By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
MUKILTEO — A new ferry terminal in Mukilteo is looking more certain than ever.
After many hang-ups and delays, two major developments this week have cleared the way for the state to begin building a $140 million terminal as soon as next year and be finished by 2017.
The state has finished its environmental study of the 20-acre former tank farm property along the northern Mukilteo shoreline, officials announced Wednesday. The study gives a go-ahead to the project pending a sign off by local Indian tribes.
Also, the federal government is close to transferring the former U.S. Air Force tank farm to the Port of Everett, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s office announced Tuesday.
The port then will trade part of the property to the state in exchange for the Mount Baker Terminal property directly to the east, Port of Everett director John Mohr said.
The Mount Baker pier, used to convey parts by train through Japanese Gulch to Boeing, is currently operated by the port but owned by the state.
Despite the back-to-back announcements, the timing wasn’t intentional, said Nicole McIntosh, a senior engineer for the state ferry system.
Still, it’s fortuitous, she said.
“It’s been our goal to have the property transferred this summer,” she said. “It just happened this way, but it’s great.”
The transfer has been planned for years as a way to make a new ferry terminal possible. Murray began working on it in Congress in 2000, according to Mohr. It was held up, however, by a need for environmental cleanup and the discovery of American Indian artifacts on the site.
Just recently, the Air Force informed Congress that the property is surplus to its needs and available for donation to the Port of Everett, according to Mohr. A 1-acre piece also is being donated to the U.S. Department of Commerce so the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration can maintain its marine research programs on the site.
Some paperwork still needs to be done to complete the transfer and the Port of Everett Commission will have to give its stamp of approval.
“I think we can expect it’ll be done by the end of the year,” Mohr said.
The tank farm was used by the U.S. Air Force to store aircraft fuel from around World War II until 1990.
The cleanup was completed in 2006, Mohr said. The state and tribes are still negotiating on a plan to work around a shell midden on the property that contains remnants of tribal tools and other artifacts. No human remains have been found.
Daryl Williams, environmental liaison for the Tulalip Tribes, could not be reached for comment. He said last year negotiations were going well.
The 60-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.
Moving the dock to the east would ease traffic congestion in the Mukilteo waterfront business district; create a larger holding area that would shorten lines on the Mukilteo Speedway at peak travel times, and put the dock near Sound Transit’s Sounder commuter train platform, creating an easier connection for travelers.
A short access road to the new terminal would branch off from Highway 525.
The state’s preferred plan is to build the new terminal on the western portion of the tank farm, one-third of a mile east of the existing terminal.
The state also studied rebuilding the dock in its current location or building it at the far east end of the tank farm. The environmental study concluded that building at the west end was less disruptive to the shell midden and also to nearby tribal fishing grounds than building at the east end.
The west end also is closer to the Sounder train platform. The state’s design for the terminal leaves space for Sound Transit to expand its parking, McIntosh said.
She said the state has $108 million of the $140 million in hand. At the very least, it can begin construction with this amount beginning in 2015 with a finish date of 2018 or 2019, she said.
The state is applying for a federal grant that would require that the project be accelerated to begin in 2014, with a possible finish date of 2017, McIntosh said.
“We’d have to show progress,” she said.
What will happen to the east end of the property is uncertain. Mohr said the port will likely make the remainder available for some kind of public use, though no agreements have been reached.
Mukilteo city officials have expressed an interest in redeveloping the waterfront. The week’s developments are good news, Mayor Joe Marine said.
“It’s a long time coming,” he said.
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; email@example.com.