Hope for the waterfront

Everett’s future is anchored to a shoulder of industrial land that fronts Port Gardner. The old Kimberly-Clark mill is an invisible outline, spare and flat, devoid of life.

These 66 acres of central waterfront are a metaphor. Realists steeped in local history say that Everett will break your heart, that the city was built on shattered promises and backsliding investors. So what to make of a plan and a company seemingly harmonious with a working town? Pinch thyself?

On Wednesday, Everett learned of a new investor and a new promise. Not the grandiose 1890’s John D. Rockefeller who skedaddled, but the Northwest parent company of Foss Maritime, Saltchuk Enterprises (Chinook jargon for “saltwater.”) The promise is for 250 living-wage jobs, of an invigorated working waterfront.

Norse pessimism notwithstanding, there is cause for hope.

“We wanted job re-creation when Kimberly Clark closed,” Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said. “This fits perfectly. “

In about 3 years, the operation will uproot from Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. (Everett nabbing jobs from Seattle? Think of it as penance for Seattle landing the Great Northern Railroad.)

Everett’s maritime industry traces back to the 19th century and Alexander McDougall’s dream for a barge and ship-building plant on the Pacific, a dream deferred.

Foss has a rich heritage in Everett, and a Northwest history that began with Thea Foss, a Norwegian immigrant who sold a rowboat for $15 in 1889. It evolved into the biggest tugboat operation on the Pacific Rim. As The Herald’s Noah Haglund writes, Foss reports $435 million in annual revenues (Saltchuk comes in at $2.4 billion.)

“It’s not so much a story of Foss coming to Everett, but Foss returning to Everett,” Saltchuk President Tim Engle told Haglund.

The K-C closure was a watershed in Everett’s history. The last mill in the city of smokestacks. The damage done, the onus has been on K-C, a Fortune 500 company, to identify a buyer that fits with the community and aligns with K-C’s stated belief in corporate social responsibility. Per the Russian proverb, doveryai, no proveryai. Trust but verify. Wednesday’s announcement was a notch on the verify ledger.

A hat tip to Mayor Stephanson and all those who shepherded a complex purchase and sale agreement. Now, in the due diligence phase, city leaders need to examine the site plans through a public interest lens, ensuring that the vision of connecting downtown and a working waterfront doesn’t fall away in the exuberance of a job-generating deal. K-C is still responsible for upland clean-up, and that will take years.

There is work to do, with the K-C site no longer devoid of life.

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