By Brenda Stonecipher
The closure of the Kimberly-Clark plant on Everett’s waterfront, and the loss of 700 jobs, was a sucker punch to our community. So improbable was this occurrence, that the city had not contemplated a waterfront without the paper plant in its master land-use documents.
Following the announcement, in February 2012, the Everett City Council approved a moratorium on development at the Central Waterfront Planning Area (CWPA), a geographic area which includes the Kimberly-Clark site and several surrounding parcels, pending a process for evaluating potential uses of the property and land-use regulation changes. The uniqueness of this property, which occupies a significant portion of our shoreline and is proximal to our downtown business district, makes this decision critical to our city’s future.
Two visions have emerged for the CWPA. One, formed by the citizens and taxpayers of the city of Everett, is that of a high-tech business park, with a research facility and/or manufacturing company employing up to 1,960 workers. In this version of our future, the former paper mill site is dotted with sleek buildings, separated by public gathering spaces, walking trails, and viewpoints at the water’s edge which attract downtown workers on their lunch break.
The alternate vision is that of a heavy industrial site, supporting a cargo handling facility, shipbuilders, steel manufacturing, or possibly a new pulp mill. Up to 890 workers would be employed behind fences, as no public access would be provided on this site – thus, no walking trails, no picnic areas, and no public benefit to downtown businesses or residents.
Unfortunately, the latter vision is the “Preferred Alternative” that the Everett City Council is being asked to approve.
City planning staff conducted a thorough process, which included public outreach via community meetings and a questionnaire that yielded 200-plus responses; a land use economist’s report that calculated the economic benefits of possible uses; a planning consultant’s ideas for public access on the site; and five Planning Commission meetings to hear testimony and consider the assembled information.
Four alternatives were developed for consideration:
Alternative 1 – Existing regulations, Water-dependent heavy industrial uses;
Alternative 2 – Water-dependent and heavy industrial, heavy manufacturing, cargo handling, marine services;
Alternative 3 – Business park and public access, non-water-dependent light industrial and limited heavy manufacturing, robust design standards;
Alternative 4 – Water-dependent and non-water-dependent industrial mixed use. (This emerged as the “preferred alternative.”)
The results of the public input were surprisingly balanced. Three main themes emerged:
1. Economic development – maximize the number of high-paying jobs, generate economic crossover with downtown.
2. Public access – create a physical connection to the water; and
3. Environmental cleanup – remediate both upland and in-water contamination.
The Port of Everett’s interest
Throughout the process, there have been made known several potential purchasers – one of which is the Port of Everett. If the Port or another governmental entity purchases the property, there will be impacts to both the expected economic results and the environmental cleanup of the site, as discussed below.
The city hired Property Counselors to do an economic analysis of the Alternatives. In a nutshell, their assessment was that “the non-water-dependent use concept has the highest [economic] impact across measures, with the water-dependent use the lowest impact. The mixed concepts fall between”.
The economic analysis is complicated by the fact that the Port of Everett has an interest in purchasing the property. If they or another tax-exempt entity is the buyer, the annual tax revenues to the city will be reduced by the property tax portion. Kimberly-Clark’s total property tax assessment to the city in 2012 was $497,000, though it is unlikely that the Port would purchase all Kimberly-Clark properties.
The goal of creating meaningful public access at the shoreline emerged strongly from the process. The state Shoreline Management Act requires that public access be provided on site, unless it meets certain exceptions — one of which is lack of compatibility with water-dependent uses. For the Kimberly-Clark property, the only alternative that would require public access be provided on the site is Alternative No. 3, since it alone establishes non-water-dependent usage. Under the preferred alternative, the Planning Commission required that off-site access comply with the city’s Shoreline Public Access Plan. However, the Port has requested an amendment which would remove that requirement. If granted, the off-site location would likely be in the hands of the hearing examiner, with no further citizen input.
The environmental remediation will undoubtedly happen, but the question is who will pay for it. Currently, Kimberly-Clark is responsible for all cleanup (both the uplands and in-water). Kimberly-Clark’s environmental liability insurance will likely pay about 60 percent of cleanup costs, leaving the company to pay 40 percent.
The interest by the Port plays a large role in the remediation. The state Model Toxic Control Act provides a 50-50 matching grant for environmental cleanup, available only to government entities. If the Port purchases the property, it may assume the environmental liability from Kimberly-Clark (after the insurance pays its share), then use MTCA grants to share the remaining 40 percent. This positions the Port to win out over a non-governmental purchaser. And, while MTCA ensures that environmental cleanup occurs, it does shift the burden of paying for it to the public.
Alternative No. 3 appears to be best for the long-term interests of the city. Its advantages over the preferred alternative are: 81 percent more jobs; 59 percent more one-time tax revenue; 77 percent more annual ongoing tax revenue; and, public access on site
The types of manufacturing and research jobs created in Alternative No. 3 will dovetail with the plan for WSU to provide bachelor degrees in science and engineering — the skills needed for these positions — in the coming years.
The City Council should adopt Alternative No. 3 and task the Planning Commission with developing the design standards and other regulations necessary to implement it. This can be accomplished legally, without extending the moratorium, freeing the property owners in the CWPA from this restriction.
Then, the work must begin. Non-water-dependent use may require an amendment to the city’s Shoreline Master Program, which the Planning Department is fully capable of expediting. It will also necessitate that city administration be fully engaged in assisting Kimberly-Clark find suitable user(s) of the site.
The deep-water port has served the city of Everett well over the past century. But the economic and environmental forces of the next 100 years will require an entirely different infrastructure to be successful. The city’s once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to embrace this change is now. Let’s not squander it.
Brenda Stonecipher, a Certified Public Accountant, has served on the Everett City Council since 2003.
Jobs and tax revenues
The estimates of jobs and expected tax revenues to the City of Everett for each of the four options are as follows:
|Alternative||Number of jobs range*||Number of jobs assumed for tax calculations**||One-time (construction) tax revenues**||Annual tax revenues**|
* Source: Planning Commission Public Hearing presentation, 9/18/12
** Source: Kimberly Clark Site Evaluation of Viable Uses, Property Counselors, July 2012; assumes Concept 1 for Alternative #1, Concept 2 for Alternative #3, Concept 3 for Alternative #4; none of the Concepts aligned with Alternative #2.