EVERETT — The Port of Everett moved Tuesday evening to condemn Kimberly-Clark’s former waterfront mill for public use.
Port commissioners voted 3-0 after hearing public testimony from union leaders and businesses who supported the action, but also from opposing voices who favored a private maritime partnership’s competing offer for the land.
“The port plans to provide near-term and long-term job growth,” Commissioner Glen Bachman said immediately before the vote.
The resolution Bachman and his colleagues passed declared that the acquisition would support facilities of statewide significance, namely a deepwater port with rail access next to Naval Station Everett and a vacant shipyard. The action allows the port’s CEO to pursue legal actions to acquire up to 67 acres where the mill operated for several generations.
The vote came after nearly two hours of pubic testimony.
“I’ve never seen a time when we’ve had such an important issue before the commission,” said Ken Hudson, a business agent for International Longshore and Warehouse Union workers in Everett.
Hudson urged the port to seize the opportunity.
“We’d have more work than we have now,” he said. “We’d have more people employed.”
A representative for Kimberly-Clark Corp. said the Dallas-based company would take no official position on the port’s use of eminent domain.
The port has made numerous attempts to buy the property since Kimberly-Clark closed the mill in 2012.
The port wasn’t the only player interested in the prime piece of Everett waterfront.
Two private companies have waged a public campaign to argue why their plan for Everett’s waterfront would reap more benefits for the surrounding community.
Less than two weeks ago, Mercer Island-based Pacific Stevedoring and Seattle-based Glacier Fish Co. announced they had reached a purchase-and-sale agreement with Kimberly-Clark for the property. 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.
They claimed they were prepared to make an initial investment of $100 million on a plan that could create 1,200 or more jobs. They have suggested that other fishing companies from the Ballard area would follow them to Everett.
“I currently reside in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. I was hoping to make Everett my home,” Pacific Stevedoring owner Andrew Murphy told commissioners Tuesday.
Murphy said he and his business partners had done their homework to understand the complicated environmental, seismic and security issues associated with the mill site.
“It’s kind of frustrating that we finally get to this point and we get thrown this curveball with eminent domain,” Murphy said.
Jim Johnson, president of Glacier Fish, told commissioners that his partnership had won a competitive real estate negotiation, only to lose out in the end.
“We prevailed in that process,” Johnson said. “The port also participated in that process. We’re here tonight because the port didn’t like the outcome of that process.”
Their proposal would bring sophisticated fishing vessels to Everett and hundreds of high-paying jobs, he said. They had “a mountain of due diligence” to show how it would work.
“It’s real, it’s tangible and we’ve laid it out for your tonight,” Johnson said.
Former Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, who was working as a consultant for the maritime companies, urged the port to delay their vote on condemnation so the sides could talk. It was to no avail.
Port administrators maintain that they’re best-positioned to look out for the environmental cleanup and to keep the area secure for neighboring Naval Station Everett. They say the mill site would help them attract or develop a maintenance shipyard on port-owned property to the south, which could encourage the Navy or Coast Guard to station more vessels nearby.
Under Everett’s land-use regulations, any potential development plan for the mill property must receive the Navy’s approval.
Security issues also came up during public testimony.
Ron Kennedy, of Marysville, works with maritime manufacturers and said there was no question about the highest and best use of the mill property: a shipyard that could work on military or civilian vessels.
“As much as I like a good fish filet, the defense of the United States of America is more important,” Kennedy said.
Port officials have said they’re concerned about any private proposal that involves foreign investment, as it might pose a security problem for the Navy.
News stories from 2008 reported that a Japanese company called Nippon Suisan Kaisha acquired a 25 percent stake in Glacier Fish. Representatives for Glacier and Pacific Stevedoring said both companies are American, meaning that they are at least 75 percent owned by U.S. citizens, and that they were seeking no foreign money to carry out the Everett proposal.
Port officials have said they could still accommodate the maritime companies through leases. A representative for Pacific Stevedoring and Glacier Fish said they’re unwilling to invest tens of millions of dollars in land they don’t own.
The city of Everett also is working to buy 8.5 acres of the former mill property to address stormwater needs. That leaves about 58 acres available to the port or the private companies.
Before any redevelopment of the area, Kimberly-Clark is responsible for environmental cleanups overseen by state and local authorities. That includes removing contaminated debris left over from the mill’s demolition and addressing stormwater issues.