The Port of Everett Marina (upper left) and Boxcar Park (lower left), which is one of the sites to be elevated in preparation for rising sea levels. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The Port of Everett Marina (upper left) and Boxcar Park (lower left), which is one of the sites to be elevated in preparation for rising sea levels. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

How the Port of Everett is preparing for a rising sea level

Big and little changes are in the works along the north Everett shore, though they are easy to overlook.

EVERETT — Pigeons swoop in elegant arcs above the marina, sunset glints off historic hillside houses and a tricycling boy pedals toward the edge of the Fisherman’s Harbor dock.

With so much competing for their attention, his strolling parents could easily miss a clue that the Port of Everett is adapting to climate change: The pilings that secure the new stretch of dock are taller than those at the older west end.

The additional two feet will allow the dock to float higher as global warming causes sea levels to rise. If that isn’t enough leeway to accommodate future king tides, extensions can be welded to the pointy-topped columns, said Erik Gerking, director of environmental programs for the port. While visible, the pilings at the state’s largest public marina are not his top climate change concern.

“The biggest issue that we will have involves bulkheads and shoreline – having those high enough,” he said.

Adapting to sea level rise is an obvious need at the Port of Everett. But there are many ways in which climate change can impact the public port district’s role as seaport, recreational center, business and now a housing hub. This fall, port staff raised those concerns in a climate change memorandum that Gerking presented to port commissioners.

Some of the questions raised in the memo involve the seaport’s bottom line. For example, extreme weather, fires, flooding and sea level rise are expected to hammer the U.S. economy this century. Will the drop in gross domestic product reduce the amount of goods leaving the port, which now add up to $21 billion a year? Globally, economic production is projected to decrease 23% by 2100 as compared to a world without climate change.

Mounds of fill dirt at the Port of Everett Marina, to be used to help elevate certain sites around the waterfront in anticipation of rising sea levels. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Mounds of fill dirt at the Port of Everett Marina, to be used to help elevate certain sites around the waterfront in anticipation of rising sea levels. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

For now, questions about economic disruption are unanswerable, just as it’s impossible to say how high and fast the waters of Puget Sound will rise.

So far, port planners have taken a rise of 2 to 3 feet into consideration, based on University of Washington research. But Gerking’s memo explains that “this is a statistical model that requires updating as new science and data become available.” It cites a 2015 UW report that concludes sea level in Seattle could be anywhere from 4 to 56 inches higher by 2100, compared to 2000. The dramatic difference is based on the success or failure of efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

As the City of Everett’s new Climate Action Plan notes, the rate at which sea level rises in Puget Sound depends on the rate of global sea level rise and regional factors, such as currents, wind patterns, location and elevation.

There is some good news for the Port of Everett. It’s in a growth phase. Building taller steel bulkheads and wharves, to say nothing of elevating buildings, is much less expensive than adapting existing ones to rising waters.

“There’s probably some incremental cost we’re incurring in construction, but it would pale in comparison to a retrofit,” said Gerking.

A corner of Boxcar Park that the Port of Everett will turn into an elevated beach. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A corner of Boxcar Park that the Port of Everett will turn into an elevated beach. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The port’s Waterfront Place District was built on 3-foot-higher landscape, which hides an elevated stormwater system and utilities. The newest part of the district features Fisherman’s Harbor, under-construction apartments and the Indigo Hotel. Just beyond the hotel, a considerable hill of dirt awaits plans to elevate future buildings. In the distance, the Weyerhaeuser Building towers above the shoreside Boxcar Park. The ornate historic structure was relocated high, and hopefully dry, for its future as a marine clubhouse and entertainment venue.

The 65-acre Waterfront Place used to be the Everett Shipyard. Like former polluted industrial sites throughout the port’s 3,000 acres, it had to be cleaned up before it could be developed. Sea level adaptation is one more factor in the complex and expensive cleanup projects, six of which are still active, according to the port’s 2020 Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability Report.

Erik Gerking, director of environmental programs for the Port of Everett.

Erik Gerking, director of environmental programs for the Port of Everett.

The 20-page report includes a quick summary of the port’s climate change strategy. It’s not called a plan, Gerking said, because a strategy is easier to update. He sees value in being nimble.

“The information, the science, the regulations evolve with time,” he said.

The strategy calls for a widespread assessment of infrastructure or properties that might be vulnerable to sea level rise. That assessment hasn’t been scheduled or funded yet.

At the port’s north end, along the Snohomish River, a former mill site has already been decontaminated and elevated 3 to 5 feet. It is now the Riverside Business Park. The same process is underway at a second former lumber site, now called Bay Wood, near the mouth of the river. Bay Wood is exposed to Puget Sound waves and wind, requiring restoration of a storm-resistant shoreline.

Researchers aren’t predicting more storm surges due to climate change, Gerking said, but higher sea level could make storm-driven waves more destructive. Meanwhile, hazards are coming from inland in the form of more intense floods caused by earlier mountain snowmelt.

Flooding erodes riverbanks. That washes sediment into the river. At low tide, a sandbar is now exposed in Port Gardner, sometimes leaving boaters stranded as they approach the port’s 10th Street docks at low tide. The obvious solution is dredging, though the Corps of Engineers is looking at ways to make that more effective as the amount of sediment coming downstream increases. Deflecting sediment from the boat launch is also being considered.

The corps regularly dredges the river to keep navigation open. One upside to that, Gerking said, is that it yields an abundance of sediment that’s clean enough to use on construction sites. For example, big piles of river sand are being used to cover and elevate the former Kimberly-Clark mill property at the south end of the port.

Reducing its own carbon footprint is part of the port’s climate strategy. That includes buying fuel-efficient heavy equipment such as forklifts. Gantry cranes — those hulking metal creatures that unload ship cargo — are powered by electricity.

Air pollutants, including the greenhouse gases carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, dropped at the Port of Everett from 2005 to 2016. That’s according to emissions inventories taken by the Puget Sound Maritime Air Forum. Emission sources include everything at the waterfront, from ships to recreational boats to train locomotives.

(Port of Everett)

(Port of Everett)

The seaport’s South Terminal has been modernized with conduits and utility hatches that would allow ships to turn off their diesel engines and plug into the region’s clean hydropower grid. But the needed power receptacles can’t be installed yet. To the frustration of ports up and down the coast, the shipping industry has yet to announce a standard design for the giant plugs.

The port also plans to increase its short-distance sea shipping, which involves moving cargo between Puget Sound ports and Everett using tugs and barges. That approach, which is already used for aerospace parts, results in a 98% reduction in emissions over trucking cargo, Gerking said.

Also on the plus side of the port’s greenhouse gas ledger are the 377 acres of wetlands that the port owns at Union and Blue Heron sloughs in the Snohomish River estuary. The sloughs serve as conservation banks. When the port needs to make up for the loss of salmon spawning habitat caused by waterfront construction, it funds restoration efforts in the sloughs. As it turns out, wetlands do a great job of capturing and holding carbon in the soil. Better even than forests.

Greenhouse gas reduction is also on the radar at Naval Station Everett, which is sandwiched between the port’s north and south ends. According to its energy manager, Max McAllister, the base has reduced its energy use by half since 2003. It has installed solar panels, switched to mostly hybrid and electric vehicles, and replaced all lights with LEDs.

Ships at pier, usually U.S. Navy destroyers, switch to the power grid when in port. When it comes to sea level rise, 2019 federal law requires it be taken into consideration during building design, but no construction is planned at the 26-year-old base.

Port of Everett CEO Lisa Lefeber sees climate change adaptation as a decades-long effort that needs to be integrated in short, medium and long-range plans. “Climate change is among many other environmental efforts the port is engaged in to ensure our mission can be accomplished sustainably,” she said.

Clearly, the port’s attention to climate change is driven by economic pragmatism as well as good intentions. There’s no point fostering economic development at the waterfront only to have it flooded.

Gerking serves on the climate change committee of the Washington Public Ports Association. His employer is among the largest of the group’s 75 members, and its Snohomish County location brings with it abundant exposure to the threats of a warming world.

“We’ve got the mountains, we’ve got the sea, we’ve got the rivers,” Gerking said. “We’re on the front lines of this.”

Everett writer Julie Titone can be reached at julietitone@icloud.com.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Traffic idles while waiting for the lights to change along 33rd Avenue West on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood seeks solutions to Costco traffic boondoggle

Let’s take a look at the troublesome intersection of 33rd Avenue W and 30th Place W, as Lynnwood weighs options for better traffic flow.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Death of Everett boy, 4, spurs questions over lack of Amber Alert

Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address some key questions, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

The new Amazon fulfillment center under construction along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, just south of Arlington Municipal Airport. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20210708
Frito-Lay leases massive building at Marysville business park

The company will move next door to Tesla and occupy a 300,0000-square-foot building at the Marysville business park.

Snohomish City Hall on Friday, April 12, 2024 in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Snohomish may sell off old City Hall, water treatment plant, more

That’s because, as soon as 2027, Snohomish City Hall and the police and public works departments could move to a brand-new campus.

Lewis the cat weaves his way through a row of participants during Kitten Yoga at the Everett Animal Shelter on Saturday, April 13, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Downward cat? At kitten yoga in Everett, it’s all paw-sitive vibes

It wasn’t a stretch for furry felines to distract participants. Some cats left with new families — including a reporter.

FILE - In this Friday, March 31, 2017, file photo, Boeing employees walk the new Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner down towards the delivery ramp area at the company's facility in South Carolina after conducting its first test flight at Charleston International Airport in North Charleston, S.C. Federal safety officials aren't ready to give back authority for approving new planes to Boeing when it comes to the large 787 jet, which Boeing calls the Dreamliner, Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022. The plane has been plagued by production flaws for more than a year.(AP Photo/Mic Smith, File)
Boeing pushes back on Everett whistleblower’s allegations

Two Boeing engineering executives on Monday described in detail how panels are fitted together, particularly on the 787 Dreamliner.

Ferry workers wait for cars to start loading onto the M/V Kitsap on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Struggling state ferry system finds its way into WA governor’s race

Bob Ferguson backs new diesel ferries if it means getting boats sooner. Dave Reichert said he took the idea from Republicans.

Traffic camera footage shows a crash on northbound I-5 near Arlington that closed all lanes of the highway Monday afternoon. (Washington State Department of Transportation)
Woman dies almost 2 weeks after wrong-way I-5 crash near Arlington

On April 1, Jason Lee was driving south on northbound I-5 near the Stillaguamish River bridge when he crashed into a car. Sharon Heeringa later died.

Owner Fatou Dibba prepares food at the African Heritage Restaurant on Saturday, April 6, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Oxtail stew and fufu: Heritage African Restaurant in Everett dishes it up

“Most of the people who walk in through the door don’t know our food,” said Fatou Dibba, co-owner of the new restaurant at Hewitt and Broadway.

A pig and her piglets munch on some leftover food from the Darrington School District’s cafeteria at the Guerzan homestead on Friday, March 15, 2024, in Darrington, Washington. Eileen Guerzan, a special education teacher with the district, frequently brings home food scraps from the cafeteria to feed to her pigs, chickens and goats. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
‘A slopportunity’: Darrington school calls in pigs to reduce food waste

Washingtonians waste over 1 million tons of food every year. Darrington found a win-win way to divert scraps from landfills.

Foamy brown water, emanating a smell similar to sewage, runs along the property line of Lisa Jansson’s home after spilling off from the DTG Enterprises property on Tuesday, March 5, 2024, in Snohomish, Washington. Jansson said the water in the small stream had been flowing clean and clear only a few weeks earlier. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Neighbors of Maltby recycling facility assert polluted runoff, noise

For years, the DTG facility has operated without proper permits. Residents feel a heavy burden as “watchdogs” holding the company accountable.

Rosario Resort and Spa on Orcas Island (Photo provided by Empower Investing)
Orcas Island’s storied Rosario Resort finds a local owner

Founded by an Orcas Island resident, Empower Investing plans” dramatic renovations” to restore the historic resort.