View of the Kimberly-Clark property in Everett on Jan. 15, 2019. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

View of the Kimberly-Clark property in Everett on Jan. 15, 2019. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

Port questions two companies’ deal to buy Kimberly-Clark site

Meanwhile, a former mayor criticized a Port of Everett plan to condemn the vacant land for its own use.

EVERETT — Two maritime companies have announced a deal to buy most of Kimberly-Clark’s former mill property, even as the Port of Everett considers condemning the land for public use.

Representatives for Pacific Stevedoring and Glacier Fish Co. said Thursday they plan to buy 58 acres of the waterfront site for headquarters and operations. A cold storage warehouse, facilities to prepare food for resale, and office space would bring as many as 1,200 jobs to the waterfront, Pacific Stevedoring owner Andrew Murphy and Glacier President Jim Johnson said. Plans also include a working wharf.

“The combination of a deep-water port, prime industrial land, multimodal freight corridors, and a well-trained workforce makes Everett the perfect place to build a new home for the Pacific Northwest seafood industry,” the corporate leaders said in a joint statement. “We plan to invest in this community and look forward to partnering with the city to bring family-wage jobs back to Everett’s waterfront.”

The potential corporate buyers said they could invest $100 million redeveloping the site and building facilities. The sales price was not disclosed. The ownership groups aims to start construction within a year of closing a deal.

Lisa Morden, a Kimberly-Clark vice president for safety and sustainability, issued a statement praising the deal with the maritime companies.

A paper mill operated on the land for about 80 years before Dallas-based Kimberly-Clark shut it down in 2012. About 700 workers lost jobs.

After sitting dormant since then, the site is suddenly coveted real estate.

The companies’ announcement came a day after the Everett City Council approved a purchase-and-sale agreement for 8.5 acres of the former mill property to address state-mandated stormwater improvements. Combined, the pieces that the city and the private companies have agreed to buy make up the entirety of the 66-acre mill property.

There’s a wrinkle, though.

Only last week, commissioners at the Port of Everett announced that they will consider invoking eminent domain to take control of the property. Port officials hope to develop maritime freight and shipyard facilities to support maintenance on military vessels.

“The port’s position hasn’t changed,” said Lisa Lefeber, a deputy executive director for the port, on Thursday.

The port intends to move forward with a meeting about condemnation at 4 p.m. June 4, Lefeber said. Port staff have no objection to the city purchasing part of the property.

Pacific Stevedoring already has a toehold at the site. In 2017, the company leased 20 acres through a subsidiary, Everett Terminal & Cold Storage. The agreement includes a purchase option.

Port administrators raised doubts that the maritime companies could pull off their vision.

“The administration is skeptical of the private party’s ability to put the site back into productive use, as evidenced by its lack of job creation with its lease,” their statement read, in part. “The Port has been consistent since the mill closed that our top priorities were to restore the jobs lost because of the mill closure, support maritime job growth on the site, and ensure the ongoing success of our international trade facilities and Naval Station Everett.”

The port raised questions about undisclosed foreign investors. A representative for the ownership group countered that both companies are American.

The port also noted that Everett’s zoning for the site prohibits fish processing. The companies said their plan would involve the delivery of processed, frozen seafood to the Everett waterfront, with no messy work to remove fish heads or guts.

The site borders Naval Station Everett to one side and a vacant port-owned shipyard to the other. Under Everett’s zoning, any development there would need Navy approval to ensure compatibility with the base.

Pacific Stevedoring’s corporate headquarters are now on Mercer Island. The company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of North American Stevedoring, which has operations in Washington, Alaska, the Texas Gulf Coast and the east coast of Canada.

Seattle-based Glacier Fish Co. operates a fleet of fishing and processing vessels in the Gulf of Alaska, the Bering Sea, and off the Washington and Oregon coasts.

The agreement the Everett City Council approved this week would pay about $4.7 million for land at the north end of the Kimberly-Clark property, next to the naval base. Everett officials want to use the mill’s former wastewater treatment facilities to address problems with the city’s combined sewer-stormwater system.

“The Department of Ecology is requiring the City to make significant changes to our stormwater and sewer systems by 2027,” Meghan Pembroke, an executive director for the city, wrote in an email. “Failure to meet the deadline may result in heavy fines.”

Kimberly-Clark also has agreed to donate a small piece of land to the city for public shoreline access. Pembroke said the exact location has not been identified.

Under the agreement, the city would dismiss a lawsuit it filed against Kimberly-Clark in 2014 over the conditions of the vacant land. The city wanted the company to cover the debris-strewn site with topsoil and plant grass to minimize contaminated runoff.

A past leader of the city has feuded with the port over the project.

In a letter to The Daily Herald’s opinion page, former Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, who has been working as a consultant for the potential corporate buyers, criticized the use of eminent domain.

“The Port of Everett’s attempt to condemn the Kimberly-Clark property is a blatant overreach that is jeopardizing plans to bring jobs back to the waterfront,” Stephanson wrote.

The letter went on to accuse the port of “attempting an 11th-hour end-run via eminent domain after eight years of inaction with the property” instead of letting a fair-market process play out.

Port administrators issued a response.

“It is disappointing that this former influential leader in our community did not disclose that he represents the private party in this transaction in his editorial,” the statement read. “In 2016, when the Port took action to proceed with acquiring the property, the same private parties were involved. At that time, the former Mayor spoke in favor of the Port’s acquisition of the property, including by condemnation.”

Kimberly-Clark still needs to clean up environmental problems on the property to the satisfaction of the State Department of Ecology and local authorities. Soon after the mill’s closure, demolition reduced all but one large building to rubble, which was spread over the flat ground.

Everett’s hearing examiner is scheduled to consider plans for removing 120,000 cubic yards of crushed materials from the property at 1 p.m. June 13.

State environmental rules also require Kimberly-Clark to remove patches of contaminated soil below the debris and to plug more than 20 old pipes that have been sending groundwater offshore.

Kimberly-Clark hopes to finish the environmental work by early next year.

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

Kimberly-Clark condemnation meeting

The Port of Everett has set a public meeting to consider condemning the former mill property at 4 p.m. on June 4 in the Port Commission room at 1205 Craftsman Way, Suite 200, Everett.

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