Land transfer to transform Mukilteo tank farm’s future

MUKILTEO — The future appears to be finally taking shape for a half mile of Mukilteo coastline that lay dormant for decades.

Ownership of the former Air Force tank farm on Mukilteo’s north-facing waterfront, between the business district and the Everett city limits, was transferred last month.

The Port of Everett formally accepted the land from the Air Force on Sept. 10 and now owns most of the 22 acres. The port plans to transfer much of it to the state, the city of Mukilteo and possibly to Sound Transit for public use.

The most well-known plans for the property involve construction of a new $140 million ferry terminal to replace the current aging dock located in the business district. Work on the terminal could begin as early as 2015 and be finished in 2018, depending on funding, said Nicole McIntosh, terminal design engineering manager for the ferry system.

Preliminary plans for the entire tank farm parcel also call for a waterfront promenade, full access to a little-known stretch of public beach, and possibly expanded parking for commuters.

The state, city and other parties have developed a rough plan for use of the property, Mukilteo planning director Heather McCartney said.

The plan still needs to go through the city’s approval process, including opportunities for public comment, she said. That could occur this fall and the plan could be approved in January.

Near the business district, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration maintains a marine research lab in a former Air Force building. The federal agency would receive that 1.1 acre parcel.

A waterfront walkway would stretch from the NOAA property along the waterfront, through the ferry terminal to the mouth of Japanese Gulch Creek and finally to Edgewater Beach, a small stretch of sand owned by the port at the east end of the tank farm.

The port set aside that beach for the public when it opened its adjacent Mount Baker terminal, a pier that receives aircraft parts for Boeing, in 2008, port spokeswoman Lisa Lefeber said. Parking spaces were installed.

Access to a road that leads to Edgewater Beach was cut off, however, when a parking area for Sounder commuter trains opened that same year, and there’s been no way for anyone to legally get to the beach.

“The only way to get there is to trespass on Air Force property or to cross the railroad tracks,” Lefeber said.

The new plan calls for a four-lane, two-way road along the north side of the railroad tracks to an entrance to the new ferry terminal. One eastbound lane would be devoted to ferry traffic while another would be set aside for drivers headed past the terminal to potential new commuter parking or to the beach, McCartney said.

The beach access road could open as soon as the end of next year, officials said.

A parcel between the ferry terminal and the creek would be set aside for potential expansion of commuter parking, possibly by Sound Transit, McCartney said.

Currently, 63 spaces are available for Sounder commuters at the nearby Sound Transit train platform. A new parking garage or lot could replace the current spaces and exceed that total.

Details have not been worked out and talks are in the early stages, McCartney said.

As of now, there’s no funding for a garage, Sound Transit spokeswoman Kimberly Reason said.

“Until plans and funding are established, the plans are visionary,” she said.

The ferry holding lanes would have room for 266 cars, compared to 216 in the current holding area, ferry officials said.

The ferry system is still $32 million shy of the total needed to build the terminal, McIntosh said. Environmental studies are nearly done and design is expected to begin by early next year.

If the money comes before 2015, then the earliest possible start date for construction can be realized, she said. Any delay in receiving the funding also would delay the work.

“Once we complete our environmental process this fall, we’ll be in better shape to compete for federal funds,” McIntosh said.

The tank farm was used by the U.S. Air Force to store aircraft fuel from around World War II until 1990.

In the hierarchy of organizations eligible to receive donations of federal land, first come other federal agencies, then ports, according to Lefeber.

For decades, the state, city and Port of Everett have been discussing uses for the property. An agreement was reached in 1999 for the tank farm to be transferred to the port, which would then strike agreements with other agencies for use of the property. Terms of those agreements have yet to be worked out, Lefeber said.

The transfer was held up by environmental work and the discovery of American Indian artifacts on the site.

The cleanup was completed in 2006 and the state and Indian tribes have been negotiating a general work plan that will not disturb the archeological site.

The 61-year-old Mukilteo ferry dock is outdated and needs to be replaced, according to the state. The dock in 2012 carried 2 million vehicles and 3.8 million passengers — the most and second-most in the state ferry system, respectively.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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