EVERETT — After years of watching the former Kimberly-Clark Corp. mill site sit dormant, the Port of Everett is moving to snatch up the 66-acre waterfront property. Port officials plan to ask port commissioners Tuesday to sign off on acquiring the land “by any means necessary,” Port CEO Les Reardanz said.
“Any means necessary” includes condemning the property and taking control through a method called eminent domain.
Reardanz said he wants to avoid such a heavy-handed approach.
“Hopefully, we will reach a purchase and sales agreement with Kimberly-Clark,” Reardanz said.
But “we are very serious about acquiring the property for port purposes,” he said.
The former mill site is in the middle of the port’s marine terminals. Last year, 195 cargo ships moved 422,488 tons of goods through Everett’s waterfront. That was the highest number of ships since 2000, the most recent year for which data are immediately available.
Several times during the year, the port had to turn down or delay cargo because there was nowhere to park more freight, Port spokeswoman Lisa Lefeber said.
“We need more land” to handle cargo moving between ships, trucks and trains, Reardanz said.
That lack of space is the port’s “strategic weakness,” he said. “The risk of not acquiring it is greater than the risk of acquiring it.”
Kimberly-Clark has been trying to sell the land since it shut down its mill there in 2012. A tentative agreement with maritime conglomerate Saltchuk was reached in late 2013. Saltchuk wanted to buy the land to build a shipyard for its Seattle-based subsidiary, Foss Maritime Co., which makes tugs and barges.
The deal fell through in 2014 as the two sides could not agree on how to split the cost of cleaning up pollution on the decades-old industrial site.
“Foss is still interested” in the former mill site, but it is also looking at other Pacific Coast locations, Saltchuk spokeswoman Emily Reiter said.
Pacific Stevedoring, a shipping logistics company, and one other serious prospective buyer have approached Kimberly-Clark since the Foss deal fell through, according to sources familiar with the deals.
Kimberly-Clark spokesman Bob Brand declined to comment on discussions with prospective buyers.
Companies continue to express interest in the land, and the Dallas-based company is “willing to work with any potential buyers,” he said. “We’re looking for the right buyer at the right time.”
Since closing the mill and demolishing several buildings on site, Kimberly-Clark has been working with the Department of Ecology to clean up pollution.
Ongoing litigation from the city of Everett against Kimberly-Clark has not “hindered our ability to market the property,” Brand said.
Everett is suing Kimberly-Clark over the company’s cleanup obligations on the property. The city filed its lawsuit in 2014 after the Saltchuk deal collapsed.
It is too soon to say how the port’s move to acquire the land could affect the lawsuit, or who pays to finish cleaning up the site, Everett spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said.
Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson plans to attend Tuesday’s Port Commission meeting, she said.
Site cleanup will be part of the port’s negotiations with Kimberly-Clark, Reardanz said.
Port officials already have done some due diligence for acquiring the site. They do not expect to turn up any deal-breaking information during negotiations, but Reardanz said he could not rule it out.
The tax-supported port is looking at outside financing and federal dollars to help pay for the land. It also has reserves and flexibility in its capital budget, he said.
Buying the former mill site will not create a financial risk for the port or significantly delay its top two projects: a major residential and retail development called Waterfront Place; and expanding and strengthening its marine terminals to handle bigger cargo ships, Reardanz said.