The warehouse (lower left) and vacant land of the former Kimberly-Clark paper mill on the Everett waterfront, as seen Tuesday. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald)

The warehouse (lower left) and vacant land of the former Kimberly-Clark paper mill on the Everett waterfront, as seen Tuesday. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald)

Port of Everett secures mill property, eyes shipyard lease

Port commissioners said the moves would help rebuild Everett’s waterfront and support the Navy base.

EVERETT — The Port of Everett has authorized a $33 million agreement to buy Kimberly-Clark’s former waterfront mill property as part of a plan to clean up a contaminated stretch of industrial shoreline for redevelopment.

Port commissioners voted 3-0 Tuesday afternoon to authorize port CEO Lisa Lefeber to sign the deal. The port had been pursuing the purchase since the pulp mill closed nearly eight years ago.

“It’s a momentous day for Everett,” Lefeber said. “We’re excited to get our team putting it back into productive use.”

The deal is expected to close by December.

At the same meeting, port officials announced negotiations with a sister company of Nichols Brothers Boat Builders to lease space on port property south of the former Kimberly-Clark mill.

The Nichols affiliate, Everett Ship Repair LLC, would occupy 3.5 acres where Vigor Industrial operated until leaving more than two years ago. Everett hasn’t had a shipyard since.

The company already is preparing to use a 500-foot dry dock at Everett’s Pier 3 under a temporary permit, port chief operating officer Carl Wollebek said. Port officials hope to ink a long-term shipyard lease by March.

The shipyard could work on military or commercial ships, and state ferries, among other vessels.

“Initially, we’ll be starting with around 25 (employees) and then building up over a couple of years to approximately 80,” Everett Ship Repair CEO Gavin Higgins said. “We’ll continue to grow.”

Port officials hope the shipyard’s presence will encourage the Navy or the Coast Guard to station more vessels in town. Just five Navy vessels are homeported in Everett, after the USS Shoup destroyer left earlier this year for San Diego.

Kimberly-Clark’s Everett pulp mill and tissue plant had been in operation for about 80 years when the Dallas-based company shut it down back in 2012. About 700 people lost jobs.

Soon the sprawling complex was reduced to rubble.

The port made numerous attempts to buy the land over the years. It wasn’t the only interested party. At one point, a deal with a major maritime transportation company fell through.

Then this past May, two fishing and seafood companies announced they had reached a purchase-and-sale agreement with Kimberly-Clark. Their vision was to relocate each company’s corporate headquarters to Everett, while also building out a cold-storage warehouse, facilities to prepare food for resale and a working wharf.

Everett port commissioners upended those plans in June, with their unanimous vote to condemn the property.

Port commissioners declared that the acquisition would support facilities of statewide significance, given its access to deep water and a rail line. Securing the perimeter around Naval Station Everett was another goal.

“Bringing the vacant mill site back to life in a way that creates hundreds of jobs, protects the interests of our county’s only urban deep-water maritime complex and facilitates cleanup of legacy contamination were the port’s top priorities with this site,” Commissioner Tom Stiger said Tuesday, in a press release. “I am pleased we were able to reach an agreement that ensured all three priorities will be achieved.”

The Kimberly-Clark deal includes 58 acres that used to house the mill, as well as 19 acres of tide flats that Kimberly-Clark owns in a different location to the north, near the 10th Street Boat Launch. That property’s uses could include public access, as the former mill property would be secured to protect waterfront operations and the Navy base next door.

“The vision is this is public access … a bit of beach that could be accessed throughout the year,” Port Commissioner Glen Bachman said.

Kimberly-Clark issued a statement through the port in support of the deal.

As part of the agreement, the port received a $17 million credit from Kimberly-Clark toward future environmental cleanup that must be performed in the East Waterway that borders the mill property shoreline.

Kimberly-Clark is responsible for cleaning up contaminated upland soil and other problems where the mill complex used to stand. The state Department of Ecology is monitoring those efforts, which are known as the “second interim action.” The work entails removing crushed rock and debris covering most of the site. That work is to begin by April 1 and to finish by the end of 2020.

“There will be a lot of work on that site if this deal goes forward next year,” Lefeber said.

The port plans to supply Kimberly-Clark with clean fill to backfill the area after the crushed material is removed.

Another part of the former mill property totalling 8.5 acres was purchased by the city of Everett earlier this year to address stormwater needs.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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