s existing property and Naval Station Everett.

That raised a few questions from the company. Bryan Lust, site manager for Kimberly-Clark in Everett, read a statement from the company, noting that the tax-supported port is already marketing the 66-acre property to prospective buyers.

“By asserting the prospect of eminent domain in such a high-profile manner, is it the port’s intention to quell private marketing activity and discourage Kimberly-Clark’s efforts to sell the property to any party other than the Port of Everett?” Lust said.

“We would appreciate your clarification as to whether or not the Port intends to preclude private employers from operating on the property in the future,” he said.

Commissioner Tom Stiger noted that the port and Kimberly-Clark have been negotiating the future of the site since 2012.

“I think there has been ample opportunity for Kimberly-Clark to market the property,” Stiger said. “I realize eminent domain hanging over you makes it more difficult to market the property, but it’s the last resort for the port.”

Both Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and Patrick Pierce, CEO of the Economic Alliance of Snohomish County, said they support the port’s move.

“Losing Kimberly-Clark in 2012 was blow to all of us in this community,” Stephanson said. “Growing the maritime industry more successfully, especially with our rich history of maritime, is really in our collective interest,” he said.

The company tried to sell the property to Saltchuk, which wanted it for its Seattle-based shipbuilding arm Foss Maritime Co. That deal fell through in 2014 over the condition of pilings from the former mill buildings, which could fail in earthquakes.

Last year, 195 cargo ships docked at the Port of Everett’s terminal, and cargo was delayed or refused several times because there was no room to park the freight. Port CEO Les Reardanz has said the port needs the land just to be able to move cargo more efficiently between ships, trucks and trains.

The site was first developed more than 100 years ago, and from 1931-2012 it was used primarily for paper and pulp manufacturing.

The soil on the site is contaminated with arsenic, lead, cadmium and other toxins.

In August 2014, the city sued Kimberly-Clark over the company’s failure to cover the site with topsoil, which was required in an earlier agreement between Everett and the company.

The company disputes the requirement, arguing that topsoil would make it harder to sell the property, especially to industrial customers who would then have to remove the topsoil during the redevelopment process.

The site has been covered in concrete rubble since the mill buildings were demolished. The lawsuit is still making its way through Snohomish County Superior Court.

If the property were to sell to the port, that might have an effect on property tax collections, although anyone leasing property from the port would have to pay a leasehold excise tax, Reardanz said.

That’s not satisfactory for some property owners. “When you take the property off the tax rolls it transfers the burden onto the rest of us,” said Craig Johnson, who owns about half a dozen residential and undeveloped properties in Snohomish County.

Johnson also has concerns about the port’s possible use of eminent domain.

“Eminent domain is not the way you go about doing economic development,” Johnson said. “The market economy is what brings in jobs. The port doesn’t.”

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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