$3.8 million port upgrade will allow it to handle heavier cargo

EVERETT — Construction workers are driving massive steel piles deep into the seabed below the Port of Everett’s South Terminal as part of a $3.8 million upgrade.

The improvements will allow the terminal to support the port’s behemoth mobile harbor crane and to handle heavier cargo that can be directly rolled on or off a waiting freighter.

The terminal was built in the 1970s by Weyerhaeuser to handle logs. It can support up to 500 pounds per square foot.

That might be enough for some of the farming machines that leave Everett bound for China. Or for the occasional Airstream trailer en route to a mining operation in Russia.

But it is not strong enough to handle the heaviest roll-on/roll-off cargo — the 30-foot-long agricultural combines or tractors built like tanks, said Carl Wollebek, who overseas the port’s shipping facilities.

A section of the terminal is being strengthened to support 1,000 pounds per square foot.

“There’s only one other place we can do that,” on Pier One’s southside, which is also the port’s busiest terminal, he said.

Like others in the shipping industry, he refers to such freight by its acronym: RORO cargo.

The Port of Everett is a modest seaport with limited facilities. So accommodating multiple ships requires careful choreography. It doesn’t take much to create a traffic jam, forcing a ship to wait in Puget Sound until another exits.

In between Pier One and South Terminal is Pacific Terminal. Two blue gantry cranes tower over the berth. They can clear out a container ship in a few hours.

But if there’s a RORO ship at Pier One, “we can’t get another container ship into Pacific Terminal,” which is directly to the south, Wollebek said.

Upgrading South Terminal will make the port more efficient and make it easier to keep enough distance between ships, he said.

The Port of Everett really got into the RORO business a couple of years ago after overhauling a former log berth at South Terminal. The port handles about 12 to 18 RORO ships a year, Wollebek said.

Regular RORO shipments began in June 2012 with a vessel belonging to Russia’s Far Eastern Shipping Company.

Two shippers — EUKOR and Hyundai Glovis, Ltd. — come from Asia loaded with automobiles, which usually get unloaded in Vancouver, British Columbia, or in Long Beach, California. They pick up Asia-bound goods at Everett and other ports.

Port officials plan to continue upgrading South Terminal by replacing its rail spur, which has warped and is unusable.

“We’re basically keeping up with anticipated growth” in cargo tonnage in coming years, Wollebek said.

Everett expects a 10 percent increase this year, driven, in part, by oil drilling and other parts of the energy industry in Canada and Alaska.

In the past couple of years, the Port Commission has reviewed and voted at least half a dozen times to approve various parts of the South Terminal upgrades — approving requests for bids, contracts, the design and the financing.

The project’s expected $3.8 million price tag will be split between the Port of Everett and Washington taxpayers. The port is putting up about $2.25 million and covering the rest with a $1.45 million grant from the state’s Department of Commerce.

Workers with Ferndale- based IMCO General Construction Inc., started the South Terminal upgrade in early December. They are scheduled to finish driving the massive piles in February. The piles were made by Skyline Steel, which is based in Parsippany, New Jersey, and is owned by Nucor Corp.

The entire project is slated to wrap up in May.

Wollebek said he expects to have the South Terminal open for business June 1.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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